The Visitability Petition for Dutchess County sign now

Do you think that Dutchess County should follow the good examples set in Auburn (NY), Atlanta (GA), Austin (TX), Toledo (OH), and Pima County (AZ) and pass a visitability ordinance for all new publicly funded construction to finally respect local folks with mixed abilities in the new millennium?

Visitability ordinances require certain features to be included in new homes built with public funds to make them more accessible to individuals with disabilities-- usually this means wide passage doorways on the first floor, at least an accessible half-bath on the first floor, at least one accessible entrance, as well as accessible electrical outlets and light switches.

As the New York State Independent Living Council notes below, "it would cost an average of an additional $150 to new home construction to include the above mentioned features. Implementing these features into homes would be beneficial to persons with disabilities, as well as the aging population. It increases the available accessible housing stock and promotes the ability of community members to visit each other without barriers. It can keep people in their homes, so they do not end up in costly nursing homes. This practice saves taxpayer dollars, increases quality of life, and supports the most-integrated setting mandate in the 1999 Olmstead U.S. Supreme Court decision.

Note as well-- Atlanta passed its local visitability ordinance in 1992, and in 2000 Georgia expanded it statewide; in 1998 Austin passed a local visitability ordinance-- and in 1999 Texas expanded it statewide..."may the circle keep on growing", as the folks at ConcreteChange.org say (similar legislation has passed in Vermont, Kansas and Florida as well)!

If you agree with us, sign on to this petition, contact our County Legislature at 486-2100 and countylegislature@co.dutchess.ny.us-- and pass it along to all you know.

Joel Tyner
County Legislator
Clinton/Rhinebeck
324 Browns Pond Road
Staatsburg, NY 12580
RealMajorityProject.blogspot.com
[email protected]
(845) 876-2488

p.s. The Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center on Universal Design at SUNY/Buffalo has produced the booklet "Visit-ability: an Approach to Universal Design in Housing," available for download at http://www.ap.buffalo.edu/rercud/visitabilitybook.htm -- or order from the Center for Inclusive Design & Environmental Access, School of Architecture and Planning - University at Buffalo Buffalo, NY 14214-3087 (716-829-3485 ext. 329; fax 716-829-3861; [email protected]

p.p.s. Call Congress toll-free at (800) 828-0498 to get Rep. Jan Schakowsky's Inclusive Home Design Act passed!...(and Albany toll-free at (877) 255-9417 to get statewide legislation passed similar to Georgia and Texas-- again, see much more on this at ConcreteChange.org).

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Vince Staskel of Poughkeepsie: "This is an outstanding and inclusive approach for new housing construction. It can mean increased opportunities for persons with disabilities to live independently and to interact within the community. In the past there was no thought of accessibility in any housing plans. Why? Because persons with disabilities were either housed in institutions or keep in back rooms out of site from the public. That certainly is not the case in the 21st. Century. More accessibility will actually save money by making more citizens productive and contributing members of their community."

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

From the New York State Independent Living Council...
[see http://www.nysilc.org/primary_source/housing_crisis.htm]

BEST PRACTICE: Auburn Passes Local Visitability Ordinance On September 13th, 2005

Auburn became one of the first communities in New York State to enact a visitability ordinance, requiring certain features to be included in new homes built with public funds to make them more accessible to individuals with disabilities. Public funds are any local, state, and/or federal monies used to support new construction.

Guy Consentino, executive director of Options for Independence, a non-profit organization that assists people with disabilities, made a presentation to the Auburn City Council on the Thursday before it passed the ordinance. New construction requirements would include wide passage doorways on the first floor, at least an accessible half-bath on the first floor, at least one accessible entrance, as well as accessible electrical outlets and light switches.

Consentino said that it would cost an average of an additional $150 to new home construction to include the above mentioned features. Implementing these features into homes would be beneficial to persons with disabilities, as well as the aging population. It increases the available accessible housing stock and promotes the ability of community members to visit each other without barriers. It can keep people in their homes, so they do not end up in costly nursing homes, Consentino said.

