Sunday, September 25, 2005

Visitability or Universal Design

This post is dedicated to Mark!

The question of the week is Visitability or Universal Design? Now that it is obvious that a major portion of New Orleans needs to be rebuilt, we ask, to what standards should new construction be held to. Stories of persons with disabilities being trapped in their own homes, because their wheelchairs couldn't fit through the doors makes us all wonder; why do we continue to build housing that is inaccessable?

Perhaps we hope no one in our family will ever need a wheel chair, or electric scooter? But, what if we are wrong? What if our significant other suffers a stroke? Our beautiful daughter is struck by a drunk driver? Our son suffers a spinal cord injury on the football field? What if our boss's wife can't get into our new MacMansion with her brand new, shiny, red electric scooter? DA!

Today most people, given a choice, would certainly choose a house that would allow our all our son's friends to come to his birthday party, all our daughters supporters to come to her bar mitzfa, and even our mother in law to visit, if only for a week. Given the choice. But most people will not get that choice. Builders are out to maximize profits. Unless we, like other cities and states, adopt minimum building standards, new homes will continue to be built that discriminate against people with disabilities.

Which is better, visitability or accessability?

I have now come to the conclusion that visitability is preferrable. It is a good median. It allows for basic accessibility, and can be easily modified to provide more access. Of course the modifications would come at the home owner's expense. The expense of including visitability is modest, estimated to be between $100 and $600, depending on design elements. This cost is minimal considering the benifits, marketability, and the insurance it provides in case someone in your very own family should need a scooter.

Cambridge should adopt visitability standards for all new housing construction, both as an innoculation against charges of segregation that will result if new housing discriminates against people with disabilities, and so those builders that want to build to that standard aren't priced out of the market by unethical developers who just don't care about the community.

What do you think? Visitability or Universal Design?


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