Tips for Finding Accessible Housing
and Making Modifications
House hunters have a lot of things to consider—square footage, location, price, and the number of bedrooms, to name a few. People with disabilities have to pay attention to all of this while considering existing accessibility features and possible modifications they can make to the home. Fortunately, a good portion of American housing is potentially modifiable for people with mobility disabilities. Here’s how to find these accessible homes and plan your custom modifications.
Stay Under Budget
First, it’s important to address the issue of cost. Pre-built wheelchair-accessible homes can be pricey given the number of unique design aspects that are often incorporated into them. Buying a potentially accessible home and making your own modifications may be more economical, especially when you take advantage of sources of funding. For example, people with disabilities can get grants through the Red Cross, AmeriCorps, and the VA to make home modifications. These resources allow you to enjoy greater comfort, safety, and independence in your home even if you don’t have the budget for certain modifications. In addition to grants and funding, if you’re a first-time home buyer, you can look to FHA, USDA or even VA loans to help you land the right mortgage that fits your financial circumstances.
Know What You’re Looking for
Before you start looking for accessible homes, decide on your essential features. Remember, you can make additional modifications later, so focus your housing search on features that are difficult to add on your own.
In general, look for open-plan homes with lots of space to maneuver your wheelchair or walker. When you’re looking at potential homes, bring measurements of your furniture to make sure your belongings will fit into the space without obstructing your path. Sometimes, removing one partition wall is all it takes to make a home wheelchair-friendly. However, if the obstructing wall is load-bearing, it may be best to move on and continue your housing search—these walls support the house and cannot be removed unless replaced in some way.
It’s also crucial to pay attention to the home’s location and its surrounding environment. Check out the sidewalks in the neighborhood, and ensure they are comfortable and safe for you to use. Sidewalks in states of disrepair can be extremely dangerous. Additionally, Citizens for Accessible Neighborhoods points out that walking surfaces with a lot of lines or joints can cause painful vibrations to people in wheelchairs. If you’re unable to drive, make sure your home is close to essential amenities and shops, or at least on a public transportation route. Some cities have better accessible transit than others—Access 2 Mobility provides a list of examples.
Plan Your Own Modifications
Once you’ve found a potentially accessible home in a great location, start planning your custom modifications (the average disability remodel costs $9,000). Wide doorways are crucial to a wheelchair user’s mobility, but widening existing narrow doorways can be fairly involved. You may be able to get around this by installing offset hinges—these add about 1 inch to the opening. While you’re at it, replace any door knobs with lever-type handles. Alternatively, you could remove the door completely in favor of a curtain.
In addition to full-scale modifications like kitchen remodels, some smaller projects to consider include:
- Replacing carpeting with hard flooring
- Lowering light switches
- Installing a roll-in shower
- Raising toilet seats
- Adding wheelchair-height work surfaces to the kitchen
- Installing Lazy Susans in the kitchen cupboards
Many people with disabilities are jumping on the smart home trend to make life easier. Consider installing some smart home devices when you’re making modifications to your home. This technology can help you control your lighting, thermostat, and locks with your mobile device or your voice.
Finding an accessible home which allows you to live independently is extremely important for your quality of life. Don’t settle for a house with frustrating obstacles you’ll have to face on a daily basis. Stick to your house-hunting criteria and make your own modifications until your new home is a place of comfort and security.