For 23 years, Carolyn Ugolini has wanted a home that doesn't make living harder.
She's not looking for much, just some higher electrical outlets, 36-inch-wide doorways and grab bars in the bathroom.
But two years after picking a plot and paying a builder, Ugolini's home is still just a dream and it's on the verge of being shattered.
"If one person has this problem, then it represents the tip of the iceberg, and that's what we think we are," Ugolini said. "No one listens to someone who wants to build an (Americans With Disabilities Act) accessible home, and that's the bottom line."
It was 23 years ago that Ugolini was involved in a car accident that left her with limited mobility in her arms and legs. She uses a walker to get around, and sometimes a cane, but Ugolini knows that sooner than later, she will be confined to a wheelchair.
That's why Ugolini and her husband, Valeriano, planned to move from their non-accessible Sandy home of 17 years to a newly built Richmond American home in Riverton just as soon as it was completed. The new home was to have a ramp up to the front door, a wheelchair path all the way around its perimeter, a wheelchair-accessible shower and lower light switches on the wall. It was going to be a place where the Ugolinis could live for the rest of their lives.
The couple made a down payment on the home, ramp and other ADA modifications in 2006, but slowly the building requests fell through. The ramp wasn't built, the bathroom wasn't wheelchair accessible and the positioning of the home on the land made a peripheral path impossible without purchasing more adjacent land. The home was finished and Richmond was ready to close the deal, but the Ugolinis refused.
"They don't understand they put people in jeopardy when they make these mistakes," Valeriano Ugolini said. "How can I sleep every night in a house where, if there is a fire, I can't save my wife? ... We were building a new house to be able to enjoy it and be secure. They destroyed everything."
Richmond American Homes declined to comment on the Ugolinis' case, but in response to a complaint filed by the Ugolinis with the Utah Labor Commission Antidiscrimination Division, the homebuilder said it would adhere to some of the Ugolinis' requests if the Ugolinis first purchased the home. The reasons for not originally making the changes were chalked up to mistakes and errors regarding the Ugolinis' land.
A final investigative report issued by the division in June says Richmond's actions were discriminatory because, "despite knowing of Carolyn's disability and ... reasonable requests that the home be modified to accommodate her needs," the builder was, "at best, negligent in how it built certain components of the home."
Still, division director Heather Morrison says she doesn't think the company deliberately singled the Ugolinis out in not following their requests.
"Builders seldom get it 100 percent right all of the time," Morrison said. "I think a lot of it is you have builders who are pressed for time and maybe aren't as careful as they should be and mess up. I guess it's conceivable that builders are deliberately discriminatory, but I kind of doubt that happens frequently."
The division has ordered Richmond to pay the Ugolinis $10,500 for emotional distress and attorney's fees and a $500 penalty for its negligence, but the Ugolinis say it's not enough. More has to change for disabled people to be treated fairly in society, Carolyn Ugolini says.
"For me, it would be much easier to walk away," she says. "But why shouldn't I stand up for my rights? Why should I let them walk over me because then they'll walk over someone else, too. If we see something wrong in our society, we have to stand up."
The Ugolinis could contact a homebuilder who specializes in building homes for elderly people to create an ADA-approved house, but companies who specialize specifically in ADA-compliance are hard to come by, says Curt Dowdle, Salt Lake Homebuilder's Association executive officer.
"I don't know anybody that makes an effort to focus on that demographic," Dowdle said. "We as an industry are getting so demographically sensitive, we have very small, select groups of people that we target."
Legislation that promotes ADA standards in single family homes not just multiple housing units as in the Fair Housing Act would be a helpful step, said Barbara Toomer, vice chairman of the Disabled Rights Action Committee, but that's unlikely to happen any time soon. Until legislative changes are made, court which is just where the Ugolinis are headed is the best place to resolve the issue and instigate change, Toomer said."I don't know what else can be done," Toomer said. "I agree, it's a problem, I definitely do, and I don't know how to cure it."
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