Brad Williams, executive director of NYSILC, echoed Cosentinos comments by adding, This practice saves taxpayer dollars, increases quality of life, and supports the most-integrated setting mandate in the 1999 Olmstead U.S. Supreme Court decision.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

From http://www.raggededgemagazine.com/0103/visitability.html ...

Visitability: Becoming a national trend?

"One day in 1986 I was driving around in Atlanta, Georgia, my home city, and I passed though a large development of new homes," says Eleanor Smith, founder of the U.S. visitability movement. "As always, these homes had steps at every entrance." But on that day, for some reason, Smith found herself looking at the houses differently. "I thought, 'These homes could have all had access!'

'Visitability' means

-- at least one no-step entrance

-- wider doorways

-- a bathroom one can get into and use

"I had driven past inaccessible houses thousands of time since my disability came about at age three, and I had paid the price of this lack of access when I could not go to friends' parties, when I suffered from being unable to use the bathroom when visiting other people's homes." Smith had had great difficulty finding an apartment or home she could rent as well.

Smith thought about it over the next few months, she says, and came to realize that "widespread change in housing construction depended on identifying and publicizing the very few construction barriers that create the most harm: lack of a zero-step entrance, narrow interior doors, and lack of access to a bathroom."

Smith credits her involvement in ADAPT for her epiphany. "Without participating in ADAPT --a lift on every new bus -- I would have never had the epiphany of 'a zero-step entrance on every new house.'"

Like the organizer she is, Smith had found a way to name the problem in simple terms that others could understand. "I joined with several other local people with disabilities and we named our organization 'Concrete Change.'"

At the time they weren't using the term "visitability" but simply referring to it as "basic access." She learned of the word from a Japanese architect, a wheelchair user, who told her that in Europe activist had a term for the concept she was espousing: "visitability."

"I was immediately excited about this term," she says. "It automatically makes people think 'every house,' not 'special houses.

"Back then, it was generally taken as an unexamined given that only people who are currently disabled need access features in their homes," she explains. "Any term that shifted that assumption was valuable."

"It defies logic to build new homes that block people out when it's so easy and cheap to build new homes that let people in," says Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D.-Ill.), chief sponsor of the bill in Congress.

Why the bill? "It is currently legal for the U. S government to fund new, totally inaccessible townhouses and single-family homes," Smith explains. "HUD, FEMA, the VA, and other federal agencies do that every day." She calls the move toward federal legislation a "leap forward, a significant leap -- because it will get far more people talking and thinking about the idea."

Can visitability become a political, activist movement? It already is. Although advocates have been getting visitability laws passed since the 1990s, in the past year, hundreds of stories about the concept have appeared in the media. Visitability legislation has moved onto the agendas of an increasing number of communities.

Colleagues at a universal design conference a few years ago were told to "watch Eleanor." It seems to have been good advice. Smith, though, ever the organizer, credits others with the growth of the concept -- especially the Disability Rights Action Coalition on Housing, or DRACH, a national group that organizes disability advocates nationwide to push not only the national legislation but local efforts as well.

But the strength of the movement, she believes, has been the idea itself. "It is so self-evident that the consequences of the lack of access for people with mobility impairments are so severe -- it's not a matter of inconvenience; it's a matter of humiliation, bladder infection. When you see how dire the consequences are, and you see how easy it is to create new houses that don't have these major barriers, then it becomes really ridiculous and outrageous that the barriers continue to be built into new homes."

The key, she says, is that unlike the shift of money from nursing home to in-home services, visitability does not take money from any industry. "Visitability simply does not cost a lot of money." In houses built on concrete slabs, achieving visitability can cost $100 or less per house, says Smith. Houses with crawl spaces can achieve visitability for $500 per house.

But no new idea goes unchallenged. Opponents insist the cost can often be much higher. They also argue the right of private property owners to be free of "government interference." (They forget that fire, plumbing and electric codes that homebuilders routinely follow are also "government interference.")

Smith says the consequences of not building visitable homes "will really will come home to rest" on society in the near future.

