June, 2011

Justice Department Announces Settlement with Developer of Idaho Condominium Complex

Justice Department Signs Agreement with Fairfax County, Virginia, to Ensure Civic Access for People with Disabilities

Livable Home Tax Credit

Governor’s Advisory Board Seeking Public Comment on People with Disabilities Affected by Domestic Violence

Kitchen & Bath Industry Show: The Age of Ease

Calling Ourselves “Physically Challenged” is Bad for Disability Rights

IRC and Transportation

Full Articles:

Justice Department Announces Settlement with Developer of Idaho Condominium Complex

Jun 16 2011

WASHINGTON – A developer of a condominium complex in Post Falls, Idaho, has agreed to settle a lawsuit alleging that they violated the Fair Housing Act by developing the complex with features that made it inaccessible to persons with disabilities, announced the Department of Justice. Under the settlement, which must still be approved by the U.S. District Court for the District of Idaho, Riverwalk Condominiums LLC will pay $18,500 and take other steps to retrofit the complex in order to make it accessible.

The lawsuit, filed in August 2009, alleged that Riverwalk designed and constructed the condominiums on Greensferry Road in Post Falls, Idaho, with features that made the complex inaccessible to persons with disabilities. If approved by the court, the settlement will require the defendant to:

· Retrofit the complex to make it more accessible;
· Ensure that future or ongoing construction meets the accessibility requirements of the Fair Housing Act;
· Pay a total of $13,500 to an individual with a disability who inquired about housing at Riverwalk and to the Intermountain Fair Housing Council (IFHC), a non-profit fair housing organization that assisted the individual and helped document accessibility barriers at the complex: and
· Pay a $5,000 civil penalty to the United States.

“Since 1991, the Fair Housing Act has required that new multi-family housing meet basic accessibility requirements, and there is no excuse for noncompliance at new developments,” said Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division. “Enforcement actions like this one illustrate the department’s commitment to ensuring accessible housing is available for persons with disabilities.”

“Builders and designers of multi-family housing have an obligation to ensure that their housing is accessible to persons with disabilities,” said Wendy J. Olson, U.S Attorney for the District of Idaho. “We commend the work of the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and IFHC for their commitment to the fundamental principles of fair housing for all.”

“While most get it right, HUD and the Justice Department will continue to work together to ensure that all architects, builders and developers comply with their legal responsibility to build housing that is accessible,” said John Trasviña, HUD Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity.

The complex’s condominium association, which is also a party to the proposed settlement, has agreed to allow access to the complex so that the retrofits can be completed.

The lawsuit arose from complaints filed with HUD by an individual seeking housing. After investigating the complaints, HUD issued a charge of discrimination and referred the case to the Justice Department.

The federal Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination in housing based on race, color, religion, national origin, sex, disability and familial status. More information about the Civil Rights Division and the laws it enforces is available at www.justice.gov/crt . Individuals who believe that they may have been victims of housing discrimination can call the Housing Discrimination Tip Line at 1-800-896-7743, email the Justice Department at fairhousing@usdoj.gov or contact HUD at 1-800-669-9777.

Source: Department of Justice, Office of Public Affairs

Justice Department Signs Agreement with Fairfax County, Virginia, to Ensure Civic Access for People with Disabilities

Jun 16 2011

WASHINGTON – The Justice Department today announced an agreement with Fairfax County, Va., to improve access to all aspects of civic life for persons with disabilities. The agreement was reached under Project Civic Access (PCA), the department’s wide-ranging initiative to ensure that cities, towns and counties throughout the country comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

“Access to public programs and facilities is a civil right, and individuals with disabilities must have the opportunity to participate in local government programs, services and activities on an equal basis with their neighbors,” said Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General of the Civil Rights Division. “Fairfax County has made significant progress towards achieving full ADA compliance, and this agreement sets out a realistic plan for the county to get there. I commend the county officials for making this commitment to its residents and visitors with disabilities, and for working with us to attain equal access to all of its programs, activities and services.”

