You know how life often imitates art.
Shortly after a recent article on accommodating people with disabilities was published, I learned that an inoperable dislocated hip would probably force a close relative to use a wheelchair, perhaps for the rest of his life.So I grabbed every book I have on the subject and headed to Connecticut to figure out how we could make his house work for him.
My relative is firmly convinced that he will walk again someday soon and is already planning to coach girls' soccer again this spring from his wheelchair.
Every time I've had a muscle ache this week, I've thought of that and decided that I'm really lucky. (Even though it is painfully obvious that I'm getting older.)
The article brought a host of reactions, including that it was a long time in coming.
"What prompted you to write something like that now?" asked Mark Canale, a contractor from the suburbs who has been disabled for 18 years because of an accident. "I'm not being critical. It's just that for people with disabilities, it is hardly news."
The news is, and Canale agreed, that in the face of overwhelming evidence that the number of people with severe and non-severe disabilities is large and growing rapidly, few builders and contractors are jumping at the opportunity.
"What really disturbs me," Canale said, "is that the houses that are being refitted to accommodate people with disabilities are priced so high. When you consider that the majority of the disabled are either young people with families or the elderly, having to pay $250,000 for a house is out of the question."
Canale is trying to find a way to mass-produce housing costing less than $100,00 for people with disabilities. So far, he's had no luck, but he thinks he's getting closer.
Daryl Cohen, president of Frosh Construction Co., wrote that the problem of barrier-free housing is acute and attributed it - in my words - to ignorance of the issues.
"Most people are not aware that such easily installed changes as wider doorways, interior ramps and accessible bathrooms not only give those who are physically challenged the ability to win freedom in their homes, but as baby boomers approach their later years, these vast new numbers of new seniors will need many of these same conveniences in their own homes in order to age in place, which is the wish of most of our generation," Cohen said.
By aging in place, Cohen means that most people would prefer to remain in their homes as they age instead of moving to accommodate changing needs, which is borne out by census and other statistics.
One caller couldn't understand why fair-housing laws, which were designed to fight discrimination on many fronts, worked against the disabled by prohibiting ads that mentioned that houses or apartments were designed to accommodate them.
My wife and I were discussing this in the car on the way to work. She suggested I do the story after she watched "Dateline NBC" reporter John Hockenberry, who uses a wheelchair, try to gain access to apartments, hotels and restaurants near his Manhattan apart-ment.
"I was suggesting to the caller that he advertise that his house was of `universal design,' the buzzword for a house to accommodate aging in place," I said.
"Why not say `barrier-free'?" she asked. You can tell who came into this marriage with the lion's share of the brains.
Another caller who was in charge of developing a home in Germantown, Pa., for women with disabilities echoed the sentiments of many others: It is truly difficult to find contractors who are willing to make necessary changes for accom-mo-dation.
If you are such a contractor or builder who can provide references or credentials, I'll start keeping a list by my desk to help out.
Another caller, Lucy Fuchs, said the article should have also talked about people who have, for want of a better description, "chemical allergies" - violent reactions to household cleaners and products, air pollution, even the adhesive in carpeting.
In May 1997, I wrote such an article about the healthy-house movement, but I assure you it won't be a one-time thing. It's amazing how things we take for granted can make people violently ill.
A free-lance writer I know in Tucson, Ariz., has to travel everywhere with her motor home because she suffers so much from chemical allergies. She complained bitterly in Houston last year that she wished she could stay in a hotel because the only campground she found was so far from a convention site.
The convention? The National Association of Home Builders.
Ironic, isn't it?