"When I see opponents spouting patently incorrect cost data, using the very worst-case scenarios, I think to myself, 'you know, you guys are never going to be rich enough to not live with the consequences of what you're trying to effect here. Only the mega-wealthy or Christopher Reeve can afford to travel constantly with three people to carry them up steps.'

"They're thinking, 'Oh, it won't happen to me,' or 'Oh, I have the money to redo my own house.' Maybe. But not their son's house, not the house of the person they've played poker with for the last three decades. Then what?"

An opponent of a visitability bill in Georgia told Smith "he really couldn't support it. Then, over the summer, his dad had a stroke. The next year he said, 'I see things quite differently now.'" He'd had trouble when his dad came home in getting him up the steps and through the doors. "All it took in his case," said Smith, "was coming home."

Local bills pass, meet opposition

For updates on local efforts, read articles from the Center for An Accessible Society.

Activists in many communities are working to pass visitability laws. Some push for visitability only in homes built with public money; others push for visitability in all new homes. In 2000, a coalition led by the Vermont Assistive Technology Project got a law passed that "mandates accessibility requirements for all new residential housing (including townhouses, condominiums, etc.) constructed in Vermont," says Carol Boyer.

This was also the case in Pima County, AZ, a suburb of Tucson, where advocates Bill and Collette Altaffer worked to get an Inclusive Home Design Ordinance passed. The law took effect in October.

A few days before it did, some Arizona builders filed suit, insisting it violated their constitutional rights. The case, handled by the Mountain States Legal Foundation (a rightwing legal group devoted "Individual Liberty, The Right to Own and Use Property, Limited and Ethical Government and The Free Enterprise System") was dismissed by the court a few weeks later.

Pittsburgh advocates are pushing Ordinance 959, requiring visitability in homes developed with city financial assistance, though Councilman Jim Ferlo, who introduced it, says he'd like to change the way all houses are built. Disability advocate and attorney Paul O'Hanlon had hoped the bill would pass this past fall. It didn't, and Ferlo has now left the City Council for the State Senate. Action on the bill on hold until March Why? Opponents have "carried more weight," according to a pro-visitability editorial in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. They include the city administration, the Urban Redevelopment Authority, commercial developers and community groups, all of whom "fear that higher costs might harm building projects." Other opponents worry "whether houses designed for disabled people will be readily bought by others" and that "visitable houses will appear different than those of their neighbors."

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

From http://www.raggededgemagazine.com/departments/news/000570.html ...

Toledo passes 'visitability' ordinance

Toledo has become the first city in Ohio to require that all new one, two and three-family homes built with public funds contain three elements to ensure that they're livable -- for everyone:

At least one no-step entrance;

32-inch doorways and 36-inch hallways;

a wheelchair-accessible bathroom on the main floor.

These three simple features are the hallmarks of visitability, a movement that is gaining momentum nationwide.

The Toledo ordinance also requires new homes to have wall outlets "at least 15 inches above the finished floor"; light switches no higher than 48 inches above the floor; and reinforcement added behind bathroom walls to allow later installation of grab bars.

The Ability Center of Greater Toledo, an independent living center, was instrumental in getting the local ordinance to a vote, where it passed unanimously.

"We are extremely pleased by Council's passage of this landmark ordinance," said Ability Center director Tim Harrington when the bill passed the city council last month. "The ordinance eliminates architectural barriers that isolate persons with disabilities, seniors and others with mobility impairments. It will promote inclusion throughout the community buy allowing those individuals to freely visit and socialize with family and friends. It also gives Toledo recognition as a prominent, proactive leader in Ohio regarding accessibility.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

From http://www.raggededgemagazine.com/drn/drn01-0399.htm ...

Austin, Texas becomes second city in the nation to require basic access in single-family homes

Newly-constructed single family homes, duplexes and triplexes which receive financial assistance from the City of Austin, Texas, must now provide basic access, thanks to a new "visitability" ordinance passed by the Austin City Council Oct. 7 to take effect Nov. 1.

