LESSON 10: UD POLITICS: VISIT*ABILITY AND FAIR HOUSINGIF you've completed nine UD lessons, you may not believe it, but you're almost a UD Guru! This last lesson will really interest budding young politicians who want to improve the Quality of Life for ALL! Go tell your Civics or Government teacher that you're learning about “VIZ,” which has its goal, to make a fundamental change in American home design and construction practices.
To put FACES on the need for Visit*Ability, we start with “Who's NOT at the party?” (Celebs and others who canNOT visit friends whose homes are INaccessible). We describe the Visit*Ability Movement that is spreading basic access across U. S. cities and states, and even a proposed FEDERAL VIZ law. After that, here comes the Judge (again), with a short piece on enforcement of the federal Fair Housing Act Access Guidelines (which actually were FIRST U. S. VIZ legislation (1988)—but it wasn’t called VIZ at that time.
Lesson 10 will prepare you to launch a teen-smart Universal Design and VIZ Awareness Campaign in your school district, local churches and service clubs, or the whole community. As an Expert VISITOR, you'll be able to:
By late 2005, hardly ANY wheelchair ACCESSIBILITY requirements applied to private, new 1-3-family housing in the U. S., EXCEPT dwellings covered by VIZ ordinances and statutes in a few cities and states. Smith (2004) noted that of over one million new U. S. housing starts per year, 99% of the single-family homes (NOT including townhouses) are built with steps at EVERY entrance, plus narrow bathroom doors (only 28" to 32" wide).
WHO'S NOT AT THE PARTY AND WHY NOT?!While you're thinking PARTY! consider who visits your home. Can ALL your friends, team or youth group members, AND your grandparents enter your home IF they use crutches, a walker, or a wheelchair? EVEN BEFORE we define Visit*Ability, the questions below will help you to discover its importance.
Who do I know who...
___Refuses invitations to dinner or sleep-overs or must leave early if s/he CAN’T get into the host's bathroom?
___CanNOT attend most meetings or parties that are held in private homes?
___Is home-bound because s/he CAN’T get down the steps?
Those experiences don’t happen JUST to people who JUST happen to have disabilities. EVERY American has a TEMPORARY disability AT LEAST ONCE in their lifetime. After reading the next three questions, close your eyes and visualize entering YOUR home.
___If any, do entry steps present barriers to people who move refrigerators or large play equipment in and out?
___If any, do entry steps have handrails to help people who are unsteady on their feet or who need to pull themselves up?
___What changes would be required so that guests who use crutches or other mobility devices could enter your home, enjoy a meal, and use the bathroom before they leave?
Was that an eye-opener?! The people who need VIZ NOW or will in the future are a HUGE group! Can you think of other folks who might be thankful for basic access from time to time? To mention a few:
___Mobility-impaired persons who face major housing challenges because few new OR used houses or apartments are EVEN MINIMALLY accessible.
___EVERYONE you'd like to invite to your flowers illustrati on home.
Everyone?! In addition to people with temporary mobility problems (e. g., broken leg, hip replacement, or pregnancy), others include children with disabilities who cannot attend friends' birthday parties; hospital patients who can't return home to convalesce in their upstairs bedrooms; and Baby Boomers who are caring for frail parents either in the family home OR their own. Private homeowners may even discover that VIZ increases the usability AND resale value of their homes.
Other advantages of Visit*Ability include greater safety and maneuverability for bringing large bags of groceries into the house. If you ask the Maytag DELIVERY-person (NOT their lonely repairman), s/he’ll probably say that VIZ makes it possible to move major appliances and large furniture in and out of entryways WITHOUT gouging the woodwork, scratching paint, OR smashing a fingers. Finally, the WHOLE community can benefit by saving their tax dollars that go to support people with mobility limits who are UNemployed because most workplaces have steps.
By now you’re dying to know the definitions of Visit*Ability and basic access. In short, the VIZ concept provides BASIC ACCESS to housing, which allows people with mobility limits to enter, visit, share a meal, and use a first-floor bathroom. Basic access requires only three features: 1) At least one no-step entry, 2) a half bathroom on the main floor, and 3) entry and interior doors with minimum 32” CLEAR passage. More on them AFTER the party...
