Accessible Housing for People With Disabilities: Funding, Accommodations, and Other Things You Need to Know
Five-year-old twins Keira and Amelia Algar and their parents, Amanda and Ray Algar, are the latest to benefit from the Step Up Community Build Program. Keira and Amelia live with Rett Syndrome, “a rare genetic neurological disorder that occurs primarily in girls and more rarely in boys,” according to RettSyndrome.org.
Retty Syndrome causes moderate to severe disability. Patients may present with impaired mobility, involuntary hand movements or spasms, speech issues, difficulty breathing, slow or stunted growth, and/or a lack of muscle tone.
One of the twin girls’ primary symptoms is their lack of mobility, and that lack of mobility began causing growing difficulties in their day-to-day lives, particularly when it was time to bathe or shower. That is where Horizon Pacific Contracting and the Step Up Community Build Program come in.
Together, they plan to install new features that will make the family’s bathroom more accessible. Instead of being tasked with lifting their 40 pound daughters, the Algars will now be able to wheel their daughters directly into the shower.
“The bathroom renovation will improve safety and functionality and allow the family to remain in their current home,” The Times Colonist writes.
Renovations like this one make it clear. Accessible housing for people with disabilities can make all the difference in their lives. Whether you wish to make your home more accessible for the people who live in it or plan to make changes for visiting loved ones with disabilities, there are some things you should know first.
Learn more about accessible housing for people with disabilities. Know what qualifies as accessible housing, what the most common types of accommodations are, and how to get the funding to make it happen.
What Does Accessible Housing Mean?
Nationwide, there are 40 million people of all ages currently living with a disability. What kind of housing is available to them?
According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD’s) and the American Housing Survey, there are three levels of housing for people with disabilities. Those levels include:
- Level 1: Homes that can be modified for greater accessibility. Homes in level 1 already have some features that make them potentially livable for those with disabilities. These features may include stairless entry, a bathroom on the first floor, a bedroom on the first floor, and/or an elevator to travel from one floor to the next. These homes have the potential to be accessible, but they need further renovations or accommodations to be truly accessible. Talk to local remodeling contractors about your options.
- Level 2: These homes or living spaces are currently accessible to those with moderate disabilities without significant modifications. Accessible housing for people with disabilities does not always look the same. Those who only have some difficulty getting around can make do with stairless entries, ground-level bedrooms and bathrooms, a bathroom or bathrooms with grab bars, and/or short steps with grab bars. In level 2 spaces, independent living is possible with the modifications present.
- Level 3: Level 3 includes homes that are fully wheelchair accessible. “Homes in this category have a minimum level of accessibility sufficient for a wheelchair user to live in the home and prepare his or her own meals,” HUD writes. To be wheelchair accessible, homes typically include accommodations from levels 1 and 2 as well as door handles in lieu of round doorknobs, wide hallways and doorways, and sink levers, light switches, outlets, cabinets, and countertops that are reachable from wheelchair height.
An overwhelming 85% of U.S. homeowners plan to make significant home improvements or renovations in the next year. Think of loved ones living with disabilities and the ways you can make your home more accessible to them.
How to Make the Kitchen Accessible
In general, homeowners are most likely to tackle home renovations that improve their bathrooms or kitchens. When it comes to accessible housing for people with disabilities, these rooms are also the perfect places to start. To make your kitchen more accessible, consider the following changes or accommodations:
- Install touch-activated sinks or faucets with levers. Use your best judgment. ConsumerSafety.org reminds homeowners, “Even within the same root cause, two people can experience different limitations.” One person living with a disability may have considerable use of his or her hands and arms. For them, sinks with levers will do just fine. People with very limited use of their hands and arms will benefit from sinks that are entirely touch or motion-activated.
- Installing new countertops. Did you know that there are countertop installations especially for people living with disabilities? If you, an immediate family member, or your loved one is living with a disability, installing lower counters will make all the difference. “The ideal height for countertops is typically 28 to 34 inches tall, though should be customized for the user,” The Fill recommends.
Install cabinets with toe kicks. Toe kicks are a recessed space at the bottom of counters allowing for greater clearance for wheelchair users and safer navigation for everyone in your kitchen. Plan for counters with plenty of space in between them. Depending on the layout of your kitchen, plan to leave 42 to 60 inches between cabinets. Talk to kitchen remodeling services about your design ideas and about your accessibility needs.
- Leave room under appliances and workspaces. For counters serving as a food prep area or workspace, “counters should be clear of obstructions beneath them to allow for wheelchair users to approach the work surface,” Patient Safety USA writes. Similarly, it is possible to design stovetops and sinks without cabinets or hardware underneath them. If you do opt for a more traditional stove, Patient Safety USA recommends oven doors that open to the side for increased safety.
- As always, it’s in the details. There are other small ways to renovate kitchens and accessible housing for people with disabilities. Install a mirror above cooktops for optimal viewing and safety, or play around with dual-height kitchen islands for an option that suits all members of the family.