The ordinance requires:

1. One no-step entrance at the front, back, side or through the garage

2. Doors (including bathroom) at least 32 inches wide

3. Passageways (halls, small rooms) at least 36 inches wide

4. Reinforcements in bathroom walls around the toilet and bathtub/shower to permit installing grab bars when needed 5. Light switches and other environmental controls between 15 and 48 inches from the floor.

Austin is the second city in the U.S, after Atlanta, to pass a "visitability" ordinance. (Legislation requiring new 1- and 2-bedroom homes be "visitable" passed the British Parliament in March, making the UK the first nation in the world to mandate basic access in single-family homes.

See "Visitability now law in UK," D.R. Nation, July/August)

Austin ADAPT organizer Cathy Cranston says the law "leads to the day when renting a house, growing older in oneєs own home, becoming temporarily disabled or having a child with a disability will be that much easier because more and more homes will have this basic -- visitability -- level of access."

Austin ADAPT used Atlanta's law as a model and were helped by the activists of Atlanta-basedConcrete Change. Concrete Change first developed the idea of "visitability" a number of years ago.

"wheelchair accessible housing is both inexpensive to construct and practical in almost 95\% of all new homes built," contractor Paul Locascio of Decatur, Georgia says. For the Atlanta ordinance effort, Locascio figured average cost for making a new home visitable at $265.

Austin ADAPT worked with city staff to hold public hearings, conducted a focus group for builders, developers, realtors and spent several months working out details before the ordinance was introduced.

Multi-family housing of four or more units built after 1991 must already meet a somewhat stronger degree of accessibility, often referred to as adaptability, under the Fair Housing Amendments Act of 1988. Housing with five or more units that received any federal financial assistance must meet more stringent access requirements of Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as outlined in the Uniform Federal Accessibility Standards, UFAS.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

From http://www.accessiblesociety.org/topics/housing/pimacoruling.html ...

Nation's first "visitability" law withstands court challenge

Dec. 23, 2003 -- In a unanimous decision, the Arizona Court of Appeals Friday put to rest efforts by Tucson builders to void Pima County's nearly 2-year-old law requiring minimal access in new homes, the Inclusive Home Design Ordinance. The ordinance was one of the first in the nation to require "visitability" for new single-family homes.

The Southern Arizona Home Builders Association had sued over the law, saying county officials had no right to pass such a law; that it was "unconstitutional." The state appeals court, however, ruled that county does have the authority to adopt wheelchair access requirements for buildings.

The ordinance requires all new houses in the unincorporated areas of the county around Tucson be built with at least one entrance with no step, and doors at least 32 inches wide. It also requires

-- lever door handles

-- reinforced walls in ground-floor bathrooms so it's easy for an occupant to install grab bars

-- switches no higher than 48 inches

-- hallways 36 inches wide throughout the main floor.

The Pima County ordinance, the first in the nation to require a zero-step entry in a single-family home, passed in February 2002. When a local building firm, applied for a permit to build a single-family home, and their proposed design failed to comply with the ordinance and the county denied the application, the company sued the county, saying it "lacked statutory authority to adopt the ordinance and that it violated both the Equal Protection and Privacy Clauses of the Arizona Constitution."

Writing the opinion for the Arizona Supreme Court, Judge Eckerstrom wrote that "the uncontested evidence established that approximately one percent of the population is confined [sic] to wheelchairs, but the county points out that a much larger percentage will suffer [sic] a disability at some point in their lives. Although all age groups are affected by disability, the county introduced evidence that approximately forty-one percent of people over the age of sixty-five have some form of disability. Disability is a growing problem both nationally and locally, and the county also introduced evidence that Arizona's population of people over the age of sixty is expected to triple by 2025. Although many of these disabled people will not be confined [sic] to wheelchairs, the county concluded from these figures that the number of people confined [sic] to wheelchairs is rising. For these reasons, the county addressed a legitimate governmental interest when it adopted a building code designed to increase the number of homes accessible to those in wheelchairs."

