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America's First Accessible, Affordable and Attractive Home Completed

What may be the nation's first-ever fully accessible home that's also designed to be affordable and attractive has been completed in Tampa. Called the Freedom Home, the 1200-square-foot design complies with most ADA and VA recommendations and is priced from $131,900 (not including site). The copyrighted design also can be licensed for delivery to sites across the country.

It was created as a collaboration between Tampa-based New Millennial Homes and St. Petersburg resident Walton Dutcher, who became a quadriplegic after a diving accident in 1956.

"It's particularly important now for a number of reasons," said Mike Shrenk, NMH managing partner. "First is the growing number of handicapped people who all too often live on very tight budgets."

Secondly, as baby boomers mature, they're realizing that planning ahead may mean the difference between continuing to live in their own home or moving to a wheelchair-accessible facility. "Even younger boomers are concerned about access because they're helping their parents make those decisions," adds Dan Waibel, NMH architect.

Without a design like the Freedom Home, residents in wheelchairs must take a standard plan and retrofit it to include features like 36-inch doors, 44-inch halls and 60-inch turning diameters in halls, kitchens and baths, a process which can quickly become prohibitively expensive.

Building the Freedom Home was a two-year-long labor of love for the Dutcher and the NMH team. "Even following the detailed principles of universal design doesn't automatically make a home easily accessible for someone in a wheelchair," Dutcher said. "The principles outline how architecture should adapt to changing lifestyles, but they don't tell you how to do it -- and the devil is in the details."

Dutcher, who has worked with organizations ranging from the National Spinal Cord Injury Association to St. Petersburg's affordable housing committee, volunteered his time to help NMH design the home. "The challenge is educating consumers because so many people equate universal design with hospitals -- and that's not the case," Dutcher notes. Some elements, like grab bars and overhead lifts can be easily added later -- if the structural support is included in the original construction.

For instance, a homeowner who breaks a hip may spend weeks in a nursing home if her home doesn't allow wheelchair access or have the structural support for a sling lift. "We've built that support in," notes Joe Osman, NMH COO. "It doesn't show until it's needed, but then it can make all the difference in the world."

Renovating a standard home could cost three or four times more than using an accessible design in the first place -- assuming it's even possible. "You're talking about tearing down walls and usually moving them out, so it's not always a feasible option," Dutcher said.

The NMH universal design will allow any homeowner to continue to live in their home regardless of infirmities -- temporary or permanent -- that may arise, Dutcher said.

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