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This Summerville real estate agent is a champion for accessible housing

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In a brief biography, Barbara Delia explains how a life-changing event 11 years ago brought her into real estate and championing for accessible housing.

The hit-and-run accident Sept. 17, 2007, "left her paralyzed from the waist down with spinal cord injuries and three traumatic brain injuries. Having gone through the struggles of this new life she now is a disability advocate for protecting the rights of wheelchair riders and all people living with disabilities," according to her account.

She joined an area spinal cord injury support group six years ago and meets with South Carolina representatives in Congress for the annual "Roll On Capitol Hill" event in Washington D.C.

The Summerville resident got her involved in real estate this year with Southern Shores Real Estate Group in the Charleston area, making the decision after an annual review with the state Vocational Rehabilitation agency last year "expressing her frustration and concern for accessible housing."

Delia backs efforts for home construction so that disabled people can enter, exit and maneuver around homes without undue troubles.

As the same time, scores of builders work to design accessible new houses or revamp existing homes to fit the homeowner and guests.

According to hgtv.com, "Retrofitting homes to provide ease and comfort for the disabled takes more than simply meeting accessibility standards. 'You have to listen to your clients,'" Robin Burrill, a co-owner of Curb Appeal Renovations in Fort Worth, Texas, tells the television network's website.

Curb Appeal included renovated a home for a 6-foot, 7-inch man who uses a higher-than-typical wheelchair and requires other adjustments to standards for disabled people in general. "You should follow the guidelines, but you have to meet their needs," Burrill says in the article.

Bill Mavrakis of T&L Design-Build in Canton, Ohio, builds 42-inch-wide doorways when possible "to aid wheelchair users who have to pilot themselves." That's even though current standards require 36-inch-wide doors, but "remodelers consider those to be "knucklebusters," just barely wide enough for wheelchairs, he says in the hgtv.com story.

Exterior home entrances can be challenges. Dennis Gehman, president of Gehman Custom Builder Inc. in Harleysville, Pennsylvania, crafts L-shaped ramps to compress the needed space, according to hgtv.com. "Each one is really custom," he says, noting that landscaping often helps the ramps blend with the house exterior.

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Among the toughest spaces to retrofit are bathrooms, which tend to be small and not very maneuverable. "We try to expand the bathroom into an adjacent room or create a new bath from a spare room," according to Gehman. Another perk: curbless showers that allow wheelchairs to roll right into them.

Kitchen innovations include removing floor cabinets around sinks and installing plumbing pipes tight against the back wall, to permit wheelchair users to roll up to the sink; and setting counters at 30 inches rather than the typical 36 inches.

According to hgtv.com, a key challenge for remodelers is that "homeowners want a look that is functional but also aesthetically pleasing. "'When they have to sell their home,' explains Burrill, 'they don't want to sell it as having a handicapped bathroom but as having a very nice, high-end, larger bath.'"

Aging baby boomers may be a future source for accessible housing projects in the remodeling industry, since many are disabled or may become disabled. "Designers expect that this type of work will grow and product lines are expanding to accommodate that growth," hgtv.com says. "'Some are finding that it's cheaper to remodel the home to fit their needs than to move into a nursing home,'" Mavrakis tells the online publisher.

Visit the Americans for Disabilities Act website at www.ada.gov.

Custom builders such as Apex, North Carolina-based Stanton Homes are publicizing their skills in accessible, universal, certified Aging in Place and VA-approved Specially Adapted Housing.

On its website, the company cites a bunch of perks in its accessible floor plans. They include "wider hallways and doorways; space for a wheelchair turning radius; non-slip flooring, ramps and walkways; special lighting; roll out or pull out shelving; easy grope doors, faucets, and drawers; accessible switches; no step entries; roll-in showers; ADA roll-under counter tops and work space; and specialty features."

The company also unveiled floor plans with elevators, which can make homes easier to get around.

Stanton Homes designs wheelchair accessible bathrooms and kitchens as well as disabled-friendly garages and entryways. The garages are "usually attached to the home with a direct (no step) entrance or connected to it with a sheltered breezeway at least 36 inches wide," the firm says.

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