Accessibility ordinance passes to aid disabled in Austin

  • June 19, 2008
  • Bruce Bromley

CBS 42 Reporter: Keith Elkins
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Last Update: 2:53 am

Austin – Austin’s building codes will be amended to require accommodations in new home construction for people who are disabled.

The issue was heard Wednesday night before the Austin City Council who approved a modified version of the proposal, something many of Austin’s disabled community are very disappointed about calling it a slap in the face.

Dozens of Austin citizens easily attended the Austin City Council meeting in wheelchairs – pointing out they can’t even get in or out of the doorways of most of their own homes if there’s an emergency.

Jennifer Macphail with Adapt Texas says, “I grew up in a home where I couldn’t get out the front door or the back door. I had to wait for somebody. So, if a fire broke out in my home I was going to burn as a child unless there was somebody there to take me out.”

There were more than thirty speakers signed up in favor of the changes and only two speakers in opposition, leaving many of the disabled to claim the public hearing was all a sham.

The “visitability” proposal was worded to require wider doorways and reinforced bathroom walls in new homes and duplexes to accommodate safety grab bars. There were also efforts to provide no-step entrance-ways and lower level light switches and electrical plugs higher off the floor- more easily accessible to the disabled.

Changes some opponents like the Homebuilders Association of Greater Austin do not fully support because of the added costs and because they say it may create a potential safety hazards for small children, according to the Mayor’s Committee on Disabilities that won’t happen. They say more than 3,000 homes have already been voluntarily built in Austin with the changes being recommended for only a fraction of additional expense.

Ron Lucy with the Mayor’s Committee on People with Disabilities says, “The cost for a visitable home according to city staff is between three and five hundred dollars per home. That cost figured over a 30 year fixed rate mortgage is less than the cost of this cup of coffee from the Austin Java Company, less than $3.00 a month.”

The proposal the council did approve does not require no-step entrances or exits and only requires a wider bathroom door on the inside of the home. The proposal was being pushed by Mayor Pro Tem Betty Dunkerly who met with the disabled people afterwards telling them “she was sorry.” They told her they felt she had sold them out to the rest of the council.

Bob Kafka with A.D.A.P.T. says, “I have done politics in this town and at the Capitol. I have never in my 25 years seen a decision already been made before the public hearing was ever held.”