Democrat mascot donkey behind a wheelchair icon - The First Democratic Club in the Country Focusing on Disability Rights
Proposal urges wheelchair-friendly home design

Allan Appel, Scripps Howard News Service

Wednesday, March 9, 2005

Ninety-five percent of federally supported homes are not required to meet any standard of accessibility. Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) cited that shocking fact two years ago when she introduced the Inclusive Home Design Act (HR 2353). The bill has been referred to the Subcommittee on Benefits by the House Committee on Veterans Affairs.

The term visitability incorporates three requirements: at least one no-step entrance; doors and hallways wider than usual; and at least a half-bathroom on the first floor big enough to accommodate a person in a wheelchair and allow that person to close the door.

That's it. No fancy amenities. No expensive accoutrements. Just construct the house so a person in a wheelchair can get in, navigate the hallways and use a bathroom on the first floor. Seems pretty simple.

And here is what makes this a no-brainer: Experts in architecture and design estimate the total average cost per dwelling is $98 (on a concrete slab) and $573 (for a dwelling with a basement or crawl space).

The concept of visitability has been growing for the past decade or so. In fact, many states and cities have already trumped the federal government by enacting their own versions of this concept. The first city to do so was Atlanta, in 1992, largely as a result of the efforts of the grassroots group Concrete Change (online at Others were quick to follow, including Arizona, Vermont, Texas, Kansas, Oregon and the cities of Chicago, Champaign, Urbana and Bolingbrook, Illinois. All of these mandates require visitability features in single-family housing paid for with public money.

Proponents of visitability agree that inclusion of these basic architectural access features in all new homes constitutes a civil and human right. It is a right that improves livability for homeowners as well as their guests.

Incorporating visitability at the initial construction phase allows people who develop a disability to continue to enjoy basic access to their homes. Severe life choices can be avoided, such as the aggravation of moving out of the home, or facing expensive renovation (if the home can even be renovated), or continuing to live in the home as a kind of prisoner in an unsafe and potentially unhealthy environment.

People can comment on Schakowsky's bill by contacting any of the subcommittee's members. A list of those members can be found at

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