OBO removes barriers with new housing program

At Embassy Luxembourg's chief of mission residence, a recent renovation saw the addition of a wheelchair ramp to match the building's facade. Photo courtesy of the Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations
At Embassy Luxembourg's chief of mission residence, a recent renovation saw the addition of a wheelchair ramp to match the building's facade. Photo courtesy of the Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations

By Victoria Hartke and Ron Tomasso

Barrier-free accessibility is a critical part of the Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations’ (OBO) mission to provide safe, secure, functional, and resilient facilities abroad. Several programs and initiatives are currently being spearheaded by the organization to support access, equity, and inclusivity for employees with disabilities in the Department of State. Chief among these programs is the Adaptable-Accessible Housing Acquisition Program (AAHAP).  

AAHAP is the continuation of a program idea proposed by the Department’s Disability Action Group (DAG) and embraced by OBO as an outgrowth of the bureau’s ongoing collaboration with DAG. The goal of AAHAP is to provide at least one government-owned, adaptable-accessible staff residence at every post overseas. This will benefit employees with disabilities by allowing them to occupy—almost immediately—suitable housing upon their arrival at a post, rather than waiting for the post to either lease a new residence or renovate an existing one, as is frequently done now. OBO intends to identify, assess, purchase, and make ready up to 20 residences per year for several years. Ideally, the bureau will select residences that are accessible, but having to make modifications is expected in order to make these residences as flexible as possible to accommodate a range of disabilities.

Among other important next steps, OBO is rolling out a new, worldwide Barrier-Free Accessibility Survey. This survey will provide an update on OBO’s progress in removing barriers across the board in its facilities. In addition, it will help determine which posts do not have at least one accessible residence in order to supplement and inform AAHAP prioritization, and inform other diplomatic housing programs to help ensure accessibility is given the appropriate weight.  

OBO continues to weigh the impact of their collective efforts and common goals to remove barriers wherever they may be.

Victoria Hartke is the acting principal deputy director for the Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations (OBO). Ron Tomasso is a project architect and design manager in OBO.

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