As part of the PCA initiative, Justice Department investigators, attorneys and architects survey state and local government facilities, services and programs in communities across the country to identify the modifications needed for compliance with ADA requirements. The agreements are tailored to address the steps each community must take to improve access. This agreement is the 186th under the PCA initiative.

Under the agreement announced today, Fairfax County will take important steps to improve access for individuals with disabilities, such as:
Making physical modifications to facilities surveyed by the department so that parking, routes into the buildings, entrances, service areas and counters, restrooms, public telephones and drinking fountains are accessible to people with disabilities;
Providing access to county programs;
Surveying other facilities and programs and making modifications wherever necessary to achieve full compliance with ADA requirements;
Administering a grievance procedure for resolving complaints of violations of Title II of the ADA;
Ensuring that any county programs for victims of domestic violence and abuse are accessible to people with disabilities;
Providing accessible polling places;
Providing effective communication;
Posting, publishing and distributing a notice to inform members of the public of the provisions of Title II and their applicability to the county’s programs, services and activities;
Undertaking the required planning and modifications to ensure equal, integrated access to emergency management for individuals with disabilities, including emergency preparedness, notification, evacuation, sheltering, response, clean up and recovery;
Ensuring that 9-1-1 emergency service calls placed by persons with disabilities who use text telephones (TTYs) are answered as quickly as other calls, that such calls are monitored for timing and accuracy, and that employees are trained and practiced in using a TTY to make and receive calls;
Ensuring that the county’s employment policies comply with the regulations of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission implementing Title I of the ADA;
Ensuring that the county’s official website and other web-based services are accessible to people with disabilities;
Amending the county’s police policies and procedures for law enforcement; and
Implementing a comprehensive plan to improve the accessibility of the county’s sidewalks and pedestrian crossings by installing accessible curb ramps throughout Fairfax County.
Fairfax County was formed in 1742. The county consists of 395 square miles of land and 12 square miles of water. It is the most populous county in Virginia, with more than 1 million residents, comprising more than 13 percent of the total population of the state. According to U.S. Census data, more than 100,000 Fairfax County residents have a disability.

Today’s agreement was reached under Title II of the ADA, which prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities by state and local governments. The department will actively monitor the county’s compliance with the agreement, which will remain in effect for 7½ years. The department will actively monitor compliance with the agreement until all required actions have been completed.

People interested in finding out more about the ADA, today’s agreement with Fairfax County, the PCA initiative, or the ADA Best Practices Tool Kit for State and Local Governments can access the ADA Web page at www.ada.gov or call the toll-free ADA Information Line at (800) 514-0301 or (800) 514-0383 (TTY).

Source: Department of Justice, Office of Public Affairs

Livable Home Tax Credit

Jun 16 2011

Charlottesville, VA (June 8, 2011) — An amended Virginia law could change the way homeowners and builders alike look at their homes. House Bill No. 1950 (http://leg1.state.va.us/cgi-bin/legp504.exe?111+ful+HB1950), adopted by the General Assembly during the 2011 session, increased the maximum Livable Home Tax Credit (LHTC) from $2,000 to $5,000 and extended eligibility to builders of new accessible homes, effective with the 2011 tax year.

Easier Living for Everyone
The Virginia Livable Home Tax Credit (LHTC) program is designed to improve accessibility and universal design in Virginia’s residential units by providing state tax credits for the purchase of new units or the retrofitting of existing housing units. To qualify for the tax credit, a new home must include at least three universal design features, and a retrofitted existing home must include at least one universal design feature:
• Accessible route to a zero-step entrance into the residence
• Zero-step entrance into the residence
• Doors with at least 32 inches of clear width
• Hallways and passages with at least 36 inches of clear width
• Accessible light switches, electrical outlets and environmental controls
• Accessible bathroom
• Accessible and useable kitchen facilities

In addition to making a home usable by people of any ability, these modifications can make any home more convenient for moving furniture, maneuvering a stroller, or entering the house juggling bags of groceries. According to members of the Livable for a Lifetime (L4L) initiative, the new bill could mean significant advantages for the local economy, as well as those living in these homes. “This could add needed incentives for builders,” says Jim Herndon, accessibility coordinator for the City of Charlottesville, “and also increase the percent of housing stock that has some degree of visitability.”

