"In 12 years, I only found one apartment with an accessible bathroom," said Robert Bentley of Gaithersburg. Bentley, 32, is a paraplegic, his movement largely confined to a wheelchair.
For the T.A.B. ("temporarily able-bodied," as the handicapped call the non-handicapped), accesss to the bathroom or kitchen is rarely a subject of concern. But to the physically disabled, a narrow doorway, high shelves and counters or a narrow turning space can be significant barrier to independence.
"The doorways are usually too narrow for a wheelchair, and if they happen to be wide enough, there is the problem of maneuvering around in a typical bathroom since things are placed so closed together," said Bentley, describing some of his difficulties in finding appropriate housing.
Bentley was one of more than 150 persons who attended recent presentations on the proposed custom apartments to be built on a 3.9-acre site located at Inwood Avenue and University Boulevard in Silver Spring by Centers for the Handicapped, a nonprofit organization serving Montgomery and Prince George's countries.
The 150-unit apartment complex is intended for low-income handicapped persons and all units are designed to meet the needs of someone in a wheel-chair, said Alan Kay, board president of Centers for the Handicapped. The project is being financed by a federal loan through the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Steve Match, coordinator of the project, said, "The complex will provide an alternative to living at home or in an institution. With the exception of a few group homes, there just isn't any housing available. Our goal is not to isolate handicapped individuals, but to provide a place for them to live within the community."
Emphasizing the need for more housing alternatives for the handicapped, Beverly Price, founder of Independent Living for the Handicapped, a Washington-based nonprofit organization, said, "The handicapped need decent places to live, and we applaud what is going on in Maryland."
Typically, she said, the handicapped have been forced to live in institutions located in rural areas far from the city. Since these places are inconvenient for those who wish to vist and for residents who want to go out, the individuals are isolated from society, she said.
The other housing alternative, said Price, is for the handicapped to live with parents. "But what happens when mom and dad are gone?" Because the alternatives are so limited, right now, the only place to go is an institution, she said.
Providing the opportunity for the handicapped to live independently is the major focus, said Kay. The apartments will have design features such as wide hallways with a continous assist rail on one side, doorways wide enough for a wheelchair to pass through, lowered counters and shelves, lowered sink and stove, and all spaces designed for the turning radius of the wheelchair.
The Centers for the Handicapped also plans to serve an evening meal in the central dining area, and to provide van transportation to local shopping and service areas. There are plans for employing eight persons as live-in staff who can assist the wheelchair-bound in and out of bed, provide recreation programs and help in planning and budgeting. No nursing care will be provided, said Kay.
Single residents with incomes under $11,300 will be eligible for rent subsidies. The tenants will pay 25 per cent of his monthly gross income for rent, and HUD will subsidize the remainder, said Cathy Pharis, spokeswoman for the Centers for the Handicapped project presentation.
The presentations were made to inform potential residents and to gather statistical data for a housing need determination study, Pharis said.
Groundbreaking for the custom apartments is scheduled for spring 1978, pending final funding approval from HUD, the granting of a special exception zoning action from Montgomery County and the easing of a moratorium on sewarage extension from the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission.
Neal Potter, Montgomery County councilman, says the project has high priority with him and he hopes to help the centers "over the hurdles they may encounter. The project appears to fill an important need, and that is to help the handicapped become self-sufficient," he said.
The project will be among the first of its type in this area, said Pharis. There are only four other similar projects in the country, she said, in Seattle, Houston, Fall River, Mass.; and Fargo, N.Dak.