Home Accessibility Options for People with Disabilities

Jun 30, 2022

Whether you are a person with a disability or have a household member that is, securing accessible housing is typically a priority. In some cases, you may get lucky enough to find a property that’s already modified to meet your needs. However, that isn’t always the case.

Overall, if you need an accessible home, it’s best to explore two paths. First, you can search for a house that’s already accessible. Second, you can look for a modifiable home. If you need an accessible house, here’s what you need to know about home accessibility options for people with disabilities.

handing house keys

Finding an Accessible House to Purchase

In most markets, accessible homes aren’t commonly available for sale. However, some may still suit your needs. You simply need to know what’s essential in your house.

Mobility Concerns

For people with disabilities that alter mobility, seamless flooring can reduce slips, trips, and falls. Similarly, forgoing carpet in favor of hardwood, laminate, or vinyl is wise if anyone uses a wheelchair or walker, as carpeting prevents the wheels from gliding smoothly.

Finding a kitchen with lazy Susans and pull-out shelves could be beneficial, as they make reaching items in the cabinets easier. Bar handles on cabinetry can make opening them easier for those with less grip strength, while wall ovens may make bending down to retrieve a heavy dish unnecessary.

A home with lever doorknobs instead of round ones throughout also improves accessibility. The same goes for grab bars in baths or showers with no transitions and a bench seat for comfort.

lever doornobs

Sensory Issues

For people with sensory issues, focusing on houses in quieter areas could make the space more comfortable. Additionally, certain sound-reducing materials can make even noisier neighborhoods a solid fit. For example, homes with triple-pane windows may be your best choice, as those windows block a significant amount of sound.

Similarly, considering the lighting is essential for a household with a member with sensory issues. Florescent lighting might be too harsh, so focus on homes that have better lighting options, such as dimmable, color-adjustable LED fixtures.

Finding a Property for Home Accessibility Upgrades

Accessible homes are few and far between in most markets. As a result, you might need to look at alternative solutions.

For people with disabilities, accessible home modifications could be the gateway to independent living. With home accessibility upgrades to an existing house, the property better suits your needs, making it comfortable, convenient, and safe.

While making a home accessible might seem challenging, there are ways to simplify the process. Mainly, you want to ensure the property you select is a good candidate for the updates and requires as few changes to the overall structure as possible.

Mobility Concerns

ramp into a home

When looking for a home that best suits a person with mobility concerns, you typically want to stick with a single-story home. Choosing a property either with only a step or two at the entrance or that can easily support a ramp is also essential.

If there is a walker or wheelchair user or a person who struggles with coordination when walking, floors that are level enough that you can eliminate transitions are another must. A broad kitchen or open floorplan that lets you adjust the width might be vital, allowing you to redesign the flow of the space based on your needs.

Wide hallways are also essential if you have a household member using a wheelchair or walker, as those are parts of the structure that are often harder to modify. If you can find wider doorways, that’s ideal, but most doorways can be widened if you hire a professional.

For bathrooms, you mainly want to ensure that the size is appropriate. More floor space creates wider walkways, making it easier to navigate the room while using a walker or wheelchair. Plus, you’ll have a simpler time finding spots to add grab bars or altering fixtures to make them more accessible.

Sensory Issues

For people with sensory issues, you may need to make changes to ensure the home is quiet. In many cases, upgrading windows is a doable project. However, you may want to check the window sizes to see if they’re standard. If not, you may need customized windows or might need to change the size of the openings to accommodate standard sizes, which can add to the cost substantially.

It’s also smart to check the existing insulation levels and consider insulation norms when the home was last built or fully gutted. The quality of home insulation materials has changed over time. Also, where insulation is placed and how much is used aren’t the same as it was decades ago.

Since insulation impacts noise reduction and temperature comfort, it’s best to factor it into the equation. While adding insulation to an attic may not be difficult, boosting the amount of insulation in the walls is a bigger project, as it usually involves drilling holes that’ll later need to be patched. The walls will need to be refinished to ensure the patches blend.

In many cases, fluorescent lighting isn’t overly difficult to replace as long as your electrical is up-to-date. If the electrical is out of date, the home might require an electrical upgrade before making any changes, which can be costly.

Grants and Loans to Cover Home Modification Costs

government grants

If you can’t find a home that’s already accessible, modifying an existing property is usually the clearest alternative. However, making home modifications for people with disabilities can come with a high price tag, depending on the nature of the updates.

Fortunately, there are some financial resources that ensure home accessibility modifications are within reach. Some households may qualify for home modification grants, giving them funds that don’t need to be paid back to handle the updates.

In many cases, grants to make accessible home modifications are administered at the state or city level. As a result, people with disabilities who are first-time home buyers or want to transition into a home they can make accessible should check with their local disability services or human services office.

In New York, one option to explore is Access to Home. In New York City, people with disabilities may qualify for Project Open House.

Veterans may qualify for the Specially Adapted Housing or Special Housing Adaptation grant. In either case, they can help modify homes to support independent living.

There are also home loan programs for people with disabilities that can be used to cover the cost of modifications. While these need to be repaid, they typically come with interest rates and terms that mimic any other mortgage, making them reasonably affordable in some cases.

The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) Single Family Housing Guaranteed Loan Program offers mortgages that can be used to modify homes. There are options through the National Disability Institute, as well. Plus, many traditional rehabilitation mortgages can be used for home accessibility modifications.

In some cases, other nonprofits may either have programs or might be able to point you in the right direction. In New York, you may want to reach out to the New York State Independent Living Council (NYSILC). NY Connects is also a valuable resource.

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