Todd Hawkins, co-owner of BuilderFish and a member of the L4L Steering Committee, notes that “Localities and the state can encourage homeowners and builders to improve accessibility to ward off forced moves, shut-ins and the additional strain that would fall to social services. Like energy improvement credits, this incentive may encourage owners and developers/builders to research and consider design improvements. This, in turn, can help sow the seeds for long-term market demand as consumer awareness builds.”

Applications for the Livable Home Tax Credit must be submitted to the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) by February 28 of the year after the tax year in which the purchase, retrofit, or building was completed. For new construction, the application must include a copy of the executed sales contract. For existing homes, documentation must include copies of the work specifications and proof of payment. For full instructions and the application form, visit DHCD’s web site at http://www.dhcd.virginia.gov/housingpreservationrehabilitation/Tax_credit_program.htm.

About Livable for a Lifetime
The purpose of Livable for a Lifetime (L4L) is to promote change in the practice, policy, design, and construction of homes and communities, as well as the community involvement necessary to achieve this change. L4L promotes the application of Universal Design in homes and communities. Universal Design is the design of products and environments to be usable by all people regardless of their ability or age, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaptation or specialized design. L4L’s work is guided by a Steering Committee, which meets on a monthly basis, rotating meeting locations and facilitators between the Piedmont Housing Alliance, the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission (TJPDC) and JABA. L4L’s web
site has a section on home modification at http://www.livableforalifetime.org/homemod.htm.

Current L4L Steering Committee members are: Karen Reifenberger, Mark Watson (Piedmont Housing Alliance); Chris Murray, Julie Ulrich, Gordon Walker (Jefferson Area Board for Aging); Billie Campbell (Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission); Bob West; Wally McKeel (JABA Board, Virginia Transportation Research Council, retired); George Shadman (Albemarle County Department of General Services and ADA Compliance); Jim Herndon (City of Charlottesville); Elizabeth Swider (Aging in Place Business Roundtable/Care is There); and
Todd Hawkins (BuilderFish).

Source: Livable for a Lifetime Press Release.

Governor’s Advisory Board Seeking Public Comment on People with Disabilities Affected by Domestic Violence

Jun 16 2011

Governor’s Domestic Violence Prevention and Response Advisory Board Subcommittee on Underserved Populations Call for Public Comment

When: Tuesday, June 21, 2011 from 1:00 to 4:00
(Public Comment from 2:00 to 2:45)

Where: James Monroe Building, 101 N. 14th Street, Richmond, VA 23219

Who: Those who work with or identify as:

1. elderly victims, and/or

2. victims with disabilities, and/or

3. victims with mental health conditions

How: You are invited to come to Richmond and offer brief comments to the
subcommittee members on how services in Virginia could be enhanced for those
who identify as one of the underserved populations. (We know that there are many
other populations that may be underserved in your community, but this committee is
currently limited to addressing only the three populations mentioned above.)

An alternative: If you are unable to come to Richmond on June 21, you may also
consider sending your written statement to be read to the subcommittee in your
absence. If you do this, please include your name and contact information (if it is
safe to contact you), the name of the domestic violence program in your community,
whether of not you used their services, and your recommendations to enhance the
services to these populations.

Written comments may be emailed to:  nancy.fowler@dss.virginia.gov or faxed to
804-726-7088. Those planning to make a public comment may indicate by email (not
required, but this will help with planning the meeting).

Your voice is important and your perspective is valued.

Thank you for participating in this process!

