Life in a wheelchair is very much a series of challenges that we do our best to overcome.
It is often easy to feel like you’re facing those difficulties alone, even if you have a great support network around you.
As we become young adults, many of us encounter the trials and tribulations of moving out and living independently for the first time – and, of course, the financial implications that come with that.
For me, Sam, 25 years old and a wheelchair user since birth, financial independence, like many things, take extra thought and care because of my disability.
Thinking back to my teenage years, most of my time was spent enduring hospital visit after hospital visit.
These were focused so clinically on improving mobility, strengthening rarely-used muscles, and setting seemingly unachievable targets for improvement.
In reality, practical life advice alongside my intensive physical support would have been hugely helpful!
What costs should I be anticipating as a wheelchair user? How will my finances differ from non-disabled people? When should I be thinking most carefully about costs?
My typical week of a 9-5 office job and catching up with friends at all too often inaccessible bars is not unusual, however the associated costs of it may be for some readers.
Travelling to and from work (and play!) can quickly burn holes in my pockets.
Unreliable buses with broken ramps or with prams already occupying the designated wheelchair bay are commonplace. The tube is broadly inaccessible for wheelchair users. Even taxis can be tricky.
I often find myself using Uber, who provide accessible vehicles at no surcharge to the user.
On the face of it, my Personal Independence Payment should be more than enough to cover a few trips to the office each month. But life has a habit of throwing unexpected costs in our direction!
Although my power chair offers me the life that as a teenage seemed far, far away, the cost implications of that freedom are daunting, and for some too much of a price to pay.
PIP quickly gets swallowed up if I have to commit to unexpected wheelchair maintenance, or if I need to install new mobility items in my home.
This feeling of cost versus reward, can sometimes feel like a heavy burden.
For example, I live in an accessible flat and even for London’s prohibitively high prices I am paying a premium for the privilege of having the ‘luxury’ of wider corridors and step-free access.
More affordable accommodation often tends to be older and inaccessible.
Student accommodation is particularly troublesome on this front – I didn’t have the opportunity to move out of student halls because of my access requirements.
Although I don’t yet have all the answers to living a financially sensible life (I’m prone, just as much as anyone, to overindulging in treats), I do have lived experience trying to navigate adulthood as a disabled person.
Here are some of my best tips that I wish I had known from day one:
- Know your entitlement rights...
- As a student, take advantage of disabled students funds (you’ll often be given a lot of free equipment) and think hard about what will make your life easier. Student Finance really helped with the additional cost of accessible student rooms which were deemed ‘premium’ and therefore super expensive. They paid the difference between standard accommodation and an accessible room (and although the paperwork was a minefield, the financial assistance was fantastically helpful!).
- As a young adult working for the first time, make sure to ask for reasonable adjustments from your employer. You shouldn’t have to front the cost of assistive materials such as an ergonomic mouse, an extra screen or an appropriate office chair.
- Work out what travel entitlements you are eligible for: a free bus/freedom pass or a railcard can really help when pinching pennies (even if public transport isn’t our greatest friend). Additionally, London offers concessionary Taxicards which subsidise taxis for disabled people.
- When having fun, always keep an eye out for concessionary fees or carers’ tickets for events – these cost savings really do add up, and you’d be surprised at how often you can snag brilliant seats!
- Take advantage of your care needs assessment – many local care authorities can provide you with up to £1000 worth of disability equipment and minor adaptations to your living arrangements (on a needs assessed basis).
- If you can, start a rainy day fund – wheelchair maintenance is often expensive and unforeseen, so stash away a little bit of money wherever possible.
- Plan, plan, plan – give yourself enough time to get to places, and check they are accessible for your needs. It sucks that the burden is on us to do the research, but many places are getting better at providing access information.
- Uber Access is a great tool in London – you can now book wheelchair accessible transport without a surcharge. Uber regularly send out voucher codes to discount travel even further.
- Think critically about bills - most people have to think carefully about electricity, gas, wifi and water usage when it comes to bills! Change supplier regularly to get the best deals wherever possible, and make sure you are paying the right amount of Council Tax (you might be entitled to a disability-related discount).
- Don't be afraid to ask for help - whether from friends, family, charities or local support systems, make sure to ask for advice or assistance if you're struggling. Being a young adult is tough, and there are plenty of people to offer a helping hand when things get tricky.
There can be a lot of pressure to try and keep up with our non-disabled peers.
Difference is what makes us powerful, and even if there are additional financial costs we can only go at our own pace, or however fast the wheelchair takes us.