The builders also complained to the court that the ordinance "places the financial design burdens on homeowners who will probably never be confined [sic] to wheelchairs." Dismissing this argument, the court noted that the county had "submitted to the trial court the results of a study suggesting that complying with the ordinance would cost only about $100....Indeed, the Board of Supervisors found that the cost of including the ordinance's designs into a new home was substantially less than the cost of renovating a home to accommodate a person confined [sic] to a wheelchair. On this record, the Board of Supervisors could have rationally concluded that the benefit to the community in providing for the disabled justified the comparatively minimal cost of implementing the required design features."

The case is Washburn v. Pima County, #2 CA-CV 2003-0107. To download a copy of the Court's opinion in WordPerfect, go to http://www.apltwo.ct.state.az.us/ODSPlus/recentDecisions.cfm, click on "civil" and Submit.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

From http://www.escanaba.org/dpvisitability.htm ...

Its A First
Esky Council offers incentive to build barrier-free housing

LYNN JOHNSON
Daily Press June 6, 2003

ESCANABA -members of the area's disabled community and disability rights advocates all over the world have cause to celebrate thanks to the city of Escanaba. The city is the first community anywhere to enact a cash incentive program to promote accessible housing for the handicapped, according to Michigan Disability Rights Coalition member and former Escanaba resident Norma Bauer. A city ordinance meant to inspire new home builders to make their residences more visitable was unanimously approved by the Escanaba City Council on Thursday. The Visitability Ordinance, No. 1024, implements a voluntary compliance policy that encourages new single family dwellings in the city to be constructed using design features that provide greater access for those with physical disabilities. Residents who build such features as no-step entrances, wide doors and accessible bathrooms will be eligible to receive a $150 cash rebate from the city after a compliance inspection. It's been a long time coming. Bauer first approached city council with such a compromise idea last winter. A $1,200 line-item was added to the 2002-03 city budget by council, but there wasn't a written ordinance on the books to back up the incentive. Not until last night. Now, in addition to getting a rebate check, builders who comply with minimum visitability standards will help insure that disabled persons and the elderly can at least get in and get out of a private residence. This is going to help other communities, said Gloria McCullough, a disabled individual from Hannahville. There are handicapped people in every community, but they (Escanaba) have taken the lead. Unlike communities around the world that mandate compliance, you are building an incentive for voluntary compliance, Bauer told council. You are demonstrating your commitment to the concept that government has an obligation to address the long-term needs of all its citizens. The city's action was applauded by disabled people attending the council meeting. They carried signs reading, Thank You Escanaba, and Visitability community access. There's governments all over the country that are having activists coming to them and point out all these good ideas. And other governmental leaders are saying, Yeah, yeah, tomorrow, Bauer told council. It is a very neat thing to be part of a community that is welcoming this type of access, Jane Heinz told council. Thank you. She is the mother of an adult daughter with cerebral palsy. Their family home in Carroll's Corners follows the design plan known as A Home For Life. Bauer thanked city council, as well as City Community Preservation and Planning Director Jim O'Toole, who carried the ball. I am so happy to celebrate with you and I congratulate you for your foresight and leadership, said Bauer. Thanks also went to the area's assistive technology council; Heinz and Marilyn Kinsey, who first addressed the issue of visitability in the city; and to the organization which invented the concept Concrete Change of Atlanta, Ga.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

From http://www.mcil.org/mcil/news/newsr27.htm ...

Visitability ordinance passes! Austin becomes second city in the nation where housing will welcome all

Contact: Tim Wheat
(901) 726-6404

Basic access is now the law of the land for newly constructed single family homes, duplexes and triplexes which receive financial assistance from the City of Austin, Texas. The City Council unanimously passed a Visitability Ordinance on Wednesday October 7, 1998. The ordinance requires that such housing make minor adjustments in the construction including:

One no-step entrance (may be at the front, back, side or through the garage),

All doors (including bathroom) are at least 32 inches wide,

Halls and other rooms are at least 36 inches wide,

Reinforcements in bathroom walls around the toilet and bathtub/shower for installing grab bars,

Light switches and other environmental controls between 15 and 48 inches from the floor.