Source: Governor’s Domestic Violence Prevention and Response Advisory Board

Kitchen & Bath Industry Show: The Age of Ease

Jun 16 2011

Reporting from Las Vegas—A grab bar for the bathroom shower that makes you think “pretty” before “old.” A kitchen drawer for trash that makes you think “wow” before “useful.” A kitchen faucet with temperature presets that says “looks elegant” before “avoids burns.”

And then there were the toilets. Technology — certainly for fun and in some cases to impress — was everywhere at the Kitchen & Bath Industry Show at the convention center here last week. But often behind the LED-lighted musical commodes and cool automatic faucets was an effort to make the activities of daily life easier for all ages and abilities without sacrificing aesthetics.

There’s been a “night and day difference” in the last five years in what’s being offered to enable people to “age in place” without feeling that their home has been turned into a hospital, said Mary Jo Peterson, whose Connecticut-based interiors firm specializes in accessible design.

“Manufacturers are waking up and saying, ‘I need to do something'” to be part of the market for universal design, a concept that refers to designing for people of every age and ability, said Peterson, who spoke at a seminar at the show.

Salice was among several companies that displayed automated cupboard doors that require no handles. Europeans have been using them for years, but only recently have they become popular in this country, said Dennis Bean, a Salice sales official.

Just changing the color inside a drawer makes its contents easier to see. Lighted floor tiles, induction stoves and oversize shower stalls also were shown.

Installing LED strips around medicine cabinets or in drawers and cabinets, a trend at the show, also can help people see what’s inside more easily. LEDs don’t get hot, and they’re discreet and efficient, said Daryl Nauman, regional account manager for Hafele, a high-end kitchen hardware company.

Hafele’s booth held a number of clever solutions, including a step stool (list price $180) that can be installed under a cabinet; with a light kick, it slides out for use.

Drawer Box Specialties, a company in Orange, Calif., introduced its Helping Hands trash drawer (sold to cabinet makers for $525) that opens by touch and closes automatically.

“I’m getting older, and I don’t have the strength I had. And it’s not going to get better,” said Chief Executive Glen Blankenship, who is 70 and created it in part with himself in mind.

Kohler showed its Elevance Rising Wall Bath. One side of the tub can be raised and lowered, with minimum pressure. Another tub had a protruding seat that someone could use to transfer himself from a wheelchair, ideally without help. Or a parent could sit there to wash children.

Delta introduced a battery-operated faucet that senses the body’s electric current and turns on if a human is within four inches. It turns off immediately with a touch or in a minute if you walk away — good for young and old alike, spokeswoman Mary McCullough said.


There’s no question that the aging of the baby boom generation has fueled many such design innovations. People who no longer can get at pots and pans easily or set out a spread for a party might feel less confident and less inclined to entertain. That starts to isolate them.

Not so long ago, Peterson said, colleagues would react to her commitment to universal design by saying, “That’s nice, honey. You take care of those people and we’ll design for everyone.”

That doesn’t happen anymore, she said.

That’s in part because more homes are multigenerational. Four million U.S. households have three generations in them, Peterson said, citing U.S. Census data. And every day, as many as 10,000 baby boomers are turning 65. Remodeling can make economic sense when compared with the cost of in-home care, assisted living or nursing homes.

Not only are baby boomers entering retirement, but the economic downturn has affected who might be doing renovations.

“Slowly but surely, the U.S. home improvement industry is emerging from its worst downturn since the government began tracking spending in the early 1960s,” the Joint Center for Housing Studies atHarvard University said in a January report.

The report found that older people are among the industry’s strongest segments.

“The reason for that has to do with the unique characteristics of this downturn. The folks who really got hurt the worst would have been younger households,” Kermit Baker, director of the Remodeling Futures program at the center, said Tuesday by phone. People who have owned their homes for 20 years are “still sitting on equity” and, therefore, better able to spend money on their homes.

To some extent, universal design is a matter of perspective. Many people have for years refused to wear hearing aids that can be seen, but along comes Bluetooth and it’s suddenly “cool” to have some contraption sticking out of your ear, Peterson said.

