Accessibility Opens Doors
By Kathy Bates
Accessibility has allowed me to be an independent spirit. I’ve always believed that there is dignity in risk, but accessibility can give you a safe place to try new things. Because my adult life has included accessible living spaces, I’m not afraid to try most things at least once. (That said, it’s not a good idea to clean the toilet without your seat belt on.)
I didn’t grow up in an accessible home. So, it’s fair to say I didn’t know what I was capable of until I moved into an accessible double-wide trailer in college. Like all typical college students, I learned to cook for myself. My specialty was Ramen noodles; I can cook better than that these days. Doing simple things for myself still brings me joy, such as doing my own dishes and getting myself a snack when I’m hungry.
The house that I live in now is open, and I have lots of room to move around. The kitchen, dining area, and living room are all one large space. In my kitchen, I can be a culinary genius. I always have a prep cook – or personal care attendant – working beside me. Some of my specialties are salmon and asparagus, guacamole, omelets, and lemon blueberry muffins. My burners were built right into the countertop, without any cabinets in the way, so I can drive right up and cook. My oven unit is built into a cabinet. I also have a cabinet that I can reach with a built-in “lazy Kathy” where I keep all my snack foods so I’ll never starve. My bathroom is completely accessible with a roll-in shower and a heat lamp in the ceiling. All these features allow me to live as independently as I can. The accessibility not only makes it easier for me, but it also makes it easier for the people who support me.
It’s not like I always host a bunch of people, especially with COVID, but when I have visitors – with or without disabilities – I know they’ll be comfortable. During the last presidential election, I invited my local legislators, senator David Watters and Representative Peter B. Schmidt, to my house for a legislative coffee to talk about issues specific to the disability community. Since my house is accessible, adults and families with children who live with disabilities could come to participate in this get-together. We discussed everything from direct support workforce shortages to managed care and accessible playgrounds. My friends and I really appreciated the opportunity to meet with our legislators in such a relaxed way. My legislators could also see why accessible housing is so vital to people who live with disabilities, and understood how important it is to advocate for truly inclusive communities.
One of my favorite things about living on my street is that there aren’t power lines to interrupt my view of the sky because they are buried underground. The sunsets and stars are amazing. In the spring, summer, and fall my neighbors are always out walking with their dogs and I’m usually outside working in my raised bed gardens – I have a slight obsession with plants. I have several planters near my ramp for flowers because I want it to look nice when people are entering my house. My flowers need to be bright and cheery like they belong on the cover of Better Homes and Gardens. Plus, it’s always a wonderful way to chat with my neighbors. They come over to see how things are growing and we share gardening advice.
When I was asked to write this article, I felt a little uncomfortable because most people can’t afford to buy or build a house to meet their accessibility needs. Disability touches all of us at some point, which makes the need for more accessible housing undeniable. All new housing construction should be at least minimally accessible with ground-level entrances, wider doorways, and larger bathrooms to accommodate someone who uses a wheelchair. More specific modifications could be left up to the homeowner. Right now, there is simply no choice! And that is the whole problem, isn’t it? It’s not uncommon when looking for accessible housing to be stuck on a waiting list for several years, which forces too many people with disabilities to put their lives on hold.
Thirty years after the passing of the Americans with Disabilities Act, we can do better. Everyone deserves a place they can call home.