Dec. 4, 2001 --
"In what would be the first such rules in the nation, Santa Monica officials are considering a proposal to require that all privately built new homes and those undergoing major remodeling have a wheelchair ramp entry, wide interior hallways and at least one handicapped-accessible bathroom," says a story in Sunday's Los Angeles Times. The story, "Wheelchair Access as a Must for Residences," by Bob Pool, is online at http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-000095931dec02.story
Although Bill Maher poked fun at the concept awhile back on "Politically Incorrect," "visitability," as it's called, has been picking up adherents nationwide. Several years ago, a "visitable" gingerbread house made the pages of the Wall Street Journal. The house, a creation of the Rochester-based Center for Disability Rights, can be seen online at http://concretechange.home.mindspring.com/ginger.htm
The idea is not a new concept. Since the early 1990s, the grassroots group Concrete Change has promoted the concept through its website at http://concretechange.home.mindspring.com. A number of cities, including Austin, TX and Urbana, IL, now have ordinances that mandate visitability features in single-family housing paid for with public money. Atlanta, the home of Concrete Change and the first city to pass a visitability ordinance, now has over 500 single family homes with vistability features (photo online at http://concretechange.home.mindspring.com/laws.htm). Santa Monica's law, though, would be the first to extend to all new housing. Farther north in California, San Mateo County also encourages visitability (see http://www.smco-cod.org/GraphicPages/ResidentialVisitability.htm).
L. A. Times reporter Bob Poole notes that before Santa Monica's ordinance will become reality, "a major obstacle must be overcome: negative public opinion from those who may fear that liberal Santa Monica is once again taking on a social crusade." Concrete Change members, who are familiar with the arguments, have posted a page of responses at http://concretechange.home.mindspring.com/responses.htm
Athough there's no legal requirement, the U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development "encourages" visitability features in single-family housing built with federal dollars (http://www.huduser.org/publications/pubasst/strategies.html).
Temple University's Institute on Disabilities has information on visitability at http://www.temple.edu/inst_disabilities/iod_nofrm/publications/Accessibility/WhatIsVisitAbility.htm
SUNY/Buffalo maintains a listserv on visitability (with a searchable archive) at http://listserv.acsu.buffalo.edu/archives/visitability-list.html