Help! I’m Trying to Construct a Speech!

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Guess who gets to speak to the local Home Builders Association next week about accessibility. Yep, that would be me. BWAAAA-hahaha! I can’t wait (she says, rubbing her hands together). But I’ll need your help.

The president of the association, who asked me to speak, wants me to talk about my reality versus what the builders believe constitutes accessibility. I plan to begin my talk with my experiences during the recent Parade of Homes.

Parade of Homes is an annual event where contractors showcase dwellings they’ve built. I checked out the drawings of the houses and diagrams of the insides, mapped out a course, and my husband and I took off one Sunday afternoon.

The closest I got to actually “seeing” what the inside of all but one place looked like were the diagrams: All but one condo had steps. One house I was particularly anxious to see, because the diagram looked as if the inside was designed to be accessible and the drawing seemed to show a zero entry; it actually had about six steps up to the entrance. The steps didn’t have a railing, and I watched one poor man who obviously had arthritis in his knees (ask me how I know) painfully make his way down the steps as I waited in the car while Hubby was inside.

And the inside? My husband said it was, indeed, accessible (if you could get in), but the toilet in the master bathroom was unusable because it was in its own little cubby.

I don’t have anything against steps up to a house. I have steps up to my house (but I also have a ramp). And most of the buildings on the Parade only had one or two steps, but an inexpensive portable ramp would have allowed everybody to go into the dwellings. I’m not going to buy a house if all I’ve seen is the outside. It might have the toilet in a tiny little cubby.

How about showers? I still have memories of sitting on my scooter, looking up at the (unreachable) detachable showerhead in an “accessible” hotel room. I have that problem at home, too, but I can push up on the hose to dislodge the showerhead. And it won’t be for much longer: My husband and I went to the contractor’s office yesterday and picked out the materials for the new bathroom. Work should begin in less than two weeks, with the tub area being done while we’re out of town.

But I digress. (Yeah, yeah, I’m excited about the bathroom!)

Doorway widths? I commandeered a wide wheelchair in a recently built medical office building in town and tried to enter the ladies’ room. The wheelchair was just a smidge narrower than the doorway. Enough that I had to line up the wheelchair just right and then pull myself through the door by grasping the sides of the doorframe.

Would it hurt to outfit the kitchen with cabinets that had pull-out baskets or shelves rather than fixed shelving? How about a deck with an area that could have a ramp added if (or when) needed? Levers — instead of knobs — on doors don’t pose a problem for able-bodied people, but could be imperative for somebody with problems grasping. On the downside, of course, a two-year-old could open the doors!

Twenty-one years ago, when we bought this house, neither of us thought about aging in it. We were young(er) and physical problems that come with age and injury were…well, unthought of. Our biggest dilemma came when we found out shortly after that we were to be grandparents…in a house with dark blue carpeting throughout. That was solved by having a room in the basement finished so the children would have a place where they could make messes. I can’t even get to that room now.

Because I still like the house, the neighborhood and (most of) the neighbors, I don’t want to move. Besides, after 21 years in the same house, I don’t even want to think about going through and packing up all of the miscellany that’s collected over the years!

The alternative is to make the necessary changes that will allow us to continue living here. We have the ramp. We’ll soon have an accessible bathroom. And we’re in the process of redoing the front door and threshold so I can get onto the porch. Right now, my scooter gets hung up on the threshold. The door, which had to be special-ordered, is in, and we just need to get together with the person who will do the work.

Next I’ll have to cogitate about the kitchen a bit.

Now, here’s where I need your help: If you had the ears of your town’s homebuilding contractors, what would you tell them about what you need to accommodate your disability? What could have been done differently in the building process that would allow you to easily make the necessary changes now?

I only know about mobility, and I don’t know everything about that. Scooters are not wheelchairs and I can get out of the scooter and, say, onto a stool in the kitchen. I can hear, I can see, my arms are workable (and present,) and my hands can grasp small objects. Builders need to know what we all need. Not just what those of us with mobility problems need.

Come on, now: Bring it on!

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