Thursday, March 30, 2017

Visitability and Accessible Homes

Okay. As a PWD who loves living in the community and not in an institution -- there are hurdles and challenges, as we all know.  It is due to these challenges, that activists before me blessed me and other PWDs with the passage of the ADA [Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990].  Before the ADA, PWDs were largely confined to their homes [IF they were lucky enough to have a support system that allowed them to do that] and a limited number of places that just happened to have an entrance without steps, elevators and wide enough spaces to maneuver a wheelchair.

So the concept of the ADA was born many years before 1990, and I am grateful for the activists who fought tirelessly for the bill's passage a good 14 years before I would need it.  At the time the ADA was passed, I was an airline sales manager who attended many meetings with travel agents who were very vocal about how "unfair" it was that they had to comply with the ADA and put ramps at their entrances and retrofit their restrooms to be ADA-compliant.  Let me be honest: during this time, I was wearing a size 4, walking with heels and working out at a gym 5-6 times a week.  Although I was sympathetic with PWDs, I never dreamed I would ever need use of a ramp or a grab-bar.  I'm a little abashed to say that I could see both sides of the argument:  I knew it was important for PWDs [which I called "handicapped" at the time] to be able to enter places of business, but I could also sympathize with small and privately-owned businesses that had to shell out tens of thousands of dollars to make structural changes for the one or two wheelchairs a year to grace their premises.  After all, PWDs who lived in the community were not as common as they are today.  Couldn't they just send a friend or family member to do the errands for them?  This was also a time when airlines were cutting travel agents' commissions, and airline and travel industry forecasters were predicting that some day down the road, travelers would be able to book their reservations and even print their own tickets and boarding passes on personal computers in their own homes!  So travel agents were livid at the prospect that they could be obsolete one day.  This ADA was the icing on the cake.  I got it.

Fast forward to the present.  How many people use travel agents?  How many travel agencies still exist?  And we all know the impact of the ADA: ramps, curb-cuts, automatic push-button entrances.  We still have a way to go: I still have to send an aide into my local bagel shop and Chinese takeout because they have steps at their entrances.  And I have even blogged about doctors' offices where I had my breasts examined in hallways -- see my post of Friday, August 21, 2015  [I avoid those now]. We can now sue those establishments that remain inaccessible [I haven't had the time to take on the bagel baker, the Chinese takeout or the pizza shop that put down a hazardous concrete "bump" -- I've had to choose my battles].

There remains a huge obstacle -- visiting friends.  I cannot visit most of my friends.  Even with a portable ramp which only goes over one step, I still cannot visit most peoples' homes.  I'm getting tired of hearing "I would love to invite you for Christmas/ New Years/ Easter/ Passover/ my kid's birthday party/ my birthday party/25th anniversary party/ to hang out and have dinner......fill in the blank. It's bad enough that even if I could get in, I can't use the bathroom, which is often too small to fit my wheelchair and never has grab-bars.

  I start to wonder "Is this a handy excuse?", but in most cases, I know it's not; in most cases, I know these people would like to have me and don't want me to spend holidays alone, or to bring leftover food or birthday cake to me after-the-fact. Even my own sister and her family invite me for Thanksgiving every year and have to carry me up six steps in my manual wheelchair.  What do I do?  I don't expect them to change the venue just because of me; they want to hold a celebration in their own homes and it's not their problem if I can't get in.  How about this?  There are people whom I met since I became a wheelchair user and/or have moved in the last 13 years, whose homes I have never seen and never will see. "Visitability" is still a hurdle to deal with.  If I could afford to install an elevator at my sister's home [a ramp accessing 6 steps is impractical] and accommodations at my friends' houses, I would do it.  But alas, I'm not a Trump

Enter the Home Modification or Visitability Tax Credit.  This credit helps with home modification to allow a PWD to live in the community rather than suffer a homebound existence or -- worse yet -- life in an institution.  And with people living longer, "aging in place" has become a choice, there is a need for accessibility for residents who use wheelchairs, walkers and canes as they age. The New York State Legislature has included the Visitability Tax Credit in both the Senate and Assembly's one house budget proposals! If you live in New York State, please follow the instructions below, to make sure the tax credit is included in the final budget! Tell Governor Cuomo To Support Community Living.

Don't live in New York State or even in the United States?  Find out if your state, city, county, province or national legislative body has a law like this on the books or in the works,  If not, use New York State as a reference and try to spearhead an effort to legislate such an act in your area.  It is an essential element in community living for PWDs.

 Action: Call Governor Cuomo today at 518-474-8390 and urge him to support the inclusion of the Senate and Assembly's proposal for a Visitability Tax Credit in the final budget!

Rather than leaving a message, press # 3 to ask to speak to an assistant.
Say: "Hello, as a person with a disability, I am calling to urge Governor Cuomo to support the inclusion of the Visitability Tax Credit, which was included in both the Senate and Assembly's one house budget proposals. This tax credit would help people with disabilities and older New Yorkers with the costs of making their homes more accessible and would allow people to age in place "

Wheelchair ramp leading to the main entrance of the South San Francisco Main Library, South San Francisco, California.
By BrokenSphere - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3864507.

-  One no-step entrance

- An accessible path to the door
-  hallways and doorways wide enough to accommodate a wheelchair
- An accessible bathroom on the first floor
 The NYS legislature passed similar legislation in 2015 and 2016. Governor Cuomo vetoed this legislation twice, indicating his support for the concept, but stating it had to be done in the context of the Budget. Unfortunately, Governor Cuomo didn't include this in his proposed Executive Budget.Background: The disability community has long advocated for New York to increase the accessible housing stock across the State by incentivizing the use of "visitability" design standards. This includes basic accessible features, including: 

Last year, it was determined that there was a need to better understand the cost estimates for such a program. For this reason, the sponsors included a $1 million cap per year in aggregate to A.9303/S.6943. As the program would now be considered a pilot project, the State has five years to determine whether this cap is sufficient to meet the needs of the population.

Due to the high cost of home modifications, many people cannot afford to make changes to their homes to make them more accessible, or to move to a more accessible home. Most prefer to remain at home rather than move to nursing facilities or different, more accessible housing as their needs change. However, many are forced out because their homes are no longer safe or practical for them to live in. This tax credit will help to ensure that people with disabilities and older New Yorkers are able to afford these modifications and remain in their homes.
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