On Aug. 18 The Coalition for a Livable and Accessible Syracuse launched The Radically Accessible Living Project. Like cities across the country, Syracuse desperately lacks affordable and accessible housing. The Project will create a fully accessible house for three low-income disabled people in the city. Beyond meeting the immediate material needs of three low-income disabled people, though, The Project would provide a space for organizing around disability justice at the local, national, and global level. The Coalition explains on the campaign page:
“It is our vision not only to make the space an example of universal design for the community, but to open it up to three people who are waiting for an accessible place to live. We will turn the house into a space where various local dreamers and doers can find refuge and community. We want the space to be integral to the important and difficult work that activists and engaged community members are doing to improve local conditions.”
Funds raised for the campaign will go toward buying and modifying a house to make it radically accessible. Unlike other accessible houses, which are often really only semi-accessible, the house will be modified preemptively to anticipate the needs of a broad range of bodies and abilities, in accordance with a philosophy called universal design. While ramps are crucial for wheelchair users, accessibility means more than just building ramps. The Project’s fundraising page describes some of the other modifications accessibility requires, such as lowered countertops, wall-hung sinks, and widened doorways. The Project will be an important example for the city of Syracuse and for cities across the U.S. of what a genuine commitment to accessibility looks like in practice.
The house will also model an alternative living space for disabled people. In the 60s and 70s, many were hopeful that deinstitutionalization would end the widespread segregation and abuse of disabled people. Today, however, vast numbers of disabled people are still segregated and abused in nursing homes and, particularly disabled people of color, in prisons. Deinstitutionalization was capitalized on as an excuse to privatize care through for-profit nursing homes. In part due to lobbying, the nursing home industry reaps massive profits from medicaid and medicare payments, despite the fact that hundreds of thousands of disabled and elderly people in nursing homes across the U.S. would prefer to live in their homes among the community. The Radically Accessible Living Project envisions and hopes to enact an option for disabled people beyond being trapped in nursing homes or forced to live with families, who aren’t provided adequate social supports, into adulthood.
Crucially, the house will also be a space for organizing against and resisting disability oppression in the community more broadly. The Radically Accessible Living Project emerged out of an acute understanding of the barriers to fighting for systemic change when immediate material needs are not met. Specifically, for disabled people with limited mobility who don’t have a place to live or are trapped in inaccessible homes, coming together to organize is near impossible. Disabled people are disproportionately homeless, and many are trapped in inaccessible houses, nursing homes located at the outskirts of town, or prisons. Physically disabled people’s limited access to public transport exacerbates the issues. The Radically Accessible Living Project offers an alternative that would help sustain resistance movements and fuel activism against all forms of oppression.