A house is for those who live in it

The Saturday (Toronto) Star always gives me something (more) to think about.  As if I needed it. It helps mold my perspective on life and let’s me see what others are doing and thinking.

There are two articles in it today that I think work together:  Handicap vs heritage on the front page and Helen Henderson’s column on discrimination.  The first article looks at a couple, (Geoff and Melissa Teehan) who want to tear down an old but interesting house in Toronto, which doesn’t have official heritage designation, and build a modern accessible one to accommodate Melissa, who is a quadriplegic.  The neighbors, in particular the one across the road, are firmly against it. The question is: should the couple be allowed to tear down an old house to build a new one if neighbors object? What’s more important: the life of this woman who needs to be as independent as possible or the look of a neighborhood? Both? Think about it.

I’m with the life of the woman with the word “life” being the key. Housing is for the living: to shelter us, to allow us a place to nurture ourselves and our families. If some of it remans for generations, that’s a bonus, but it shouldn’t set precedence over the needs of the living. And, remember, every building in existence now was once new. Everything that is new and different is usually shunned by those who don’t want change.  That one house in Toronto should be torn down to give a woman a better life won’t make a bit of difference in 50 years or even 20.

In the United States some enlightened lawmakers are bringing into municipal and state bylaws the concept of Visitability whereby every home built has at least one barrier free entrance, a first floor washroom big enough to accommodate a wheelchair and doorways wide enough to let a wheelchair pass through.  This enables people using mobility devices to not old visit each other but it allows those who own the house to age in place. No more having to move if someone has a stroke, or develops some other physically debilitating problem.  This concept isn’t always popular with builders and municipalities but it is gaining ground.

A family wanting to build an accessible home to replace one that likely is very unfriendly is progress in my books. Does the fact that I can’t visit any of my friends’ homes affects my logic? Of course it does. Making homes accessible, even one at a gut wrenching time, makes sense to me.

Helen Henderson’s column (Discrimination, disrespect a fact for people living with disabilities – Toronto Star – May 29, 2010) tells us that 70% of people with disabilities (those interviewed) felt discriminated against and excluded.  I don’t think we are all paranoid. Of course we’re discriminated against!  Every time an architect designs a subdivision with no regard for access we are discriminated against.  Every time a theatre group puts on a show in a totally inaccessible place, we’re discriminated against.  I could make a list as long as your arm. Shops, hotels, homes, professional offices, banks, restaurants, so many places I’d like to go… inaccessible and impossible for me to use. There are millions of me. Millions being shut out.

I know the woman across the road from the lovely old home in Toronto doesn’t want her neighbourhood to be upset by placing a modern accessible home where the vintage home is now but that’s progress and what she is doing to stop it is, I think, discriminatory. What do you think?