Eleanor Smith’ 30-plus years of advocacy for Visitability in new homes is paying off as Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) introduced the Eleanor Smith Inclusive Home Design Act on July 28. Per Visitability guidelines, the bill would require every new home financed or funded by the federal government to include a zero-step entrance, wheelchair accessible doorways and an accessible bathroom on the home’s main level.
Smith has successfully pushed for the implementation of Visitability into building codes across the country, including Atlanta, Austin, Bolingbrook, Ill., and Pima County Arizona, which includes the city of Tucson. According to Smith, building access into new homes costs under $200. “These cities disproved the statements that had been made about how expensive and difficult it would be to create zero-step entrances,” she says.
As well as being an important issue for wheelchair users, Visitability is also vital for a growing population of people wanting to age in place. The American Public Health Association even calls the lack of Visitability in homes a health issue. This legislation would go a long way in improving access. “It doesn’t cover every new house, but it does bump up the number of houses that would be required to have access by a great deal,” says Smith.
There are no federal accessibility requirements that cover privately-owned houses and Smith says that needs to change. “It’s high priority because it’s about where people live and it’s the last piece of the built environment that hasn’t yet been dramatically changed,” she says. “The one thing that still goes up without basic accessibility is housing.”
Those willing to help advance this Act should contact Brian Peters, chairman of the National Council on Independent Living’s housing committee, at BPeters@independencefirst.org. Peters is the primary organizer for this effort.