EVEN SOME CELEBS HAVE TO MISS PARTIES
You've already named some people that you know could benefit from VIZ. NOW, let's meet some famous names who could be socially isolated if most of their friends' homes have entry steps, narrow doors, AND NONaccessible bathrooms. True, celebs are more likely than most people with disabilities to be able to afford basic access in their homes. But who wants to be the host/ess EVERY TIME?!
The Celebs who canNOT come to the party are an AWESOME group! Most on OUR list are adults, because the older that one gets, the more time they've had to hold dangerous jobs (e.g., fighting wars, construction, farming,..) AND use adult toys like fast cars, sports equipment, and Big Bikes. Plus, UNless you're a child prodigy, it usually takes a few years to become a nationally- or world-famous CELEB!
One person who DID become a child celeb is former Disney Mouseketeer, Annette Funicello. Later famous for her peanut butter commercials, Annette was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis while she was a young mother. But until recently (she's 60-Something now), she led an active life from her chair.
If you’ve watched 'Ed' on the tube, you’ll recognize Daryl 'Chill' Mitchell, a former hip-hop performer who plays Eli, the bowling alley manager. Chill's music, film, and television career was already booming when a 'cycle crash almost ended his life in 2001. Spinal cord damage made him a PARAplegic, so he and 'Eli' BOTH rely on wheelchairs to get around.
One of America's newer Celebs with a disability is architect Michael Graves, who’s designed gobs of cerulean blue household products for Target stores. (Surf the web to ALSO find some of his great ARCHITECTURAL designs!). Following a disabling disease just a few years ago, he’s had to adapt his living and work environments for his IMmobility.
In 2003, Graves' somewhat universal paper shredder design was awarded Silver among the year’s New Products. It looks like a sleek, covered wastebasket, but serves as a combo shredder, trash and paper clip holder, and pencil sharpener. By the way, the Target organization unveiled a new national marketing slogan in 2005: Design for All. BUT it’s NOT synonymous with UD! CLICK HERE to see what they DO mean: http://target.com/designforall/home.jhtml
Another high-profile celeb brings fireworks to the party! John Hockenberry, an award-winning foreign correspondent and TV/radio personality, became a paraplegic at age 19 in a car accident. If you’re a late arrival, YOU’LL MISS the tiny red, blue, and green lights that blaze when his wheelchair’s front wheels turn.
John’s 7-year-old twin daughters convinced him that the electric scooter wheels were a big improvement for being disabled in public. Although his girls are almost too big to ride on Daddy’s lap anymore, his SECOND set of twins, 4-year-old boys, still fit just fine!. You can read about this Dynamic Dad with a Disability if you CLICK HERE: http://www.metropolismag.com/cda/story.php?artid=1019
Sadly, two very successful celebs with disabilities left us in 2004. First, jazz pianist and composer, Ray Charles, had a long and highly successful career WITHOUT SIGHT. When someone guided Ray to the ivories, HE STARTED the party! If you haven't seen the movie, 'Ray,' GET DOWN (to the video/DVD store)!
Former Superman (aka Chistopher Reeves) became a QUADRIplegic after falling from his show jumping horse. Before his death at only 50, he had become a disability advocate who raised broad public consciousness, plus millions of $$$ for disability-related research. A strong advocate for stem cell research, Reeves died before he could benefit from it.
Searching for teens who may miss the party, we immediately thought of Helen Keller, whose sight and hearing impairments made her an early “disability poster child.” Several decades later, Ted Kennedy, Jr., lost a leg to cancer while a YOUNG teenager. But that didn't keep him from snow skiing with assistive ski pole/ski devices. After college, he RAN a successful campaign to represent his Massachusetts home district in the U. S. House of Representatives.
Over the past decade, two young women just out of their teens became the first Miss Americas with disabilities. First was Heather Stone, who’s been deaf since childhood, followed a few years later by the former Miss ???, who just happened to have insulin-dependent diabetes. Their disabling conditions could have resulted in HUGE communication and attitudinal barriers as they traveled the world as goodwill ambassador. Instead, their limitations provided HUGE opportunities to create disability awareness among millions of Americans.
Did we mention the many American TEEN HEROES (male AND female) who were injured in the Gulf War, Iraq, Afghanistan, or other hot spots? Despite widely varied combat disabilities, most of today's severely wounded soldiers are rehabilitated and if appropriate, receive prostheses. They WON'T be ”confined to wheelchairs” because that last phrase is NOT politically correct. For example, a recent change converted the former Army Disabled Soldier Support System to the U. S. Army WOUNDED Warrior Program.
