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Access to single-family homes moves closer in Illinois, Arizona

Naperville, IL, Feb. 6, 2002 -- This Chicago suburb has become the second city in the nation in as many days to pass a local ordinance requiring at least some "visitability" features in all new homes. It's a bittersweet victory, though, for the Illinois activists. Although the new law requires wider first-floor doors on the first floor; reinforced walls around the tub and toilet in the bathroom for grab bars, and light switches and electrical outlets made reachable by someone in a wheelchair, the most basic requirement for visitability -- a no-step entrance -- did not pass the city council.

Austin, Texas's visitability ordinance

Visitability across the nation

"If you can't get in, what do you do?" activist Bill Malleris, who had shepherded the bill, said to a Chicago Tribune reporter after the vote was taken. City officials reportedly wanted to "study" the no-step entrance idea. Some city officials told the Chicago Tribune that they expected the no-step requirement to be phased in later.

On Tuesday, Pima County, AZ passed what it calls its "Inclusive Home Design Ordinance," a similar local law that does allow for a no-step entrance. It too was opposed, even by some in wheelchairs.

In both cases local chapters of the National Association of Homebuilders fought against the moves. The NAHB has opposed all efforts to make housing more accessible nationwide. In Naperville, Bruce Deason, a spokesman for the Northern Illinois Home Builders Association, opposed all the access features; others said the access features would cause homeowners to "lose control over" their homes -- apparently forgetting or ignoring the slew of building requirements concerning electrical wiring and plumbing installation that have been "forced on" homeowners for years.

It was the opposition that got the no-step entrance shelved in Illinois. "At what point do we stop taking away rights of healthy people in writing a standard for the handicapped?" asked J. Mark Harrison, executive vice president of the Home Builders Association of Illinois.

In Pima County, Arizona, some people in wheelchairs argued against access. Larry Lattomus, a quadriplegic, told the board it was "unfair to ask thousands of other people in the community to do this in case a person like me comes to visit them."

Visitability has been promoted nationwide for years by the group Concrete Change.

"When someone builds a home, they're not just building it for themselves - that home's going to be around for 100 years," Concrete Change founder Eleanor Smith told The New York Times. "These things hurt nobody -- and they help a lot of other people."

Read the stories in
The Feb. 6 Arizona Star
The Feb. 7 Chicago Tribune
The Feb. 7 New York Times (registration required)

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