...or rather who's not, unfortunately, because he can't get up our steps. It's Darren Larson, Independent Living Specialist at Summit Independent Living Center here in Missoula. Darren is an activist who has been successful in advocating for an innovative idea called Visitability. Visitability is a national movement seeking to create basic accessibility in all new home construction. A Visitable new home has:
- At least one zero-step entrance approached by an accessible route on a firm surface no steeper than 1:12, proceeding from a driveway or public sidewalk
- Wide passage doors (at least 32")
- At least a half bath/powder room on the main floor with adequate maneuvering space
Adding an accessible full bath and a bedroom on the main floor is even better. Darren speaks in more detail about Visitability here...
I was very moved by this statement on the Visitability website Concrete Change:
...the spirit of Visitability is as important as the list of features. That spirit says it’s not just unwise, but unacceptable that new homes continue to be built with gross barriers — given how easy it is to build basic access in the great majority of new homes, and given the harsh effects major barriers have on so many people’s lives. These easily-avoided barriers cause daily drudgery; unsafe living conditions; social isolation; and forced institutionalization.
When I first heard about Visitability, I wondered if able-bodied people would resent requirements being imposed upon them. Then I learned that the chances that either you, a family member or a friend will be denied entrance to your home due to disability at some point is....90%. Think about it! Visitability means we can stay in our homes longer, and that our loved ones will retain access to them throughout their lives. Over time, the housing base will pose fewer barriers to everyone, revolutionizing social life for the disabled. And it only costs around $600 more to build a Visitable new home, whereas retrofitting an old one can cost thousands.
On Halloween, Heath and his buddy Gia got to join with Darren in making a point about Visitability as the kids trick-or-treated in our neighborhood full of charming -- and almost entirely inaccessible -- homes. If you missed my crowing on Facebook, you can see the NBC news story here: Halloween Reminder Of Proper Access For Disabled.
We loved talking to Darren about his advocacy efforts, which have been mighty successful here in Big Sky Country. Recently the Montana Board of Housing agreed to require visitable bathrooms on the main floor of new and remodeled home construction. Now, all three minimum access features of Visitability are required for ground floor residences!
Darren is continuing to gather testimonials regarding Visitability and barriers that others have faced in this regard. If you have a story to tell, please consider filling out the Visitability testimony guide.
You can also read his wonderful editorial in The Missoulian. This is about more than doorways and ramps, folks: "Visitability is about community. It's about family and friendships. It's about living where we choose for however long we choose. It's about compassion, warmth and dignity. Most importantly, it's about progress as we seek for better ways to expand upon life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness"
Heath, Daria, Gia and I paid a super-fun visit to Darren's office last week to discuss both Visitability and The Playground Project, the all-abilities playground Daria and I proposed to the city, and are now working to raise funds for. I was so excited that Darren offered to run a youth focus group in January, gathering views from youth who have grown up with disability and faced physical and social barriers in traditional playgrounds.
In other news, our family had the most wonderful Halloween ever (after we ditched Heath's walker!). Dressed as a mailman, Heath was only too happy to make his appointed rounds with his lovely trick-or-treat date, Anna.
He is walking so well with one-handed assistance now! All that daily Cuevas Medek Exercise we learned from Simona is paying off!
What fun!! Our real mailman was so kind, he brought Heath an honorary mailman certificate and a keychain from the National Postal Museum, which he's proudly wearing on his mailbag here.
No, not the Skittles! Dad will eat them all! :-)
Junior preschool continues to be fantastic fun -- here are two sweet snaps by Heath's teacher, Jillian....
This one is of Heath in the little playhouse at the Clark Fork School -- which is not very Visitable to anyone over 3 feet tall, but we manage :-)
I'm putting the finishing touches on my interview with 92-year old Ann Morgan and her son Bob, who had a remarkable journey as he grew up with CP long ago in Lewistown, Montana. Medically, it was "the Dark Ages," in Bob's words, but I learned so much hearing their stories of family and community and perseverance with virtually no therapeutic support or services whatsoever. It makes me grateful for all that is offered to us now, and also reaffirms the central importance of all that is close at hand.
Have a wonderful November everyone!