An award-winning collaborative project between Ability360 and Valley Leadership alumni is providing real estate agents and individuals with disabilities looking to buy a home with significantly more information about properties with accessible features and is generating wider conversations about how to incorporate more accessible features into new-home and apartment construction.
The collaboration resulted an educational PowerPoint presentation and a Cox Communications-produced informational video that brings awareness to the challenge people with disabilities face in finding homes designed with accessible features and the lack of those homes in the marketplace.
One early outcome of the project is the support of the Arizona Regional Multiple Listing Service (ARMLS) to ensure that real estate agents “will have significantly more information about accessible properties through MLS listings,” said Darrel Christenson, Vice President of Community Integration at Ability360, whose mission is to offer and promote programs that empower people with all disabilities to have the same civil rights, options and control over choices in their own lives as do people without disabilities.
“Eight years ago, we learned that there were 16 fields in an MLS listing defining a garage but, at the time, zero fields for information about disability and accessibility,” said Christenson, who partnered with the 7-member project team. “Now there are 31 fields, but they had not been consistently populated with information. With support from ARMLS, those fields are now informative to real estate agents when posting a new listing.”
Christenson said the impact will be on both real estate agents and buyers with disabilities “who will now have an easier time finding what properties may be available to them in a market that has a long way to go to provide a solid inventory of them.”
The project team developed the list of features for what is described as VisitAbility Homes. They include a zero-step entrance at the front, back, or side of the house depending on site conditions; doorways that provide 32-inches of clearance; at least a half bath on the main floor; lever door handles; reinforced walls in ground-floor bathrooms for future installation of grab bars; and electrical outlets and environmental controls in reachable locations (switches less than 48 inches above the floor).
“Houses built in 2018 will last 50 years and Americans are moving an average of every seven years,” Christenson said. “That means there will be an average of seven families in and out of that house in a lifetime and chances are great that at least one of those families will utilize those features.”
He said one project benefit is educating consumers to ask for those features “because it will not price them out of the market. On a single-single slab home, adding the six features of VisitAbility will add about $100 to the price. Opening up the market to individuals and families with disabilities is good for the families and for the builders.”
Team member Sheldon Caldwell-Meeks, a Senior Community Relations Specialist at Cox Communications who also worked on the video, said the outcome of the project in the collaboration with AZMLS “was definitely something we wanted to celebrate. Our group at Cox is committed to our community and that’s why we chose to join Valley Leadership. When we learned about Ability360 and what they’re doing in the community, we felt the project could have tremendous impact. And that’s what it’s all about for us: knowing the impact the information will have on people’s ability to find homes that suits their needs.”
I spoke with Larry and Sheldon about the program for our Valley Views public affairs show,