Visitability–a new equal rights movement

Visitability–a new equal rights movement

By Rod Myers

By Rod Myers

Freelance Writer

As a person who uses a wheelchair, I’m very aware of where I can and can’t visit relatives and friends. More than 90 percent of their abodes are unaccessible to me. Steps and narrow first-floor doorways are the two main reasons that houses and apartments are unaccessible.

It’s an unsettling feeling to know that you’re not welcome by design, and many developers and builders don’t give it a second thought.

There is some hope. In February, Naperville, Ill. became one of only two municipalities in the whole country that require all new private homes to be built with 32-inch-wide doorways and other wheelchair-accessible designs. The other municipality is Pima County, Arizona. Their mandate requires that all new homes be built with at least one wheelchair-accessible entrance. This is new ground, and it’s exciting; this is beyond public housing. This affects the private market.

The three basic elements of visitability are an entrance with no steps, ground floor hallways and doorways wide enough to accommodate wheelchairs, and a first-floor bathroom large enough for a wheelchair to enter and turn around. Costs for these accommodations are estimated at between $500 and $5,000. Opponents say it’s the classic property rights issue—property rights vs. minority rights.

The visitability movement is 15 years old, and victories have come slowly. Thanks to this movement, though, some cities have passed similar laws for housing built with public funds.

Winnebago County with all its sprawl should, in good conscience, have an ordinance to make new private homes and apartments accessible at least on the first floor. If you would like to see this happen, please contact your city and county leaders in person, by phone, letter or e-mail.

There’s no place like that some of us can get into. Remember, the warm weather season is the only season wheelchair users can visit friends—that is, if they’ll stay out in their driveway or yard long enough to visit.

Rod Myers is a local resident with an interest in nature and the environment. He is a member of the Rockford Amateur Astronomers Club, the Sinnissippi Audubon Society, Wild Ones Natural Landscapers and the Planetary Society.

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