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Left to right , Ken Avritt and Joe Meredith screw down boards on the new ramp. Photo by Don Petersen
Volunteers from MKB Realtors construct ramp for Jones. Photo by Don Petersen
Darren Jones very happy about the offer from MKB to build the new ramp at his new home. Photo by Don Petersden
Left to right, Scot Avis of Avis Contruction, Kit Hale with MKB and Keith Hannabass line up boars for ramp. Photo byDon Petersen
Wednesday, January 16, 2013
Many of us walk around through everyday life taking a heck of a lot of things for granted. Consider buying (or renting) a place to live.
The big factors are price, location and size of the house or apartment. Some smaller ones might include the color of the walls, or whether there’s enough closet space or if it has a dishwasher.
But for disabled people there are many other much more basic concerns. Today we have a window into those, via Darren Jones.
He’s 41 and works as a data analyst in Roanoke County’s Geographic Information Systems department. Jones hasn’t walked since Nov. 13, 1994, when he lost control of his motorcycle and crashed on Yellow Mountain Road. He’s used a wheelchair ever since.
He drives a Scion sedan outfitted with hand controls. For years after the accident, he lived with his parents. Since about six years ago, he’s rented a one-bedroom apartment off Colonial Avenue. But he wanted to buy his own place.
By 2011, Jones was earning enough to purchase a house. So he went to MKB Realtors, where veteran agent Tina Hannabass agreed to help him look.
That turned into an 18-month quest. It wasn’t so much a matter of finding the perfect place that was the right price and size in the right neighborhood, with the right color walls.
The question was finding one that wasn’t all wrong for a person in a wheelchair. That was far more difficult than either of them had anticipated.
“It was 50, 60, 70 houses,” Jones told me. “I don’t know. I’ve lost count. After a time, they all run together.”
The hunt consumed just about every other weekend. Jones’ girlfriend would drive up from her place in North Carolina to help. “We looked at three to four houses every time we went out,” he said.
They looked in Roanoke, Roanoke County and Franklin County, Hannabass told me. “The farthest we went was Bedford County,” she said. “It was probably 45 miles from here.”
All of those homes were unsuitable for one reason or another for someone who uses a wheelchair.
Often, the hallways were too narrow. “In a regular ranch, his chair’s wheels would rub up against the wall,” Hannabass said.
Sometimes, the doorways were too small for the chair. In other cases, the bathrooms were too tiny to navigate in a wheelchair. Or it wasn’t set up for one-level living. Those were the chief nonnegotiable items.
At one point, they thought they had found a place in the Glenvar area. It had been built for a handicapped man, Jones told me, and it was accessible in every necessary respect.
But it cost more than Jones could afford, and the owners were unwilling to come down far enough on the price.
Finally, last fall, they simply gave up looking. Jones decided to build his own place. But finding the right piece of land in the Roanoke Valley proved difficult. He was looking at being a renter for the rest of his life.
Through all of this, Hannabass had shared their house-hunting frustrations with some of her fellow agents at MKB, who were sympathetic.
And then in October Hannabass found a house on Lawndale Road a little ways off Brambleton Avenue in Roanoke County.
It has a nice-sized lot — half an acre — though that didn’t matter so much. It’s also a rancher, which did. It has three bedrooms and is more than twice the size of his apartment. The hallways were wide enough, which was important. The doorways were also. For the most part its bathrooms were large enough and set up so that Jones would be able to use them.
It was on the high side of Jones’ price range, but within it. The location was a bonus. It’s a 10-minute drive to his job.
There was only one major problem: he couldn’t get in the place. Hannabass had to carry him up the side-entrance steps just so Jones could look at it.
And with the money he would pay for the house, and some renovations he’d have to make to the master bathroom, it would be hard for Jones to afford to modify the exterior to make it handicapped accessible.
Jones thought he might be able to get a grant to cover that expense. But it turned out that he earns too much to qualify.
By then, Jones and his frustrating quest had become a minor cause at MKB. Hannabass, her company and her work pals were not going to let the lack of a ramp impede putting him in a house. MKB decided to cover the costs. Its agents would volunteer the skilled and unskilled labor to make it happen. Lowe’s gave them a discount on the lumber.
Friday night, they got to work. Led by agents Scott Avis and Keith Hannabass (Tina’s husband) who both have construction backgrounds, they dug and poured the footers for a small deck on the house’s side entrance.
On Saturday, 22 agents, give or take a few, showed up at Jones’ place. Those included Frank Saunders, an old pal of mine, and General Manager Kit Hale, who used to be a home builder. It was a noisy affair, with lots of sawing, hammering and measuring — and plenty of good-natured jokes, too.
Agents whose carpentry skills weren’t so keen used their cooking skills and brought food, or they cleaned up construction debris.
By noon Sunday, the project was done. At the home’s side entrance there’s now a 60-square-foot deck, accessible via a 24-foot-long, 5-foot-wide ramp (with pickets and handrails) that leads off the driveway.
Jones says he expects to move in by the end of February, after renovations to the master bath and some other work are complete. Someday in the future he might install an elevator, so he can get to the finished basement.
He’s but one handicapped home buyer, though. There’s a bigger picture here: As our population ages and medical science progresses, the number of disabled people is going to grow. More and more home buyers will run up against the same issues Jones did.
Most of us can’t sit in his wheelchair and push it a mile. But figuratively, maybe we should try.
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