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Fort Wayne announces new mandate focused on visitability in housing

Luke Labas, director of the Inclusion Institute of the League, speaks during a panel conversation on Housing Accessibility, Modifications and Visitability at Indiana University Fort Wayne on Wednesday, March 22, 2023.
Ella Abbott
/
WBOI News
Luke Labas, director of the Inclusion Institute of the League, speaks during a panel conversation on Housing Accessibility, Modifications and Visitability at Indiana University Fort Wayne on Wednesday, March 22, 2023.

Fort Wayne is changing its home construction practices for federally-funded single-family home construction.

Mayor Tom Henry announced in a press release Tuesday the city is launching its visitability mandate to make homes more accessible to mobility-impaired individuals.

The mandate calls for those projects to include at least one zero-step exterior entrance, doors with 32 inches of clear passage space through interior doors and at least one wheelchair accessible bathroom on the main floor.

In the release, city officials said “visitability is a movement to change home construction practices so that virtually all new homes offer a few specific features making the home easier for mobility-impaired individuals to live in and visit.”

The new mandate was announced in conjunction with ADA Amplified Symposium hosted by IU Fort Wayne on Wednesday.

Luke Labas is the director of the Inclusion Institute of The League. He said housing built with visitability in mind can make a big difference for mobility-impaired individuals.

“I know for me, personally, I was only able to visit two friends' houses and go to two birthday parties while I was going to school and growing up through my childhood,” Labas said.

The League, which advocates for full inclusion of people with disabilities in all aspects of life, said this mandate is a “big deal because it tackles accessibility issues in housing but also the mental health and social issues of the isolation of people with disabilities by making affordable housing more accessible.”

The symposium went on through the afternoon Wednesday, with several speakers and a panel focused on visitability and affordable housing.

Labas said visitability is a concept with three basic design features; a zero-threshold entrance, 32-inch wide doorways and a restroom on the first floor that can be accessed by a wheelchair user.

“If we’re building housing that has those basic design features that sort of flips our housing stock to be better used by our population as it continues to adapt and grow into disability,” he said.

Labas said his hope is to see every house built with visitability in mind.“You may not need these features today,” he said. “But you’re going to need them later in life, or for someone you know.”

March is National Disability Awareness month, but Labas said the symposium was strategically placed towards the end of the month, due to April being Housing Awareness Month.

Tony Sandleben joined the WBOI News team in September of 2022.
Ella Abbott is a multimedia reporter for 89.1 WBOI. She is a strong believer in the ways audio storytelling can engage an audience and create a sensory experience.