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Breaking the 'Reach Barrier' for People With Dwarfism and Other Disabilities

Characterized as the biggest state and local building code change in 20 years, October 8, 1997 is a date few know to commemorate. This is when the ICC/ANSI A117.1 Committee on Accessible and Usable Buildings and Facilities broke the six-inch reach barrier. Lowering the standard from 54 to 48 inches in new or altered buildings and facilities made ATMs, gas pumps, elevators — everything activated with a push, pull or turn — accessible to people with dwarfism and half a million others whose disability involves a reach limitation.

Little People of America proposed the change in 1994 after becoming a committee member in the consumer category as one of 10 disability organizations requiring accessibility. Other categories include building owners and operators, producers/distributors of manufactured products, professional organizations, regulatory agencies, and building code officials.

As the delegate representing LPA, I learned the committee had no appetite for our proposed changes. But after a vigorous debate in February 1996, the committee agreed to place 48 inches in the second draft revision of the ANSI Access Code — the key word being draft. In the fall of 1996 and spring of 1997, the Committee considered public comments and negative ballots filed on the draft. The American Bankers Association and manufacturers of gas pumps and vending machines joined the Building Owners and Manufacturer’s Association in opposition to the 48-inch change.

Given the size and economic power of these opponents, a David and Goliath battle was imminent. It seemed there was no hope for change. Experienced disability advocates were concerned that our early victory of getting 48 inches into the draft was about to slip away. Delegates were under a lot of pressure to change their early votes in support of the change. But I used my arsenal of weapons: preparation, persuasion, and prayer. And I believed God could move the hearts of committee members to retain 48 inches.

After a five-hour battle, the room was quiet as the votes were carefully counted: 18 for 48 inches, 13 in favor of 54 inches, and seven abstentions. Victory. I attributed the triumph to divine intervention. How else do you explain the force that withstood three of the most powerful industries in the nation — banking, oil, and retail?

In a surprising move, the committee met again in October 1997. Once again I had to argue for lowering the reach standard from 54 to 48 inches. I didn’t think I could handle going through another battle. In my anguish, I called Robert to put this on our church prayer chain. God was faithful, and the committee chairperson limited the debate to a recap of the main issues and only allowed the clock to run for one hour. After the fifth and final debate on LPA’s proposal, the victory was more decisive — 22 votes for 48 inches, eight votes in favor of 54 inches, and only two abstentions.

Many little people have said they think of me every time they use an ATM, but I think of God’s grace, power, and justice. I believe He deserves the credit for making the impossible happen.

This post was dedicated to Marilyn Golden, former Senior Policy Analyst for the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund. Marilyn was LPA’s strongest ally on the Committee and used her legendary advocacy skills to garner support for LPA’s 48-inch proposal. I’ll be forever indebted to Marilyn for taking me under her wing to understand the process, know who to trust, and lead by example. 

This story originally appeared on Angela’s blog.

Getty image by FG Trade.

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