"This basic access will be the first step toward the day when people with disabilities can VISIT and freely socialize with neighbors and friends in each others homes" said ADAPT organizer Cathy Cranston. "It leads to the day when renting a house, growing older in one's own home, becoming temporarily disabled or having a child with a disability will be that much easier because more and more homes will have this basic -- visitability -- level of access."

Housing with four or more units (built after 1991) must meet a somewhat stronger degree of accessibility, often referred to as adaptability, under the Fair Housing Amendments Act of 1988. Housing with five or more units that received any federal financial assistance must meet more stringent access requirements of Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as outlined in the Uniform Federal Accessibility Standards, UFAS.

"I'm proud that Austin is the second city in the nation to adopt this type of ordinance," ADAPT organizer Jennifer McPhail said. "We used Atlanta, the first city, as a model and the information we got from there and from the group Concrete Change was a big help."

"As a builder with 10 years of experience in building affordable housing for Habitat for Humanity in Atlanta and the son of a disabled veteran, I am keenly aware that wheelchair accessible housing is both inexpensive to construct and practical in almost 95\% of all new homes built" Paul Locascio of Decatur GA wrote when he estimated his average cost for making a new home visitable at $265.

After holding public hearings, a focus group for builders, developers, realtors and several months of meetings to work out the details, city staff proposed the ordinance which will take effect November first.

For more info call Texas ADAPT: (512) 442-0252

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

[call Congress toll-free at (800) 828-0498 to get current version of this below passed!]

From http://www.concretechange.org/laws.htm ...

2005 The Inclusive Home Design Act -- HR 1441 Fact Sheet

What current problems does The Inclusive Home Design Act address?

Currently, only 5\% of new single-family homes and townhouses financially assisted by the US Federal government require any access features that permit people with mobility impairments to visit or reside in the homes. The remaining 95\% use public money to create new, unnecessary architectural barriers. Therefore, residents who develop disabilities often face expensive renovations at their own cost or public cost. More often, when renovations are unfeasible, residents live in unsafe conditions or are displaced from their homes into institutions. Additionally, disabled people-- from children to elderly-- and their families become socially isolated because architectural barriers in homes prevent visiting their friends, neighbors and extended family.

How does this Act address the problems?

The Act requires a basic level of architectural access, whenever practical, in the 95\% of Federally assisted new homes not currently covered by law.

Are renovations of existing homes covered by the Act? No.

What architectural features does the Act require?

At least one zero-step entrance on an accessible route at the front, side or back of the home, or through an attached garagewherever is most feasible for the given terrain.

All interior passage doors on the main floor of the home providing a minimum of 32 inches of clear passage space.

A useable bathroom with at least a toilet and sink on the main level.

Blocking in bathroom walls (but not grab bars)

Electrical and climate controls such as light switches, sockets and thermostats located at reachable heights. What are the total, average added costs per home for all the features?

For homes built on a concrete slab, $98

For homes with a basement or crawl space, $573

Can the requirement for a zero-step entrance be waived if the terrain offers extreme difficulty and would therefore require excessive cost? Yes.

Are multi-story homes permitted which have no access to upper floors ?

Yes. The requirements refer to the main floor only.

What types of Federal assistance require the architectural access features?

Grants, loans, subsidies, land given or sold at less than market value, tax credits, mortgage assistance, loan guarantees, or insurance, provided by or from the Federal government, or use of Federal personnel.

What are the enforcement mechanisms?

Applicants for Federal financial assistance must submit an assurance to the Federal agency responsible for such assistance that all of its programs and activities will be conducted in compliance with the Act. The applicants must also submit architectural plans to the state or local entity that is responsible, under State or local law, to review and approve or disapprove construction plans for compliance. The Secretary of HUD may not provide any Federal financial assistance under any program administered by HUD to an applicant before determining that these actions have been completed. Furthermore, consistent with applicable State or local laws and procedures, the relevant state and local entities must withhold final approval of construction or occupancy of a covered dwelling unit unless and until compliance is determined.

Who introduced the Inclusive Home Design Act?

Representative Jan Schakowsky of the 9 th District of Illinois, in October 2002.

To what committees has the bill been referred?