How to Make the Bathrooms Accessible
Accessible housing for people with disabilities requires bathrooms with special accommodations. Some of the most helpful and useful bathroom modifications include:
- Accessible, walk-in showers. It is most helpful for wheelchair users to be able to wheel their chairs directly into the shower. For full accessibility, showers need to be level with the floor, not raised in any way. Homeowners can choose between completely renovating bathroom spaces or converting an existing bathtub into a wheelchair-friendly, walk-in shower.
- Wide open spaces. Accessible housing for people with disabilities may need to include open, spacious layouts. The bathroom is not an exception. Home Depot and The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) “suggests handicap bathroom dimensions of at least 30-inches by 48-inches to provide parallel or forward access to bathroom fixtures.” Further, to allow wheelchair users to completely turnaround, spaces of at least 60 inches are recommended.
- Low sinks and countertops. When completing a bathroom cabinet installation or a kitchen installation for accessible homes, keep countertops no higher than 34 inches. Leave space for wheelchairs under sinks and consider mounting them directly to the wall. For ease of access, install taps or faucets that are activated by touch.
- Proper lighting. For optimal safety and accessibility, bathrooms should be well-lit. Introduce plenty of natural lighting, and keep windows in good repair. Take care of screen repair, and choose curtains that let at least some sunlight through.
For artificial light, make sure light switches are low enough to reach from a wheelchair. Home Depot recommends rocker light switches, motion-activated light switches, or even smart options that are voice-activated.
- Well-placed grab bars. Finally, grab bars are absolutely essential in accessible bathrooms. Install grab bars next to toilets, showers, and bathtubs. Grab bars are necessary wherever people may be sitting or standing.
Navigating Homes With More Than One Floor
Ideally, accessible housing for people with disabilities entails a single-story home. However, that’s not always the case. Homes may be modified for those living with disabilities. Plus, in some regions, like New England, homes with more than one floor are the norm.
If your house or living space has more than one floor, there are several ways to make it accessible for people with disabilities. Consider installing:
- A staircase railing. If you have an entryway or foyer with just two or three steps, sturdy grab bars or staircase railings are often sufficient for people with only moderate mobility difficulties. Wheelchair users will need a ramp. A removable threshold ramp can be used for a single step up or for wheelchair users to climb just a few stairs.
- Stairlifts. How do stairlifts work? “The user sits on the seat, which is secured on a track that is permanently installed along the length of the stairs. A battery-powered motor in the unit moves the chair to the next level of the home,” Home Depot explains. When not in use, the seat folds up, completely clearing the path to the stairs.
- An elevator. An elevator may be one of the best options for accessible housing for people with disabilities. Keep in mind that it is also one of the most expensive. Adding an elevator ranges from $15,000 to $80,000. That’s a large price tag, but it may be worth it if you plan to retire in your home or live there for many years to come. Retirement Living notes that installing an elevator can be less expensive than hiring a moving company, paying closing costs, and leaving your treasured home.
Remember, if all else fails, it is entirely possible to repurpose rooms on the ground floor. Accessible housing for people with disabilities requires at least one accessible bathroom and one accessible bedroom on the first floor.
Other Accommodations To Make
What other accommodations are helpful for accessible housing for people with disabilities? Prioritize safety as well as physical and emotional well-being.
People living with disabilities generally agree on one thing: having access to urgent medical care or urgent medical assistance takes a tremendous weight off their shoulders, and, in many cases, it can save lives.
Medical alert systems are the perfect accessory for anyone living alone who may require urgent medical assistance. These devices include wearable watches, straps, or buttons that you can use to alert emergency services. Some have additional features that automatically predict medical emergencies, like falls.
Remember, it is unwise to rely on your smartphone alone. “If you don’t have an emergency response system on your body that is going to stay on your body, you’re at risk,” Ph.D. Mindy Renfro tells Consumer Reports. Most people do not take their phones with them literally everywhere they go.
Another important accommodation to make is one that will contribute to your loved one’s overall well-being. Choose renovations that will help them create meaning while improving their physical health as well. A raised garden checks off all these boxes. Raised gardens, tabletop gardens, or gardens in containers are the appropriate height to tend to while in a wheelchair.
Seeking Renovation: Government-Funded Programs And Grants
Home remodeling — and particularly remodeling for accessible housing for people with disabilities — can easily get expensive. Explore all your options when remodeling your home for loved ones living with disabilities.
Homeowners can keep costs low by applying for tax credits for disability-related home improvements or seeking help from federal grants, financial assistance programs, or nonprofit organizations.
For example, the Bryon Riesch Paralysis Foundation grant provides up to $10,000 for those with neurological disorders. Any elderly person or individual with a disability can apply for financial assistance through the nonprofit Elderly or Disabled Living. Visit their website — www.elderlyordisabledliving.com — to learn more.
Show compassion to friends and family living with disabilities. Whether they live in your home or are simply frequent visitors, all people living with disabilities can benefit from accessible accommodations to your home.
Think about what the loved ones in your life and what they specifically need. From there, determine whether a partially accessible home or a fully wheelchair accessible home is most appropriate for your situation.