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Accessible Housing Offers Freedom for Disabled

Jalil and Julie Khoury pose with their sons Alexander, 5, and Zain, 17 months, at their Windsor home. They are planning on selling the house and building a home that provides accessible features for their special needs son.

Dave Waddell, The Windsor Star
| Jun 22, 2013 | Last Updated: Jun 22, 2013 – 8:19 UTC

As they’ve watched their five-year-old son Alexander grow, Jalil and Julie Khoury realized their comfortable two-storey east Windsor home was shrinking his world just as he was becoming more eager to engage it.

Born prematurely at 25 weeks and weighing less than two pounds, Alexander also battles cerebral palsy and requires a wheelchair or walker to assist his movement.

Smaller rooms, stairs, standard-sized halls, bathrooms and doorways, which go unnoticed by the ambulatory, are forcing them to carry their son from one level to another and restrict Alexander’s freedom of movement.

“It’ll drastically change our life, but more importantly, it’ll enhance his,” Jalil Khoury said of the family’s plan to build a new, fully accessible home in the Puce/Emeryville area.

“It’ll allow him to have more independence as he gets older.”

What may be just bricks and mortar to others, accessible homes are lifelines to a more comfortable and longer stay at home for the disabled and our rapidly aging population.

With the provincial government indicating home care is a central component of the future of Ontario’s healthcare system, Nor-Built Construction owner Norbert Bolger said making homes functional for all phases of life is a logical complimentary step.

Bolger’s company now includes many accessible features as standard equipment in everything he builds.

“I started doing more of it after I built our home 13 years ago to accommodate the needs of my own daughter with CP,” said Bolger, who will build the Khoury’s new home. “I know there’s a lot of need for it.”

Among the features Bolger includes in his ranch-style homes or townhouses are wider doors (36 inches) and hallways (42-48 inches), lower light switches (40 inches from the floor) while wall plugs are higher up the walls (18 inches from the floor).

Outside doorsteps can be eliminated through graded entrances along with steps for garages. Stronger trusses and beams allow for ceiling tracks to be installed for chair lifts.

Roll-in showers and wider bathrooms can accommodate wheelchairs while open-concept designs aid movement from room to room.

Details as tiny as side-mounted, touch taps on sinks slightly lower countertops and doors that swing open automatically or are sliders are simple touches that make daily life easier.

In trying to anticipate future needs, the Khourys are having an elevator shaft roughed in so Alexander will be able to go down to the basement.

“They don’t look like customized, accessible houses,” said Bolger, who is a member of the Ontario Home Builders Association’s accessibility committee.

“Most people don’t notice anything at first. The homes are still esthetically pleasing.”

Bolger said many features of accessible homes don’t add much to the cost if they’re part of the original design.

With the population aging and nearly one in seven Ontarians already classified as having limited mobility due to either a physical, psychological or other health disability, Bolger said builders are seeing a rising demand for accessible housing.

Between 25 and 30 per cent of the homes Bolger builds annually are fully accessible dwellings. He just finished constructing two Amherstburg apartment buildings in which all the units are fully accessible.

“It varies a bit from year to year, but some years 50 per cent of the homes we build are accessible ones,” said Bolger, who first became involved in building accessible housing working with Community Living in Windsor and Essex County.

“I don’t market that we build so much accessible housing on our website, which I probably should, but people find us by word of mouth.”

While public institutions and private businesses have been required to be in full compliance with the Ontarians with a Disability Act since 2012, residential construction isn’t covered by the act. Housing is still regulated by the provincial building code.

The Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing held three months of public consultations ending March 1 on potential updates on accessibility requirements to the code.

Among the suggestions being considered are requiring the installation of smoke alarms with a visual component and the reinforcement of kitchen walls so cupboards can be placed at a range of heights. Last year, the building code was updated to mandate bathroom walls be reinforced so grab bars can be installed around tubs/showers and toilets.

The provincial government also offers some financial help for seniors and those with disabilities to make their homes more accessible.

“The Healthy Homes Renovation Tax Credit is a permanent, refundable personal income tax credit for seniors and family members who live with them,” said Brigitte Marleau, senior adviser media communications for the Ministry of Economic Development, Trade and Employment and the Ministry of Research and Innovation.

“It can help with the costs of improving safety and accessibility in their home.”

Details of the program are available at healthy-homes-renovation-tax-credit.

“It’s a market-driven business,” said Klundert, whose firm built the accessible home for paralyzed firefighter George Copeland.

“If people want it, we’ll build it. “People are asking for this, so I don’t think we want government stepping in too much.”

Shane and Heather Granderton, whose seven-year-old daughter Hall-ie has cerebral palsy, said anyone contemplating building a new home should consider accessibility issues even if they’re in perfect health now.

“When we built when we were newly married, we never anticipated life would take us down this path,” said Granderton, who said there’s a very limited supply of existing accessible housing.

“If we’d built fully accessible then, we’d never have to consider doing this at this busy time of our lives.”

The Grandertons’ 13-year-old raised ranch in Cottam simply no longer works for their family. They have to take their daughter’s power chair apart to get it inside because it’s too heavy to lift up the stairs. Hallie also needs several pieces of equipment in the bathroom leaving it rather crowded for others to use.

The Grandertons are currently planning building an accessible home in Kingsville they hope to move into later this year.

“Hallie’s limited where she can go and frustrated watching her brothers race up and down the stairs,” Heather Granderton said. “The new home will be a blessing.”

Klundert said he’s finding more people in their 50s are taking the long-term view when building a home for their retirement years.

“They’re looking well into the future and asking for features they don’t need now,” Klundert said.

“Good design is the best way to control cost. It’s really expensive to retrofit.”

Retired RCMP officer Bernie Campbell, who has incomplete quadriplegia as result of a health issue, said he spent $14,000 just on a chairlift and new sliding patio doors trying to make his old home more accessible.

Even with the modifications, he was limited to the kitchen, living and dining rooms. After his wife Brenda looked for a year for an existing home to modify, the couple decided it was cheaper to build. They discovered Bolger’s firm because the open houses at Nor-Built’s Gulfview Townhouses in Amherstburg were the first homes Campbell found which allowed him access in his power wheelchair.

Campbell, who had been hospitalized or in long-term care facilities for nearly the last five years, moved into his new accessible home in mid-April.

“That (new home) was one of the biggest things that spurred me on when I was sick,” said Campbell.

“It kept me going, knowing if I worked hard enough to rebuild my strength, they could send me home where I could live with some freedom and independence.”

Reproduced from