Office of Disability

Draft Remarks Of Margaret J. Giannini, M.D., F.A.A.P.
To the Second Symposium on Housing for Persons with Disabilities
Wednesday, June 30, 2004, 8 a.m. - 4:30 p.m. (remarks 9-9:15)
Opening Remarks and Welcome
Understanding Universal Design and Access Modification

Good morning. And welcome to the Second Symposium on Housing for Persons with Disabilities. I bring with me greetings from President George W. Bush and Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Tommy Thompson and their gratitude for working with us in tearing down barriers to full community integration to all persons with disabilities across the lifespan.

As most of you probably know, we are now celebrating our third year of President George W. Bush's "New Freedom Initiative," which is the most dramatic undertaking our nation has seen in improving the lives of persons with disabilities since the ADA was signed 14 years ago.

For those of you not familiar with this Initiative, I want you to know that one of the first things the President did when he came into Office was to announce his "New Freedom Initiative." In fact, within TWO weeks of taking office President George W. Bush announced his "New Freedom Initiative," and laid out a bold plan to tear down the barriers to equality that confront many of the 54 million Americans with disabilities. And on June 18, 2001, he signed Executive Order 13217 ordering the federal government to assist states and localities to implement swiftly the Olmstead decision to ensure that "ALL Americans have the opportunity to live close to their families and friends, to live more independently, to engage in productive employment and to participate in community life."

HHS was asked to take the lead in this Initiative and the Office on Disability was created to oversee the coordinated development and implementation of policies, programs, and special initiatives within HHS and throughout the entire federal government.

One of the goals of the "New Freedom Initiative" -- specifically articulated by the President -- is to "Promote safe, decent house and home ownership." And, indeed, based upon constituent input - "housing" has been identified as THE NUMBER 1 concern of persons with disabilities. That being said, I want to welcome and express my sincere gratitude to our co-sponsors: the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), Fannie Mae Corporation, The National Cooperative Bank Development Corporation, and the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

IMPROVING THE LIVES OF PERSONS WITH DISABILITIES ACROSS THE LIFESPAN cannot be done by any "one" entity. It is truly dependent upon forging partnerships. A critical component of the "New Freedom Initiative" is to build strong, lasting partnerships. Partnerships at the federal, state and local levels. Cutting-edge collaborative efforts across agencies, private businesses, foundations, academia, advocacy groups, persons with disabilities and their families -- all interested parties -- and to join hands to develop innovative solutions together. We had many, many meetings with our partners in this particular endeavor that focuses on all aspects of "housing," and we are happy to see results.

We promised at our November 2003 Symposium on Homeownership, that helping persons with disabilities reside in their communities would be an "ONGOING EFFORT." And I am happy to report that since that time, there have been many meetings, there has been action, and there have been accomplishments. I referred to the first Symposium as the "101 Course on Homeownership," in which we and our sponsors addressed the fundamentals and basics of homeownership and provided an overview of the home buying process and the role of our sponsors in promoting homeownership for persons with disabilities.

Today our meeting agenda reflects the results of the many meetings that have taken place since November. It reflects the growth, the breadth, and the scope of constituent interest that encompasses the realm of homeownership.

We've advanced from basic fundamentals of 101 and homeownership to a pivotal issue both for the present and for the future -- and that is the very important issue of Universal Design and Access Modification. The importance of this issue in helping persons with disabilities reside in their own homes cannot be underestimated, and I commend the planning group for putting together such an important and comprehensive agenda. We are especially fortunate to have with us today one of the foremost experts on Universal Design, Richard Duncan, MRP, whom I will introduce in just a moment.

We can neither operate in a vacuum, nor can we operate in the dark in setting priorities. New data from a national survey of adults with disabilities indicates that building design problems are THE MOST FREQUENTLY mentioned barriers to participation in community activities. Among persons with disabilities who reported that those barriers limited or prevented community participation, 43.1% mentioned problems with building design, such as stairs, bathrooms, narrow doors, or heavy doors. Other frequently mentioned barriers were crowds, transportation, and sidewalks and curbs. The data were collected in face-to-face home interviews from more than 30,000 persons 18 years of age and older, and were conducted by one of HHS's Centers for Disease Control. Knowledge of these barriers is helpful to us in setting priorities for improving community accessibility.

We need to take the comprehensive picture seriously. The time for universal design is here and it is now. It is no longer a "vision for the future" for ALL persons with disabilities across the lifespan.

