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Finding or Adapting a Home for Disabled Accessibility

Finding or Adapting a Home for Disabled Accessibility

The Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) was a major step forward in the rights of the nearly 50 million disabled American citizens. It mandated that public and government buildings be modified to provide access to the disabled. Unfortunately, finding accessible homes in the real estate market is still as difficult as ever, which can make home buying a real problem for mobility-challenged buyers. Resources are limited and there aren’t many realtors who specialize in this niche market. Knowing what to look for is essential because failing to locate a property that’s already been adapted to aid mobility often means having to find a house that can be modified to meet the need.

Finding a home
“Modified for disabilities” may not be a common criterion for home buyers, but there are several websites, like this one and this one, that will show you properties which fit that description. These are sites that allow you to tailor your search very specifically. Much as you would with a Google search, you can use different phrases and word combinations (i.e. “wheelchair access,” “disabled access,” etc.) until you achieve desired results. You should also register with a real estate agent in your area who can keep an eye out for ideal properties.

Acceptable listings
Real estate agents can also help you identify properties that can readily be made accessible through renovation. Focus on properties that are adaptable both inside and out, with doorways, hallways, bathrooms and kitchens – those parts of a house that are usually the most difficult for wheelchair-bound individuals to maneuver in – which can be modified without having to make major structural changes.

Modifying a home
Measure the doorways and hallways when you’ve identified an acceptable property, bearing in mind that the minimum width for wheelchair access is 36 inches for a hall and 32 inches for a doorway, though a 36-inch-wide doorway is usually more comfortable and accommodating. There should also be 36 inches of space in every direction for an individual in a wheelchair to execute a turn of 180 degrees. If the house doesn’t meet these specifications, consider the potential cost of making such renovations, which will probably require the involvement of a professional contractor, as you contemplate the desirability of the property.


Beautiful accessible bathroom with roll-in shower, grab bars, and space for a wheelchair under the sink.

Most houses require some bathroom upgrades to accommodate a disabled individual, a very important consideration given that most accidents in the home take place in the bathroom. These renovations should make it as convenient as possible for a disabled individual to perform daily activities like showering and toileting, and to move about freely within the space, which should be a minimum of 30 inches by 48 inches, with a 32-inch doorway. Consider installing an open sink to allow leg room underneath, as well as a roll-in shower with grab rails and non-slip matting on the surface. The toilet bowl should have a flush handle no higher than 44 inches from the floor.

The Kitchen

Easy reach handles, appliances and a large and low center island make this beautiful modern kitchen accessible

Food preparation and ready access to tools and utensils are frequent problems for disabled and wheelchair bound individuals, who require counters to be lowered from 36 to 30 inches, allowing leg room underneath. From that position, pull-out shelves installed into the counter offer the easiest access to utensils and cooking materials during meal preparation. There should also be knee clearance beneath the sink, which should be set at 27 inches high and 8 to 11 inches deep to accommodate the knees, with insulation covering any exposed pipes for burn protection.

Kitchen cabinets should also be lowered, with pulls rather than knobs for opening and closing. Place frequently-used objects within easy reach on the counters. Electrical outlets should be installed no lower than 15 inches high off the floor.

For seniors with arthritis and general joint pain, it can be difficult to reach, grasp and manipulate knobs and faucets. A touchless faucet makes it a lot easier to use the faucet than one with a twist handle or lever for a senior who’s having a problem with motor skills. Anti-scald faucets in the shower prevent bursts of cold or hot water caused by a flushing toilet or washing machine.

Seniors often take longer to get in and out of the bath and perform their bathroom routine. They tend to move more slowly and carefully for fear of falling. During the winter months, an older adult may get cold in the bathroom during their bathroom regimen. Consider installing an infrared bulb to keep the space warm and comfortable when the temperature drops. A combination light fixture and heat lamp typically costs between $50 and $150.

External access

External access is an important feature, and the front of the property should be large enough for a wheelchair access ramp if one needs to be installed. It can be done professionally for between approximately $1,012 and $1,718, depending on specifications and materials. Bear in mind that code is 30 inches wide, 30 inches high and 30 feet long for a ramp, and a building permit may be necessary if you plan to exceed those measurements.

Most ramps are made of wood or aluminum, with material costs at about $35 per foot. A 16-foot-long ramp will cost about $1,600 to have installed unless it’s your intention to do the work yourself. Remember that you will need to ensure that the front entryway threshold is flat and unimpeded for ready access. Threshold ramps in interior doorways create a level surface to provide a smooth transition from room to room.

Locating a disability-accessible home is hard work, but with patience and an understanding of your specific mobility needs, it’s possible to find a property that’ll prove adaptable, convenient and comfortable for many years. A local realtor should also be able to guide you to houses that can be modified as needed. Consult a contractor experienced in modifying homes for senior accessibility for ideas on making adaptations affordably and unobtrusively.

Article provided by Medina at Accessiville.org.

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