Of the current crowd of TEEN IDOLS, whose temporary or permanent disability has introduced them AND their fans to architectural and attitudinal barriers? The surfer-girl from Hawaii who lost an arm to a shark is fast becoming a new teen celeb. Would Mary-Kate Olsen's eating disorder qualify? Who’ve we missed? While you’re thinking, we’ll get back to the importance of Visit*Ability (which IS a minimally-Universal Design).
VISIT*ABILITY: THE BOTTOM RUNG ON THE UD CONTINUUMEleanor Smith, a 60-Something retired ENGLISH TEACHER, was disabled by polio as a child. As an adult, she became concerned about the INability of many wheelchair users to socialize or attend meetings in private homes with entry steps. In the late Eighties, Eleanor founded the Visit*Ability Movement and Concrete Change, Inc., in Atlanta, with the goal of changing home construction practices so that ALL new single-family, duplex, and triplex housing includes a few BASIC ACCESS features (Stark, 2002).
Later, the Disability Rights Action Coalition for Housing (DRACH) also began to promote VIZ; and its members were helpful in finding the best strategies to get VIZ proposals passed at local and state levels. Since 1999, growing numbers of cities and states have enacted Visit*Ability ordinances or laws requiring that new single-family, duplex, and triplex housing be built with minimal access features (Truesdale & Steinfeld) 2001). By late 2005, a federal VIZ proposal (the Inclusive Housing Design Act, H. R. 1441) was pending in the U. S. Congress for the second time.
States that have passed voluntary or legislated VIZ programs include Georgia, Vermont, Texas, Kansas, and Arizona. The list of cities and counties with VIZ is growing rapidly: Atlanta, Austin (TX), Bolingbrook, Chicago, Naperville, and Urbana (IL), Pima County and Prescott Valley (AZ), Iowa City (IA), Toledo (OH), Scanton (PA), and Arvada (CO).
Whether OR NOT new homes are planned to accommodate people with disabilities, VIZ features offer easy living by those who MAY develop temporary or permanent MOBILITY impairments. VIZ features allow persons with mobility limits to enter friends' homes or attend neighborhood meetings without having to leave early to find an accessible bathroom. VIZ also BEGINS to meet the access needs of homeowners who (suddenly OR gradually) face the results of accidents or normal age-related limitations.
VIZ has appeared ONLY because U. S. progress toward FULL accessibility has been so-o-o slo-o-ow. The VIZ definition has been evolving since Ms. Smith began her public crusade and was joined by DRACH. Basic Access represents the “Minimalist” (lowest) level of Universal Design. At the other end of the UD continuum, full built-in Universal Design offers a much higher level of access than VIZ --and MUCH more. Visit*Ability is a compromise between FULL, FIXED wheelchair accessibility (which is more expensive and permanently needed by less than 10% of Americans) vs. BASIC ACCESS that EVERYONE NEEDS.
Instead of requiring a long list of fixed-access features, VIZ prioritizes the most essential items that the largest numbers of people need to enter a home and have access to a first-floor bathroom. The local, state, and federal VIZ efforts discussed in the Advanced Option below may add more features. Smith's VIZ “short list” follows:
MINIMUM, NON-NEGOTIABLE VISIT*ABILITY REQUIREMENTS:
*One zero-step accessible entry on an accessible route into the house
One no-step entry on an accessible route allows chair users to wheel up and into the house without needing to be lifted over one or more steps. Aside from the safety hazard of being dropped or tipped out, being carried in is an UNdignified or embarrassing way to make one’s Grand Entrance to the party.
IF installed during original construction, ALL three VIZ basic access features generally ADD less than $100 to the total cost of a new single-family home built on a CONCRETE SLAB, and add about $650 to the total costs of a similar house built OVER A CRAWLSPACE OR A BASEMENT (Schakowsky, 2005).
Ms. Smith's group, Concrete Change, has a COOL website with a photo gallery showing VIZ home entries vs. ugly steps; VIZ homes on concrete slabs, crawlspaces, basements, and steep terrains; and a CUTE 0- step GINGERBREAD HOUSE created by disability advocates in Rochester, NY. Its “Making Change” section offers info on how to make social change.
