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Nonprofit helps family find home adapted for disabilities

For Linda and Kathy Sands and their mother, Christine, it’s the little things in their home that make the difference.

The 48-year-old twins have cerebral palsy, a disorder that impairs control of movement due to damage to the developing brain, and spend most of their time in modified hospital beds in their South Austin home. Linda is talkative, with a good sense of humor, but Kathy’s disorder is more restrictive and her movement is limited to gestures with her arms.

Christine, 77, has cared for her daughters their entire lives, but suffered a series of mini-strokes in 2007 that made it difficult for her to continue taking care of them. The family now relies more on a professional caretaker, and with the help of Accessible Housing Austin, a nonprofit that helps people with disabilities find affordable and accessible housing, moved into a home that better fits their needs four years ago.

The home has electric doors at the front and back, which facilitates movement around the house and lowered counter tops in the kitchen that allow Christine, who uses a wheelchair, to work in the kitchen. The house also has wide doorways and a roll-in bathroom that makes it easier for Linda and Kathy to shower, a crucial help given that their disorder severely limits their movement, and makes them rely on other people for such tasks.

“I wouldn’t want my mother to have to step over a bathtub at her age,” said Linda Sands. “It’s all about these small changes.”

Prior to living at the home that Accessible Housing Austin found for them, the Sands family rented three bedrooms in a seven-bedroom group home for a total of $2,400 a month. The price was too steep for them and the family didn’t feel completely comfortable. Before that, Linda and Kathy had been at a care center in Bastrop while their mother recovered from her strokes.

In 2010, the family participated in the American-Statesman’s Season for Caring program and asked for an accessible home that would be more in line with their needs. With the help of Meals on Wheels, they found out about Accessible Housing Austin and the home they now live in, which was donated by one of the group’s founding board members, the late James Templeton, a prominent disabilities rights activists who also had cerebral palsy.

Templeton, who was forced to live in state institutions for much of his life, and his wife, Karen Greebon, worked on aspects of the ADA, which turned 25 years old over the weekend.

The couple bought and built the accessible home through the Texas Home of Your Own program. When Templeton died, he willed the home to the nonprofit so that others with disabilities, like Kathy and Linda Sands, could live in an accessible home at an affordable price.

“This is about justice,” said Isabelle Headrick, executive director for Accessible Housing Austin. “This is what people deserve. This is what everybody deserves. They deserve to be able to live independently.”

The Sands family shares that sentiment. The home may be smaller than other places they have lived in, Linda Sands said, but the nonprofit is accommodating when they ask for things they need.

“They do the best to make it as easy for tenants as possible, which is the great thing about (Accessible Housing Austin),” Linda Sands said. “I could at least request it and they will understand.”

In the end, Linda Sands said, “Everyone just wants to feel as if their home fits them.”

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