This column is devoted to current initiatives in accessible housing advocacy. Visitability legislation and National Aging in Place Week will increase both awareness and the stock of better housing.
Eleanor Smith remembers when it would start to rain in her neighborhood and everyone would run to someone's house to continue playing. Everyone but Eleanor. She always rolled to her house in her wheelchair.
Smith's memories, strength and purpose spawned the visitability movement, which seeks to extend the civil rights promised by the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 to personal lives. In 1986 in Atlanta, Smith founded Concrete Change (www.concretechange.org ), which focuses on making all homes (not government buildings, restaurants, etc., which the ADA covers) accessible and on narrowing the emphasis to the essentials -- entering a home, fitting through interior doorways, using a bathroom -- to encourage quick and widespread changes in residential construction.
In 1992 in Atlanta, Concrete Change successfully lobbied for the first visitability ordinance in the United States, and the movement since has expanded to many other communities and states. It became a national movement in June when Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) introduced the Inclusive Home Design Act (H.R. 2353). "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," Schakowsky said. Her bill would require all new single-family homes receiving federal funds to meet three standards:
Meanwhile, the National Reverse Mortgage Lenders Association has initiated National Aging in Place Week, Nov. 9-15. The NRMLA's goal is to increase awareness that if "aging in place is a goal, home modification is an important and valuable strategy."
The message is targeted to two groups:
1. Consumers who want to age in place and their family members, friends, advisers and caregivers.
2. Leaders of agencies, nonprofit organizations, governments, advocacy groups and businesses whose constituencies identify aging in place as a goal. The NRMLA and the National Advisory Council for Aging in Place will encourage these leaders to promote home modifications -- design and equipment alterations that make homes more comfortable, convenient and accessible -- in their newsletters, seminars, programs and continuing education.
Events for the week include:
To help organize the event, the NRMLA formed the National Advisory Council for Aging in Place. Members include:
Both the visitability movement and the National Aging in Place Week will increase awareness, and both have "concrete and wood" or "bricks and mortar" goals to change homes to meet the needs and demands of our 21st-century population. In addition, both speak to basic American dreams regarding homeownership, respect and dignity.
Visitability ensures the right to choose who visits -- friends, relatives or neighbors. Aging in place secures independence. It preserves the choice of when to eat, when to sleep, when to move or if we stay.
Respect. Dignity. Independence. Choice. These initiatives will have a positive impact on lives.