The Concrete Change site also offers a CD/DVD presentation on stepless entries, copies of fact sheets on VIZ, its costs, and the proposed federal VIZ bill (H. R. 1441), plus information on and a link to the Easy Living Home program (see Lesson 6). Unfortunately, they ran out of the COOL T-shirts that could have turned you into a traveling VIZ billboard! But keep that in mind: printing shirts with VIZ or UD logos or your own promotional design is good UD Awareness Campaign idea. CLICK HERE to pay them a short visit and get right back here.
ADVANCED OPTION: LEGISLATED VS. VOLUNTARY VIZ PROGRAMSSince the mid-Nineties, several U. S. cities and states have developed legislated OR voluntary VIZ programs that either encourage OR require home builders to include specific features in new 1-3-family housing (Kochera, 2002). To see if your city, county, or state has proposed or passed a VIZ ordinance or statute, CLICK HERE to access the IDEA Center's analysis of existing and proposed VIZ regulations and laws.
A federal VIZ law (the Inclusive Housing Design For All Act [IHDA]) proposed in 2002, was sponsored by over 100 U. S. Representatives (Democrats AND Republicans). Although it died when Congress adjourned in January 2005, a similar bill was re-introduced later in 2005 as House Bill 1441(with the same name). HB 1441 is based on testimony for the 2002 federal VIZ proposal PLUS analyses of the early local and state VIZ efforts and operations. Look up HB 1441 and follow its progress through Congress: http://www.concretechange.home.mindspring.com
Ideally, public-spirited citizens would urge local homebuilders to adopt VIZ standards VOLUNTARILY as a matter of conscience, economy, and common sense. The numbers of voluntary programs, however, are very small in comparison to the growing numbers of LEGISLATED (also called “mandated”) VIZ regulations in U. S. cities and states.
Whether voluntary OR legislated, VIZ programs differ slightly from one city or state to another, primarily in terms of their coverage and the specific VIZ features they require. Most often, mandated VIZ regs cover only new, 1-3 family residences BUILT WITH PUBLIC FINANCIAL ASSISTANCE. That clause severely limits the potential effect of VIZ since VERY LITTLE single-family, duplex, or triplex housing is built with public (e.g., city, county, state, or federal) funds.
For local- or state-level VIZ legislative proposals, Smith recommends that the list of required features be very short. If not, passing a Visitability law may be almost impossible. Due to their simplicity and the minimal cost, VIZ programs that require no more than 2-3 basic access items are much more likely to be approved by a governing body than specifications that go further. For example, apartments in new structures with four or more units are required to include 7 Fair Housing Access Guidelines (see Lesson 6).
Perhaps the most successful example of a locally-mandated VIZ program is the City of Bolingbrook, Illinois (near Chicago). Since 2003, the City has required homebuilders to include basic access, PLUS several other features in every new home (no matter how financed). By late 2005, nearly 4,000 new units (most single-family) had been VIZ-built in the city, with approved building permits for more 'on deck.'
Bolingbrook is a good case study for citizens who want to propose a local VIZ ordinance. In small cities or suburbs, building 4,000 new homes with Basic Access+ in less than two years is HUGE! Another local success is Pima County/Tucson, AZ. Although opponents challenged the new countywide VIZ ordinance, the Arizona Supreme Court upheld it!
In contrast to legislated VIZ requirements, voluntary VIZ proposals often include ADDITIONAL access and UD features. For example, the Georgia Easy Living Home voluntary certification program requires BOTH a main floor bedroom AND full bath with chair maneuvering space. The Easy Living Homes' (ELH) website includes a Gallery of 10 homes priced from $100,000 to $500,000, AND explains how builders in other states may start such a program. To see example ELH homes.
As the numbers of bipartisan sponsors of the federal VIZ bill rose in late 2004, the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) changed its opposition, and instead suggested VOLUNTARY VIZ compliance with an agreed-upon list of access features (a la Bolingbrook).
That type of political action often is used to “negate the need for” (in other words: defeat) proposed legislation if the chances of passage appear to be GOOD. If, indeed, the voluntary VIZ proponents “win,” legislative VIZ bills may die in both Congress and state legislatures. What does that teach you about “making social change democratically?
A Concluding Poem (that could become a Poster)by Eleanor Smith
THE DAY WILL COME WHEN
Kudos to Eleanor Smith! Can YOU imagine yourself making SUCH a difference in the quality of life, NOT ONLY for people with mobility limits, but EVERYONE?
LESSON 10 LEARNING ACTIVITY CHOICES