Bathroom modification supports Shailer and her family to live more independently
Nine-year-old Shailer Bell has benefitted from a major home modification to her family bathroom, which has made the space more functional and accessible, and is supporting her to live more independently.
Shailer, who lives with hypermobile Ehlers-Danlos syndrome (hEDS) – which affects the connective tissue, digestive system, gut, bowel and bladder – has been accessing services from Novita since she was three years old, including speech pathology, occupational therapy, wheelchair and seating services, psychology and NDIS funding planning.
Shailer’s mother Chrissy, who also lives with Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, says the bathroom modification has “changed her world” and given her peace of mind by providing Shailer with an accessible bathroom and the tools for independence.
“The process to apply for a home modification began when Shailer got to an age where we realised she should be turning on the taps or flushing the toilet, but because her joints are too flexible and she can’t apply force, and so she wasn’t able to,” says Chrissy.
“We had a rail put in so that Shailer could sit comfortably on the toilet, but she would still slip and fall. We attended one of Novita’s toilet training sessions and were told that we needed to replace the toilet, and then it became clear that the entire bathroom needed to be modified.”
Chrissy credits the staff at Novita for ensuring the specific requirements of the bathroom modification were met with funding approval by the NDIS.
Novita occupational therapist Michelle Anesbury worked with Chrissy and Shailer and their family to understand what the problems in the bathroom were, what they wanted to achieve from the modification, and how it needed to be designed to also work for other family members and carers.
“Once the family had decided to go ahead with the modification and we had an idea of what we wanted in the space, we brought in Novitatech’s Manager of Home Modification Projects, Nader Zoljalali for advice about the cost and whether it would achieve the desired outcome.”
When all the variables had been taken into account, the drawings were updated and a scope of work was then put forward for NDIS approval.
Michelle says that once the funding was approved, she met with the family, the builders and Nader on-site to go through the layout of the modification and where everything would be.
“This is a really important part of the process, as it gives the family the option to changes things before the work starts, and in this case there were a few minor changes that needed to happen,” says Michelle.
The contracted builders then take control and proceed with the work. However there’s always support provided by Novita therapists throughout the build so that clients can ask questions and any concerns they have can be addressed.
Chrissy says as a solo parent, she was really grateful for the added support from all of the Novita therapists involved in the project.
“To have the emotional support from someone like Michelle was amazing – she has been an incredible support,” says Chrissy.
“Michelle advocated for things like the bath that both Shailer and I need so that we can soak in magnesium and Epsom salts, which really helps relieve the pain in our joints – particularly during times when we don’t have hydrotherapy appointments booked.”
Michelle says that one of the most common concerns that she receives from clients is that they don’t want the modification to leave their home looking like a clinic or hospital.
“It’s really important that families get a modification that they love, and there are definitely options for them to incorporate design and upgrade quality if they wish. That may fall outside of the NDIS funding, but can still be achieved with extra financial input from the family,” says Michelle.
Nader Zoljalali says he project manages and coordinates jobs such as the bathroom modification for Shailer and her family once the occupational therapist has prescribed the clinical requirements for inclusion.
“I ensure Australian Standards relating to the structural work of the bathroom, waterproofing, tiling, plumbing and electrical work are met, while also meeting the performance requirements of the therapists,” says Nader.
“The best part of the process for me – and where I receive my real reward – is when I carry out the final inspection after completion and hear about the positive impact that the work has had on my client’s life.”
The work to Shailer’s family bathroom was completed during the onset of COVID-19, and although it was initially delayed, work resumed as soon as restrictions were lifted. The outcome has delighted the family.
“When you’re trying to advocate for your child, you’ve got so much on your plate, especially with your own condition, so it’s nice to have the support of Novita therapists and staff who’ve managed all of this,” says Chrissy.
“It certainly doesn’t feel like a disability bathroom – we’ve had friends comment on how nicely done it is and it has dramatically improved life for us.”