The Bill has been referred to the House Financial Services Committee.

How can I get involved to help pass the Inclusive Home Design Act?

Work and organize to find co-sponsors, generate letters of support from organizations sent to Representative Jan Schakowskys officice, educate the public, urge your legislator to sign on and thank them if they have done so.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

From http://newmobility.com/articleView.cfm?id=19&action=browse ...

Eleanor Smith Wants Concrete Change
By Mike Ervin
August 1997
Visitability

I'm riding shotgun in Eleanor Smith's van through the streets of Atlanta. A brochure she's given me shows a picture of a typical neighborhood scene--a row of small, simple houses, one powder blue, one a darker blue and one a pale pink. All have green lawns.

Typical except the side doors of all these houses have wooden ramps. The ramps are obvious but not intrusive. They were built with aesthetics in mind as much as function.

Eleanor swings a right turn and the picture in my hand comes to life. Here are these very houses, lining this lazy little street. And I could accept an invitation to roll into every last one if I wanted to. This isn't some HANDICAPPED ONLY fenced-in compound where the city of Atlanta meets its accessible housing quota. This is a regular old neighborhood.

We drift past slowly. "They look good, don't they?" Eleanor says, sitting upright with pride as she grips the steering wheel with both hands. "And they're not marked with the big blue wheelchair sign."

This is how it is all over Atlanta. You suddenly come across clusters of homes with ramped or flat entrances. Sometimes, if you don't go through the alley or pull up to just the right vantage point, the accessible entrances wouldn't even be noticeable. Atlanta is the only city in America that has adopted a "visitability" ordinance requiring basic access in nearly all new single-family homes. And the reason it happened in Atlanta is because Eleanor Smith lives here.

Eleanor, who had polio, invented the concept of visitability, which in Atlanta's ordinance requires one flat or sloped entrance, doors at least 32 inches wide, wall switches and outlets at reachable heights, and reinforced bathroom walls to allow for installation of grab bars. If every house were built this way, it would provide enough access for everyone who uses a chair to visit and probably live there, too. It's not full access, but it's better than what most of us are used to.

"It distinguishes between what is nice and what is essential," Eleanor says. "I tried to boil it down. I went for the things that cause the most grief for every mobility-impaired person. It's like a car. What do you need most with a car? You need an engine and tires."

And with a house you need to get in and get around inside. The stuff about the switch heights and bathroom walls was thrown in, Eleanor says, because it costs little or nothing to do. So why not?

Changing Habits and Habitats

The group Eleanor created to fight for visitability, Concrete Change, is small and loose, yet obviously strong and smart enough to make a big difference. Atlanta's visitability ordinance passed in 1993, but the story begins in the late 1980s, when Habitat for Humanity, the home builders for the poor everyone associates with former President Jimmy Carter, built a bunch of brand-new houses in Atlanta. Brand-new and inaccessible. "I looked at those houses and, bang, it hit me," says Eleanor. "There could've been access."

So Concrete Change met with the local head of Habitat to convince him to incorporate basic access into all future homes they build in the area. "He sat there leaning back in his chair with his arms folded," Eleanor recalls. "He said, 'People don't want this.' He said, 'We have to keep our focus. We don't build for disabled people. We build for poor people.'" But Eleanor kept the pressure on and now Atlanta Habitat builds only visitable homes. Once the first few went up, she says, "We were able to demonstrate that it does work and how inexpensive and practical it is."

Concrete Change contends that visitability adds from nothing to $200 to the cost of a home. Paul Locascio, construction foreman for Atlanta Habitat, says his experience bears that out. "Building a ramp is like building a deck," he says. "You just build it on an angle." Building homes with steps is simply a matter of habit, he says, and incorporating visitability is a good way to break that habit. "If it's approached as an integrated part of construction, it's not a real head-grinder."

The visitability ordinance was introduced by a councilwoman whose daughter uses a wheelchair. It passed quickly, quietly and unanimously.

It wasn't happily-ever-after time yet, however. The city housing commissioner at the time was an opponent of the law, so he simply did not enforce it. "Sixty houses went up wrong, " Eleanor says. "I was so upset I was ready to scream!"