Older yet stylish

That cool factor was key for the Naples, Fla., company Great Grabz.

Designer Abbie Sladick was inspired by a client who told her she would rather fall than have her friends know she had a grab bar in her bathroom. So Sladick started designing them, and the company showed colorful, fun designs in acrylic and metal at the Las Vegas show.

Officials at Blum, which makes kitchen cabinet hardware, realized that it’s not easy to understand people’s differing needs. So it uses an Age Explorer suit developed by a German firm that studies aging. With the suit and its accessories — weights, earphones, glasses, gloves, bandages — a person can feel what it’s like to be about 70, said Debbie Cannon, marketing services manager at Blum. The suit restricts the wearer’s range of motion, joint function, hearing, finger sensitivity and peripheral vision. It makes it difficult to pick up small items from the counter, reach high into cupboards, distinguish among items of similar color and bend down.

Roberta Kravette, a New York designer who wore the suit for a demonstration, found she couldn’t open a plastic box and found it difficult to get a toaster from a low shelf. She hit her head when she tried to take a pile of plates from a cupboard. Overall, she said, she felt dizzy and uncertain.

Such research has led to Blum’s drawer, which holds stacks of plates and makes them easier to lift out than plates in a cabinet above shoulder height, Cannon said. Her company also showed a cupboard whose door swings upward and then closes by pushing an easy-to-reach button, as well as drawers that open all the way, so every bit of space can be used.

Blum and several other companies showed cupboards that open with a touch of the knee — useful not only for people with limited dexterity, strength or balance, but also for anyone with hands full of food scraps to toss in the hidden trash bin. In fact, many of these ideas would be welcome by pregnant women or someone with a broken arm, Cannon noted.

The universal design products were among thousands for kitchens and baths that emphasized function in an uncertain economy. But times are rarely tough for everyone, and the booths showing off an assortment of high-end toilets that certainly could fit under the universal design umbrella attracted plenty of attention for many reasons.

A line formed all three days of the show to take a look at the Numi toilet from Kohler, a $6,390 toilet launched last week with LED night light, seat warmer, MP3 player docking station, motion sensor lid for automatic opening and closing, a gadget to warm the tile under your feet — seemingly every bell and whistle except a bell and a whistle.

When the lid is opened, it slides back and up “so you’re always looking at the best surface of the product,” said Michael Marbach, product manager for toilets and bidets at Kohler.

“The Numi toilet is all about controlling your environment,” he said.

Toto, Inax and others offered twists on this once-mundane essential: minimalist designs in wood or bowls redesigned to clean better with a flush. Inax introduced its matte black Regio, which comes loaded with high-tech features and a list price of $7,350.

Company representatives noted that many of the toilets were low-flow and dual flush. Sit on the Numi for 60 seconds or fewer, and it figures the flush needs to be only 0.6 gallons. Sit longer, and the auto flush will use 1.28 gallons. Smart as it is, it won’t do the laundry or pay your bills.

For people who don’t already feel overwhelmed by the number of devices in their homes, several of these toilets operate by remote control that can be installed on the wall or — for those who might not be able to reach it there — on a stand or on the edge of the toilet seat.

“Believe it or not, there are many toilets that have a remote control,” Marbach said.

There’s another thing many luxury toilets have these days: bidets, or as Toto calls them, washlets.

It’s a product Americans are “very, very slowly” adjusting to, Peterson said.

But there will be a tipping point, because washlets address concerns about hygiene and are environmentally friendly, since users can reduce toilet paper consumption, said Lenora Campos, a spokeswoman for Toto U.S.A. A bidet also can give increased independence to a person who otherwise would need help using the bathroom.

But at least one company got the idea that bidets often are for pampering. Blooming Bidets’ slogan: “Love yourself with better hygiene.”

Source: Mary MacVean, Los Angeles Times

Calling Ourselves “Physically Challenged” is Bad for Disability Rights

Jun 16 2011

The problem with “challenge.”

