Twenty-five years ago, nurse practitioner Rosemary Ciotti was pregnant with her second child when an inflammatory disease similar to MS gave her stroke-like symptoms and ultimately quadriplegia-like loss of limb use. “We moved from a big house into a condo in Arlington, Virginia — moving to the land of ADA activists,” says Ciotti, who uses both a manual and power chair for mobility. “I had a baby on my lap, my speech was still slurred, and I was getting stuck in elevators. These activists got me off the couch and into activism. They taught me that I had rights, that I didn’t have to miss four elevators while nondisabled people crammed ahead of me.”
Since then Ciotti has campaigned for everything from automatic door openers at medical centers to more roll-in showers in public and private sector multifamily buildings. Housing advocacy is tough because there is no one strong law that covers all aspects of renting and home ownership: The ADA covers public areas in developments, the Fair Housing Act outlaws discriminating against people with disabilities and also requires a certain amount of accessibility in multi-family homes, and Sect. 504 of the Rehab Act requires a certain percentage of public housing units to be accessible.
When Ciotti first became interested in increasing accessibility in public housing high rises, she learned to combine these laws. She served for 10 years on the Arlington County Planning Commission and was successful in securing 75 roll-in showers in units in new buildings. Her goal is to increase the federally-mandated number of accessible showers from 2% percent to 4% and then ultimately 10%.
“A more accessible bathroom allows people to age in place, and gives them dignity and a clean shower — whether they are a veteran returning home with a major SCI injury or a person who simply ripped up their knee on a ski trip,” she says. “We have the ADA, but your community is only as accessible as you insist it will be.”