And today we have a wonderful agenda that addresses a comprehensive array of issues surrounding homeownership and universal design. The objectives of this second symposium are:

  1. To assist disability advocacy groups understand the important role each of you has in supporting your membership and/or sponsoring homeownership. We hope this forum provides you with ideas and tools to make this possible;

  2. To understand key aspects of universal design and access modification/retrofitting, including policy issues, creative and innovative financial solutions to homeownership and rental; and the actual technical design issues, so that persons with disabilities can access these mechanisms;

  3. To gain an understanding of best practices and lessons learned from experts at the state and local levels in addressing universal design and access modifications; and

  4. To provide a roadmap on obtaining residential-based universal design and access modifications for persons with disabilities.

Before I close I want to share a few of my own thoughts on universal design as well as assistive technology within the built environment. At the federal level, we understand the need to continue to fund research and development in universal design because without it, it would not be able to take place. We have amazing technology, but we need to make it more affordable and accessible.

Building it into homes upfront - before people age or develop disabilities - is the ideal way to do it. We need more talking lights that tell the person "you are now in the hallway," "you are now in the bathroom," "you are now in your office," and we need to have those voice commands more accessible and affordable so a person can say "lights go out," or "thermostat go up," or "windows lock."

NIDRR's Center on Universal Design and the Built Environment is currently funding two major programs on Universal Design and the Built Environment. One at the State University of New York at Buffalo, and the other at N.C. State University, which I'm sure Richard Duncan will address today. I encourage you to follow his remarks closely, and I hope they will serve as a catalyst for future research and development projects and creative, innovative ideas that you can take back with you.

After we hear from Richard Duncan, Coordinator of Training at N.C. State University's, Center for Universal Design that I just mentioned, we will have a short break. Panel One will focus on "Lessons Learned and Promising Practices in Planning for Residential Universal Design."

That will be followed by Michael Morris, Director of the National Disability Institute, NCB Development Corporation, who will moderate "Action Strategies and a Q & A Session." We will adjourn for lunch and meet back at 1:15, when we will get a comprehensive overview from Richard Duncan on "Access Modification." We will then have Panel Two and hear about "Lessons Learned and Promising Practices in Planning for Access Modification;" we will have a short break and we will then have "Action Strategies and Q's and A's" moderated by Michael Morris. That will be followed by a short wrap up.

A special thanks to the members of the planning group who put this symposium together. Thank you to my Deputy, Eileen Elias, for serving on this planning group and orchestrating this event; thank you to Steve Allen, Senior Business Manager of Fannie Mae; to Michael Morris and Johnette Hartnett of NCB/NDI, my appreciation for ensuring a public/private partnership in addressing the asset management, tax opportunities and housing needs of persons with disabilities; thank you to Kate King a Health Insurance Specialist with CMS. Kate has helped ensure the partnership with Medicaid regarding housing. Through Kate, we were able to acquire the resource support from Medicaid for this symposium; and thank you to Margaret Whitney. Margaret is our summer intern - this is her second summer with the Office on Disability.

She has been a great help to Eileen Elias in the production of this symposium. Secretary Thompson wants to reach as many people as possible and this webcast is immensely important to the Secretary in accomplishing that goal. So my sincere gratitude to the Secretary's Command Center Staff for making this webcast possible. Thank you Brent Guffey and staff. Thank you to Medicaid, specifically Al Hintenach; and thank you to NIH, specifically Scott Collins and Kevin Roberts. And thank you, again, to Richard Duncan. Without this planning group, and tripartite effort of these webcast producers, this meeting, this webcast, and this all-time record-high registration would not have been possible. So I thank each one of you.

As we begin our discussions, let us remember the persons we are here to serve.

Expanding homeownership has been longstanding national policy dating to the time President Abraham Lincoln signed the "Homestead Act," recognizing the inherent need for Americans to have a piece of their own land on which to create their own "homestead." The quintessential dream - the "AMERICAN dream" is having a home. Thank you all for coming together to work with us to make that dream a reality for ALL persons.

As I introduce to you, Richard Duncan -- and all presenters today -- please know that you have complete bios in your packages. For those of you watching on the webcast, the bios are electronically available under each person's name when they present.

And now, I'd like to introduce to you Richard Duncan.

Last Revised: June 21, 2004