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Federal Access Board Finally Takes On MCS

by Sharon Wachsler

After years of lobbying by people with multiple chemical sensitivity, the U. S. Access Board is moving to include air quality and electromagnetic field sensitivity issues in its scope. Its Report on Indoor Environmental Quality issued July 22, 2005, is the first fruit of that effort. "It's very hopeful for us all," as one MCS activist put it.

The Board contracted with the National Institute of Building Sciences to carry out a study (elop an action plan. A copy of the resulting report is now available on the NIBS website at http://ieq.nibs.org); the Indoor Environmental Quality Project was a first step in implementingĀ an action plan to identify and remove barriers to people with MCS. to establish a collaborative process among a range of stakeholders to recommend practical, implementable actions to both improve access to buildings for people with MCS and EMS while at the same time raising the bar and improving indoor environmental quality to create healthier buildings for the entire population.

This IEQ project supports and helps achieve the goals of the Healthy Buildings, Healthy People project: "We will create indoor environments that are healthier for everyone by making indoor environments safer for the most vulnerable among us, especially children.'"

The Access Board, an independent federal agency, is responsible for developing and maintaining accessibility guidelines to ensure that newly constructed and altered buildings and facilities covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Architectural Barriers Act are accessible to and usable by people with disabilities.

This is a particularly important victory given the general backlash against disability rights in the U. S. and the particular backlash against people with MCS, say activists, who say that in trying to get the Access Board to consider these issues they came up against discrimination within the disability rights community itself. One disability rights listserv posted calls for support in changing access regulations from organizations representing people of short stature and blind people, but refused to post a similar email outlining guidelines the MCS community was seeking, they report. Despite these kinds of difficulties, activists (among them Mary Lamielle of the National Center for Environmental Health Strategies and Susan Molloy of the National Coalition of the Chemically Impaired, who have been working on the issue for over a decade) stuck with the process and are now seeing their labors rewarded. They and others in the MCS community say they want to express their thanks to Access Board Director James Raggio and Alexander Shaw of the National Institute of Building Sciences for their contributions.

Because most people with severe MCS face insurmountable barriers to public venues, including doctors' offices, parks, restaurants, hotels, and libraries, any step toward increased access and awareness to the general public is crucial. It is hoped that this move will be one of many that will chip away at the extreme isolation suffered by many with MCS.

Maine disability activist Sharon Wachsler is known for her Sick Humor Postcards. She serves as Editor in Chief of Breath & Shadow poetry zine.