About Concrete Change

Concrete Change was an international network whose goal is making ALL new homes visitable, not just “special” homes. Being at the party, the meeting, the family reunion . . . not isolated. Their method was policy, because the market alone is not enough to address the segregation, public health problems and fiscal waste of continuing to build houses with no access. They focused on three essentials that must become the default in home construction practice:

  • One zero-step entrance, at the front, back or side of the house.
  • All main floor doors, including bathrooms, with at least 32 inches of clear passage space.
  • At least a half bath, preferably a full bath, on the main floor.

Lack of a zero-step entrance shuts out people who use wheelchairs or walkers, or have weakness, stiffness or balance problems. Narrow bathroom doors stop wheelchair users from entering the bathroom in a friend or relative’s home.

And universal basic access goes beyond visiting. It’s also about your own home if a family member develops a disability. When basic access is not in place, architecture forces severe choices: Expensive renovations — if a home is even amenable to renovation. Or existing as a virtual prisoner in an unsafe, unhealthy house — unable to exit independently or enter one’s own bathroom. Or the disruption, grief and high financial cost of moving out of one’s community into a nursing home.

City by city, builder by builder, agency by agency….policy change has already begun in Arizona, Texas, Illinois, Georgia and many other locales. On this site we offer resources to help you take part in the quest for Visitability.

Concrete Change Milestones

  • 1986: Let’s Get Together, a small disability rights group, forms in Atlanta, advocating equal access to transportation, buildings, health care, suicide prevention, etc. Its first major activity is a trip to a national ADAPT action pressing for a lift on every new bus.
  • 1987: Eleanor Smith suddenly thinks: A lift on every new bus? Yes. And why not a zero step entrance on every new house?
  • 1988-2001: Editors of disability rights magazines Mary Johnson (Disability Rag), Bill Strothers and Cyndi Jones (Mainstream) and Lucy Gwin (The Mouth) give the concept national exposure
  • 1988-1989: Mark Johnson and Eleanor Smith come up with the name “Concrete Change.” Concrete Change T-shirt says, “Every new house with access—because you gotta visit friends and lovers.”
  • 1989: Concrete Change advocates get a commitment from Atlanta affiliate of Habitat for Humanity to begin building every new house with access (the first affiliate in the world to do so). More than 800 built as of 2008.
  • 1990: Concrete Change learns of and adopts the term “Visitability”
  • 1992: With the help of City Councilwoman Myrtle Davis, Atlanta passes the first law in the world requiring zero step entrances and wide doors in certain private, single-family houses.
  • 1993-1998: Assisted by the Georgia Governor’s Council for Developmental Disabilities and championed by Representative Jim Martin, advocates work for a series of state Visitability bills which, though failing, lay the basis for future successes.
  • 1999: Disability Rights Action Coalition for Housing forms and gets the attention of HUD Secretary Henry Cisneros, who helps carry forth a DRACH agenda, including a point for Visitability in Hope VI applications.
  • 1999: Statewide Independent Living Council of Georgia (Pat Puckett) provides a fiscal home for Concrete Change.
  • 2000: The IDEA Center, SUNY Buffalo (Ed Steinfeld) partners with Concrete Change and develops Visitability initiatives.
  • 2001-2003: Bolingbrook, IL (advocate Edward Bannister, Mayor Roger Claar) and Pima County AZ (advocates Bill and Collette Altaffer) become the first US locales to mandate every new house with basic access.
  • 2002: Visitability legislation survives first and only lawsuit (Southern Arizona Home Builders Association)
  • 2006: Concrete Change partners with Visitability in Canada
  • 2007: Georgia Action Group for Visitability forms to promote new state legislation and press for access in major metro Atlanta redevelopment projects.
  • 1992-2008: Fifty-seven local and state visitability laws (of varying quality, but still … ) pass in the US. Many more are attempted and, even when failing, nevertheless advance the cause. By the end of 2007 legislation has resulted in more than 30,000 visitable houses built for the open market, regardless of whether the first occupant has a disability.
  • 2008: Visitability gets increased notice with presentations at the national conferences of the American Planning Association and American Institute of Architects, articles in Urban Land Magazine and The Journal of the American Planning Association, and a major report commissioned by AARP.
  • 2009: Concrete Change declares basic home access a public health issue in presentations at national conferences of the Environmental Public Health Assoc. and the American Public Health Assoc.
  • 2011: Concrete Change receives a Martin Luther King Jr. Community Service Award from Emory University; the Samuel Mitchell Lifetime Achievement Award from the Governor’s Council on Developmental Disabilities; and the Advocacy Award from the Disability Section of the American Public Health Association

Terms and Use

Invitation/Copyright: You are invited and encouraged to photocopy and distribute the information on this website. Please give credit to visitability.org. It is not okay to lift content from this site to another without written permission (contact us for details). Nor is it permissible to use material from this website in media, projects or programs for which money is charged, without explicit permission.