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Five Year Fix: Accessibility For Seniors & Disabled Individuals


The City is hoping to use Housing and Urban Development dollars along with city money to keep 50 residents in their homes.

This objective is directed at senior citizens and people with disabilities whose homes no longer accommodate their needs.

Fort Wayne Director of Neighborhood and Housing Services Heather Presley-Cowen says the City needs to look out for these residents for the benefit of the community.

“Quality of life often relates directly to quality of place,” says Presley-Cowen. “There’s a lot of people in this community, especially as our population ages, you have a lot of disabling conditions people are facing.”

So what does this population need to improve their quality of place?

“It might mean you need widened doorways, it might mean that you need a ramp to your house, it might mean that you need grab bars to your bathroom,” she says. “But the idea is to help people age in place.”

Accessibility isn’t the only important factor in keeping a senior citizen or a person with a disability in their home; oftentimes, personal finances get in the way, as well.

Vice-chairperson of the Fort Wayne Housing Authority Andy Downs says seniors who run into personal obstacles often have a difficult time paying for it.

“When you think about folks who are getting on in years, we always hope we’ll have money when we retire to live out our lives and leave a little something behind, but for a lot of people they didn’t retire with a whole lot to begin with,” says Downs.

That lack of savings becomes critical, and not just when it comes to adapting a home with widened doorways, ramps or grab bars in the bathroom.

As any homeowner knows, unfortunate circumstances happen, and standard home repairs may become very difficult to cover.

“As they have been spending money and maybe living a lot longer than they thought they would with the cost of living going up more than they thought it would, they find themselves in a situation where a large expenditure like a new roof or like a new furnace is something that becomes a bit daunting,” he says.

As the City irons out its plans and works on improving accessibility for those in need over the next five years, other organizations around the city are trying to fill that gap.

Turnstone aims to provide recreational and therapeutic activities to people of all ages with disabilities.

Sandy Holland is a registered nurse in Turnstone’s adult care program, which focuses on improving the overall wellness of seniors who develop disabilities as they age.

For those seniors who participate in the adult care program, the disabilities vary.

“We have clients that have had anywhere from multiple-sclerosis, CP amputations, Parkinson’s disease, we have a lot of clients with strokes,” says Holland. “And then we’re going to be opening at the beginning of the year a memory care program for those clients that are dealing with dementia.”

Holland says the adult care program’s goal is to maintain or improve the abilities of the seniors so they can maintain their independence. According to Holland, 98% of Turnstone’s clients were able to stay in their homes last year.

She says the focus on wellness and independent living improves the overall quality of life and comfort for seniors.

But Presley-Cowen says aging comfortably in place isn’t the only factor at play for the City; she says the overall happiness of residents in the community is equally as important.

“If I can age in place in my home, but if we as a community don’t think about quality of place and, can I navigate my neighborhood, then we really have kind of lost the whole point,” says Presley-Cowen. “So the idea is to help people to live out their lives in their neighborhood for as long as possible.”

In 2016, the City of Fort Wayne projects to keep up to ten homeowners in their home with various projects throughout the year.

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