Happy Anniversary ADA! -- My Thoughts on ADA and Visitability

First things first. July 26, 2010 was the 20th Anniversary of the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act, known as the ADA. I was just about to turn 33 years old when this was signed into office and I had no clue what it come to mean for me personally.

I was acutely aware of it. At the time I was working as a reporter and covering small towns across the Florida West Coast. Discussion of the implications of the act for local governments was a major topic and I sat in on many discussions and planning boards both before and after the passage of the act listening to multiple fears and advocacies about how much this would change the world. But West Florida is home to a great deal of Veterans and Veteran support was important so there were many in favor of the changes.

The more I've learned about the Act over the years, the more I've come to admire it.

But as radical as the ADA was/is, two things mitigate my celebration. First, enforcement on many levels is still lacking. The amendment passed in 2008 will probably help considerably, but the court system is only part of the problem. Local officials are often either ignorant of requirements of do a poor job of holding builders to a high quality of accommodations. I cannot tell you the number of times I've used supposedly accessible public places only to find a door that can't be opened, a 2 inch lip on a doorway after coming up a ramp or a ramp that leads to nothing but stairs. For me, these barriers can be frustrating but not necessarily harmful. Paraplegic friends can break bones going over lips, bumpy sidewalks, bad curb cuts and other seemingly small details. In other words, this kinds of details are dangerous. They are dangerous for older adults using canes or walkers as well.

The other mitigating factor is the question of private spaces which were not addressed by the ADA. I've written before about the need for more accessible housing and visitability. I think this is the next frontier in inclusiveness and as baby boomers go into retirement in the next 20 years, these kinds of homes are going to be more important.

But I want to talk more personally about my own recent experience in visitability. I was researching an article for a local magazine (more on that as things develop) and part of my research led me to Marteen Moore, a resident of Summerlin, who generously invited me into her home to show me the modifications that had been made to accommodate her. This was the first time I used my scooter in a private home. I have not even used it in my own home and would have to put my own portable ramp up to do so if I wanted to.

I was amazed at how it felt. I'm one of those speedsters on my scooter. I am totally confident wherever I go, but in someone's home I felt extremely cautious. I tapped a wall once and had a great fear go through me. Marteen was very sweet about it but I still felt nervous.

On the other hand, I was also amazed how comfortable it was to be able to sit and talk and not worry about pain in my legs or feet and not get worn out or feel uncomfortable in a chair that doesn't quite work for me. I felt welcomed and once I got past the nervousness, it felt very natural to be visiting in my scooter.

In short, it was a feeling I could get used to.

I was also pleased to talk about Marteen about how she deals with clients. I'm on the verge of a new business venture that may involve visits to client's homes. I've been debating about whether to pull out the portable ramp and using the scooter to enter client's homes. I'm still not sure about doing it and I know it is a privilege to even have a choice, but I was comforted by the independence such arrangements gave Marteen in her design business.

The bottom line is that the whole concept of visitability ceased being theoretical for me. My hope is that 20 years from now, we will be looking at an inclusive world where such stories as my visit are the norm, not the exception.

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