Metro Housing Still Subpar for the Disabled

First of a two-part story

Efficient housing for person with disabilities is a huge concern in our community. It’s an issue because housing designed and built years ago, and still being built today, did not and does not consider the disabled.

Most residences today do not have an entrance at grade that would allow a person with mobility impairments to enter the home with ease. Most residences today do not have wide enough doorways for a wheelchair or scooter to enter freely. The corridors are not wide enough to accommodate the wheelchair or scooter.

The bathroom, in most cases, is not wide enough or deep enough to accommodate the wheelchair user, nor does it have the grab bars necessary for a person with a disability to be self-sufficient.

One other concern, of course, is affordability. To retrofit an existing residence to accommodate a person with mobility impairments can be expensive. However, to design and build new homes with elements that will meet the needs of many with disabilities is no more costly than the residential buildings that are being designed and built without them.

Architects and builders can put up buildings with elements that make them more usable by a larger portion of the population now and in the future by incorporating a few changes. They can make fully accessible residences, adaptable residences, or “visitable” residences. The residences would be available to be used more efficiently by the occupants for a longer period of time.

As we age and live longer, a natural part of aging is the loss of some of our mobility. We do not desire to have to go up and downstairs, go around walls and other obstacles, climb in and out of a tub or shower, have to have ladders and stools available to get items off of high shelves, or have to move furniture constantly to plug and unplug appliances.

A residence that incorporates “visitability” elements is the least expensive and offers many benefits. These visitabilty elements are: one no-step entrance, thirty-two inch clear doorways throughout the dwelling, and a one-half bathroom on the main level.

The no-step entrance can be in the front, on the side, in the rear or in the garage. The thirty-two-inch clear doors means there are 32 inches of minimum clearance, not just the width of the door. The half-bath allows for personal needs to be accommodated by those living in the home as well as those visiting the dwelling.

In Minnesota, there is language in our housing law that specifically addresses a portion of the need for housing by the disabled community. This language is referred to as “The Visitability Requirements.”

This requirement reads in part: All new construction of single-family homes, duplexes, triplexes, and multi-level town-houses that are financed in whole or in part by the Minnesota Housing Finance Agency must incorporate basic visitability access into their design and construction. For the purpose of this section, “visitability” means designing a dwelling so that people with mobility impairments may enter and comfortably stay for duration.

We will provide information on the forms of accessible housing in future columns.

[This article first appeared in the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.]

Kenneth Brown welcomes your comments, suggestions and thoughts. He can be reached via email at Ablenotdisabled@aol.com or by phone at 612-729-8463 x2.