The article by Guest Columnist Deb Taylor in last week’s Brooklyn Park/Brooklyn Center Sun Post points out the important role of Community Services in helping older adults living independently in their own homes while also saving the high costs of Medicare and Medicaid.
However, it does not consider the human rights of disabled older adults. Many older adults in wheelchairs could also save both themselves and the taxpayers Medicare and Assisted Living Costs if their homes, single family, condos, cooperatives, or apartments, were handicapped accessible. The failure to provide dwellings that are handicapped accessible deprives many older adults of their right to have a choice regarding where they live. Instead of aging in place, perhaps in a multi-generation household, perhaps in a condo, many of them end up in an assisted living facility or nursing home often at a cost upwards of $9,000 a month.
The Americans with Disabilities Act requires restaurants and public meeting places to provide restrooms with wheelchair accessibility. Apartment buildings subsidized by Housing and Urban Development require that the apartments follow the ADA. However, most older residents of Brooklyn Park and other cities are deprived of this basic right to be able to use a bathroom once they enter their home because building codes do not require accessibility. Hallways and stairways need to be 36 inches wide, and bathrooms need to have a 5-foot diameter space for someone in a wheelchair to get around and backing behind the drywall to which grab bars can be attached.
The American Association of Retired Persons estimates it costs an additional $2,000 to $3,000 to include accessibility requirements in a single family home when it is built. It would be less than that for a unit in an apartment or condo building. Many homes in Brooklyn Park are split-entry homes which are impossible to make accessible, many townhomes have steps on both the exterior and interior of the home, and many apartment buildings are three-story walk-ups. New apartment and condo building are currently required to have only 5 percent accessible units.
AARP calls dwellings designed to meet accessibility requirements Universal Design. They have features which meet the needs of many different people, including people of any age who have disabilities. Fewer than 1 percent of dwellings meet Universal Design standards nationwide. City councils and State Legislatures should pass requirements that all dwellings incorporate Universal Design so when people who live in them become temporarily or permanently disabled, many would be able to continue living in the place they call home.
Single- and multi-family buildings that meet accessibility standards should have an accessibility label which would help realtors, older residents, and people with disabilities identify the units. Demographic projections show rapid growth in the number of residents 65-plus and 75-plus in Brooklyn Park in the coming decades. There is no better time to build accessible Universal Design housing to meet their needs than right now.
Carol Woehrer is a program coordinator with Think Again MN.