Many of our clients have been involved in catastrophic accidents or clinical negligence. They may suffer from brain injury, spinal cord injuries, loss of limbs, cognitive and visual impairments. Some require very extensive care packages to support them in the community. Following the admission of liability, clients are awarded money to ensure their accommodation is suitable for their needs. In many cases, clients need to find a new home for both themselves and their family.

Finding a new home for these clients is not as straightforward as it may first appear. The person managing the property search needs have an in depth understanding of the client’s care needs, the manual handling techniques that will be used, and the equipment, fixtures and fittings required to enable safety and independence.

All of these factors will affect the size and layout of rooms within the property and the overall design of the property.

Location, location, location

The location of the home is paramount to enable independence – the client should have access to local shops, therapists and other important services. Someone with visual impairment would probably not want to live in the middle of a busy town and would feel safer accessing the community in a smaller residential area with quieter roads. On the other hand, a wheelchair user might struggle to access the community in a rural environment due to the lack of paved areas. Every client has different needs depending on their injury and abilities – housing occupational therapists (OT) are best placed at matching a client’s ability with a suitable location due to their medical knowledge. Accessing the community is a very important part of the client’s rehabilitation.

Working with the family

From the perspective of the client’s family, properties need to within easy access of schools and leisure activities. They also need to be in neighbourhoods that the client and family want to live in. Most people don’t want to move into areas which are very different from those they have always lived in; it can be very hard for families to move from a familiar area to a more affluent area where they feel they don’t belong.

It is vital to consult with family members when looking for property. In most situations, they know their relative best – what they like and what is important to them. However, most families don’t have a medical background. Therefore, they are probably not fully aware of the implications of the client’s condition on their way of life, and the knock-on effect this will have on their property needs. Housing OTs, with their medical background, can help the family develop their understanding in this area.

The care environment

In some situations, the property the client is currently living in is too small to enable the optimum number of carers to be present. This means family members are required to take on these caring roles. A housing OT can support the family in understanding how the care environment should be in the ideal property, including explaining the number of carers needed at different times of day and night.  In other situations, the family members are fully aware of how their relative should be cared for and it is important for other people involved in the property finding to respect their way of doing things.

A housing OT will also be able to take a realistic view on the facilities needed by the carers whilst they are at work in the house, such as office and rest areas. This is not an area that a property search agent without a medical/care background is likely to be able to advise on.

Construction knowledge

Housing OTs have extensive knowledge of working with architectural plans – they both regularly create their own designs for adapting rooms and they also audit architects’ plans to ensure they meet the client’s care and rehabilitation needs.

At Design for Independence we regularly work closely with a wide range of construction professionals and understand the practices and terminology of the construction industry. We know when it is important to involve other construction professionals.

In summary

There are many people and organisations within the property search field for the less able. However, housing OTs have unique knowledge and expertise to help clients choose a property which will meet their needs far into the future.