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University of Iowa News Release

March 1, 2005

UI Law Students Seek Passage Of Home Access Bill In Legislature

A group of University of Iowa law students is working to pass a bill now before the Iowa legislature that would require newly constructed public housing in the state to be more easily accessible to people with disabilities or other limits to independent living.

Jordan Esbrook, a second-year law student working on the project, said that the Easy Access Homes Bill would not only make homes more easily accessible, it would save tax money because the homes would not have to be retro-fitted later.

"Cities and towns spend our tax dollars on houses and apartments that are designed and built with barriers to independent living," said Esbrook, who is working on the project with second-year law students John Koeshadi and Mike Cummings through the College of Law's legal clinic. "Then they turn around and spend more tax dollars to remove the very same barriers years later. That's a waste of money."

The bill, sponsored by Iowa Sens. Joe Bolkcom (D-Iowa City) and Bob Dvorsky (D-Coralville), is currently before the State Government Committee in the Senate and the Commerce Committee in the House of Representatives. Esbrook, Koeshadi and Cummings plan to visit the capitol this week and meet with legislators to help the bill's passage.

If passed into law, the Easy Access Homes Bill would require builders to construct homes with minimum design standards, such as a no-step entrance, wider doorways and hallways, bathrooms that can be adapted or used by people without assistance and outlets and controls that are placed at easy-to-reach heights.

Esbrook said the bill's provisions would cost most homebuilders about $200 to $300 per house to implement. "After-the-fact retrofits, such as adding ramps, widening doorways or ripping out bathroom walls, could cost thousands of dollars more," she said, adding that the bill includes an escape clause for builders and developers if compliance is prohibitively costly or technically infeasible.

In the end, the benefits would accrue to a range of people, Esbrook said, "including families with young children who use strollers, people who use crutches, walkers or wheelchairs, wounded veterans, furniture movers, friends, co-workers and other visitors and guests. Building homes correctly from the start will spare people the considerable costs and disruptions associated with retrofits and the personal indignity of having to be carried into homes or bathrooms, or worse."

The bill requires that the building code commissioner develop minimum design standards with input from homebuilders, people with disabilities and representatives from state agencies, Esbrook said.

The Iowa Program for Assistive Technology is also working to pass the bill.

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa News Service, 300 Plaza Centre One, Suite 371, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-2500.

MEDIA CONTACT: Tom Snee, 319-384-0010, tom-snee@uiowa.edu.