Saturday, May 18, 2013

What We Really Need

Occasionally, when I get frustrated by all the additional challenges that chronic illness adds to life, I have to force myself to step back and realize how absurd these problems are. I don't say "absurd" to imply that our extra obstacles are laughable or trivial. I mean that they shouldn't be nearly as intimidating as they are.

For instance, I'm currently in the process of moving in with my boyfriend. Apartment hunting has never been an enjoyable task in my experience, but I wasn't prepared for the additional difficulty this time around. I don't drive and I can't handle long walks, so there's no good way to physically peruse the neighborhood for rent signs. On the other hand, I am fortunate enough to be conducting my search in the age of the Internet. I can handle a large portion of the hunt without leaving my desk.

The default starting point in the search tends to be Craigslist. That's not because it's the best website (as a designer, I see a lot of areas that need improvement), but because it's the best-known exchange site. Most of the people who think to post their place online will think of Craigslist first. This means there is a larger pool of residences to choose from. However, there's no good way to search that huge selection for what you really need.

There are a few ways to prune the list quickly, like selecting the option to only view listings with images,  but in all honesty, I'm not nearly as concerned about the woodwork as I am about wheelchair accessibility. Washer/dryer hook ups are nice and all, but I care far more about the proximity of a bus station. There's no effective way to search for these criteria. They are completely essential data points for many, many individuals, yet you would have to be exceedingly lucky to stumble across a listing advertising them. I usually end up closing my browser in frustration after about fifteen minutes.

Finally, a friend of mine (whose boyfriend has similar health issues) recommended another site, I'll admit that I was skeptical at first. I had used other sites in the past, and none had proved fruitful. Some work as conglomerators - they essentially search Craigslist for you and display the results differently to convince you it's not just the same three top-floor apartments. Other sites cater to such a specific demographic that they don't have enough users to generate a lot of content. I don't want to pick on support group websites or anything, because they do a lot of good for a lot of people in need, but they aren't the best place to find an apartment.

Still, my friend insisted that I check out AutNo, so I did. I prepared myself for disappointment, but it didn't come. Rather, I was truly impressed. AutNo was designed for people who don't drive, whatever the reason. The location search was beautifully simple. I could look city-by-city, or just pull up a map. Public transportation stops are marked and prioritized. I could even enter the addresses for my doctor's offices and it would calculate my commute time from the various locations. Handicap accessible apartments were actually marked as such, and they were even specific about whether that applied to the first floor only.

The greatest part was that AutNo was able to add in these much-needed functions without doing away with anything we've come to expect from apartment hunting sites. I was still able to limit my results to places that were within my price range, with enough bedrooms, and would allow my pets. I thought it would be impossible to find somewhere that had everything I needed, but once I plugged the data in, I found no less than three available places in the town I wanted.

I'm now in the process of moving in. Not only is there a ramp and an elevator, but the apartment is perfectly designed to accommodate both me and my more physically capable boyfriend. I have more closet space than I will ever need, and there's even a pool out back where I can do my physical therapy. I truly couldn't be happier with my new place, unless all of my stuff was already inside.

If anyone else is getting fed up trying to find a place, I'll tell you that I came close to tears of frustration more than a few times on Craigslist. I sincerely recommend giving a look. You might be surprised to find out what's right under your nose.

Of course, there are a lot of other stumbling blocks that chronic illness patients will hit that the healthy people don't seem to. We grow to expect this to a certain extent when we go out into the world, but it seems (to me, anyway) to hit a bit harder when we encounter these obstacles online. Often, there's an easy remedy. What kinds of issues have you run into? Share your stories here! Were you able to figure out a fix? If so, let us know, if not, then let's brainstorm!

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