Home sweet?

I had my first taste of home ownership while playing in our family’s backyard as a child. It was my responsibility to keep our playhouse clean. I remember pretending to be an adult like my parents—cooking and cleaning. It was so much fun.

The beauty about child’s play is that there’s no fine print. Quite the opposite, we’ve learned, in the real world. Patrick and I know this now, because after mulling it over for years, we finally decided to take the leap and purchase our first home. We’re officially home owners in Arizona!

Thankfully, we’ve got a sense of humor. Believe me, we are getting our feet wet as homeowners, literally and figuratively. Within days of moving in, we started our first project: having a humidifier installed in the air conditioning system to help Patrick, who has trouble with the dry air. That very addition delivered us our first homeowner’s headache—the system sprung a leak, causing a flood! So far, we’ve lost a wedding album, a stack of Patrick’s piano music, and my only copy of my Senior Most Magazine from high school (if you have watched Right Footed, you know that I was voted “Most Shy”).

Still, being the owner of an actual home, I feel tremendously empowered, despite the overwhelming responsibility that comes with it all. We love the full autonomy we have—choosing furniture, fixtures, and planning modifications to make it better suited to my needs. To make the sinks accessible to me, we have barstools in the kitchen so I can wash dishes, and in the bathroom for when I brush my teeth and wash my face. It is a challenge, because Patrick is 6’3” and uses his hands while I am 5’1” and use my feet.

We are also planning to install a foot wash so I can easily wash my feet after coming in the door. It is basically a sink at foot level, very much like those you see in beach resorts, so you can wash the sand off your feet before going inside.

Those are the fun things. The not-so-fun part—flood aside—was the paperwork. If you’ve ever bought a home, you know all about the stacks and stacks of paperwork that stand between you and those keys. And if you’re a person like me, with a disability, you want to pay extra close attention. As we were going through one of the many disclosures as we signed our loan, we spotted a paragraph that said, “The Equal Credit Opportunity Act (ECOA) prohibits creditors from discriminating against credit applicants on the basis of race, color…” There were nine protected classes listed in the document, but the one that was relevant to us was not—disability! In fact, the word “disability” isn’t even mentioned on the web page. How many homeowners who signed similar contracts noticed the omission? How many never got the chance, because they have disabilities? It would be so easy to just gloss over that section, without thinking anything of it.

But I do know that the ECOA, or the Federal Equal Credit Opportunity Act, affects not only mortgage applicants, but also governs many other types of credit applications. It makes me wonder if, and, how many applicants have been turned down for credit on the basis of their disability. At the very least, it shows how much more awareness is needed on disability rights.

So I put in a call to my Representatives to ask why (by the way, you can call the U.S. Capitol switchboard anytime on (202) 224-3121). It’s been over a week, and I have yet to receive a response from my Senators or Representative.

People with disabilities should be included as a protected class when it comes to lines of credit. Purchasing a home is such a milestone of independence and empowerment, and people with disabilities should be accorded the same protection as everyone else. I encourage everyone to keep spreading awareness on the rights of the disability community and to be vigilant in advocating for them. Speak up when you see omissions like these. After all, 20% of Americans and all other people around the world will have a disability in their lifetime. That means that non-disabled people already know several people with disabilities, whether they realize it or not, and we look to our allies to be just as vocal and vigilant as we are.

I’m on the other side of my own front door now. But home ownership shouldn’t be such a battle. Perhaps it will never be as easy as the house my siblings and I ran in the 1990s in our backyard, but at least we can make the fine print a bit more welcoming.

Jessica Cox