There. I heard it again.

“It’s not our problem, it’s his challenge,” a young mother was saying about her disabled child. “My child is the same as any child. His challenges are just greater. I guess you’d say he’s physically challenged.”

“Physically challenged.” The new phrase.

We try to find ways to make our disability sound positive. The latest thing we’ve come up with is to refer to ourselves as “physically challenged.”

I don’t like it, though. It ignores a crucial fact: The reason we can’t do lots of things is not because we’re lazy, or because we won’t accept a challenge (isn’t it implied that when you won’t accept a challenge that you’re “chicken”?) but because many things are simply beyond our control. Like barriers. Like discrimination. It’s not admitting failure to accept a challenge. That’s admitting a political truth. And admitting a truth is the first step toward changing it.

Until you’ve tried to make it your responsibility to get a job, only to find you can’t get in the company’s front door because of their steps and your quadriplegia (and the company isn’t required to put in a ramp, so it doesn’t), you may not understand why “challenge” is no good as a description of what we face.

Until you’ve made it your responsibility to get downtown, and discover there are no buses you can get on, you may not realize that it isn’t a challenge you face, but discrimination. But when you call your local paratransit service and they say, “Sorry if it’s not for a doctor’s appointment, we’ll have to put you on the waiting list — maybe we can schedule you in 10 days or so,” you should begin to realize it. A challenge is something you can solve by yourself. You can’t solve the paratransit problem by yourself.

“Those of the handicapped constituency who choose to have others bear their burdens and eliminate their challenges are seeking to avoid the central issues of their lives.” That’s from [Reagan appointee] Eileen Marie Gardner’s writings. do we believe this? Evidently we do.

Many people would tell us that we are “challenged” by our disability to do the same things as people who aren’t disabled.

“And if we can’t?” we might ask. The person who believes in “challenge” would say that it’s our failing: we haven’t met our “challenge.”

Isn’t this just the same old crap we’ve been told all along, under a new title?

When are we ever going to believe, in our hearts — truly believe — that our problems are not things we are given by God, to solve ourselves, but are things that we have a right to require our society to change — because the problem isn’t our disabilities but the inaccessible environment which society built in the first place?

We say that, all the time. But we don’t really believe it, do we? If we believed it, wouldn’t we see that calling ourselves “physically challenged” is bad for disability rights?

Source: The Disability Rag, July 1985

IRC and Transportation

Jun 16 2011

Five years before the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act requiring nondiscriminatory transportation services, the city of Charlottesville  became the first city in Virginia to commit to making its entire public transit fleet accessible.  A year later, IRC persuaded the Charlottesville government to expand para-transit services within the urban ring; in 1987 operating hours were modified to include evenings and weekends.

Since IRC’s historic influence on the transportation system in the ’80s, IRC has continued to be the principle advocate for accessible transportation for people with disabilities in Planning District Ten. To ensure the  transportation system continues to sustain independence for disabled individuals, the Center periodically conducts “sensitivity training” with drivers and other staff of the Charlottesville transit system and the Jefferson Area United Transit (JAUNT). This training assists the drivers in providing more efficient and effective service for users. The Center has additionally been a strong advocate for equitable transit fares so as not to place an unfair burden on riders with disabilities.

Accompanying the changes to the local bus systems, IRC actively advocates improved infrastructure such as sidewalk, curb cut, crosswalk, and ramp improvements to create improved access throughout the region.  IRC also advocates strongly for both tactile and auditory warnings at key intersections in the area. Finally, the Center provides independent living skills training to local consumers with disabilities so they can utilize the accessible public transit facilities in the region.

IRC’s commitment to its goal of creating an environment in which disabled individuals can live as independently as they choose is no where clearer than in the work done advocating for accessible transportation. In addition to providing the necessary information for self-advocacy regarding laws already in place, IRC responds to the needs of the disabled community in a way that effects future lawmaking.