But when Bill Campbell replaced Maynard Jackson as mayor, in came a new housing commissioner described by Eleanor as a big believer in visitability who takes enforcement very seriously. The result so far, according to Eleanor's estimate, is about 600 visitable homes in Atlanta in all price ranges. And recently, much to her delight, a developer voluntarily put up 120 more homes with basic access in a neighboring county, outside the jurisdiction of the ordinance. But that's the only instance of voluntary compliance Eleanor can name. Unvisitable homes are still going up in surrounding areas by the hundreds.

"Most builders are like most 2-year-olds," Locascio says. "Their first reaction to anything new is 'No!'" Habitat itself still builds thousands of inaccessible homes everywhere else in the country. But Locascio believes builders will change once enough activists around America push to make visitability the standard where they live. "Like most 2-year-olds, once they see that it is going to be done and there may be a benefit in it for them, they come around. It's just a matter of getting beyond the terrible twos."

So if visitability is such an great idea, why is Atlanta the only place that has it? Eleanor says she's continually surprised at how low expectations are about housing access, even among disability activists. "I've run into disabled people who thought we had no right to visit other people's homes," she says. "They thought that was too much to ask."

Wanting More

I know what she means. Taking her visitability tour was inspiring and yet unsettling to me in the same way as my first public transit ride. The speed and spontaneity of riding the subway in Washington, D.C., made me feel as if I had wings. But with it came a loss of innocence. Back in Chicago, I suddenly felt like I was slogging through thick mud. The inaccessible buses that had passed me millions of times now stirred up righteous anger.

I joined those who fought hard for bus access and we won. And if any attempt was made today to put even one new inaccessible bus on the street, we would drop everything and fight back. But riding with Eleanor made me realize how much new and unusable housing goes up along my sacred accessible bus routes every day. And it isn't that I see it and just swallow my indignation and move on. It's a lot worse than that. I don't even notice.

Why is that? Housing access is so universally awful and we face this isolation at such an early age that it becomes like the weather," Eleanor says. "It's just the way things are. We think it's something that happens rather than something that somebody makes happen."

But the first sign that a broader housing access movement is developing can be seen in Illinois, where a bill currently in the state legislature would require visitability in most single-family home construction throughout the state. This effort is spearheaded by Access Living, Chicago's independent living center.

Karen Tamley of Access Living says the bill is moving through the legislature because it's not perceived as another "handicapped" bill. "It's the kind of thing that's best for everybody," she says. "There is a Republican legislator who is a physical therapist and she is a strong supporter." And visitability allows senior citizens to "age in place" rather than having to move when they need a mobility device to get around. That's why groups such as AARP have signed on in Illinois.

Concrete Change worked with a Georgia state legislator to introduce a statewide visitability bill in the most recent session. It died in committee. But anyone who knows Eleanor Smith knows it will be back.

For more information on Concrete Change and visitability, call 404/378-7455.

Sign The Petition

Sign with Facebook
OR

If you already have an account please sign in, otherwise register an account for free then sign the petition filling the fields below.
Email and the password will be your account data, you will be able to sign other petitions after logging in.

Privacy in the search engines? You can use a nickname:

Attention, the email address you supply must be valid in order to validate the signature, otherwise it will be deleted.

I confirm registration and I agree to Usage and Limitations of Services

I confirm that I have read the Privacy Policy

I agree to the Personal Data Processing

Shoutbox

Who signed this petition saw these petitions too:

Sign The Petition

Sign with Facebook
OR

If you already have an account please sign in

Comment

I confirm registration and I agree to Usage and Limitations of Services

I confirm that I have read the Privacy Policy

I agree to the Personal Data Processing

Goal
0 / 50

Latest Signatures

No one has signed this petition yet

Information

Ina WarrenBy:
FoodIn:
Petition target:
Dutchess County residents

Tags

No tags

Share

Invite friends from your address book

Embed Codes

direct link

link for html

link for forum without title

link for forum with title

Widgets