Assessing Your Home Accessibility Needs


Published 2013-01-19 (Rev. 2016-10-19) -- People with disabilities who are considering the purchase of a home need to assess their accessibility needs.

Contact Details: For further information please contact Thomas C. Weiss at Disabled World

Quote: "Depending upon the disability you experience, you might qualify for assistance for home modifications through your State's Medicaid waiver program, worker's compensation program, or vocational rehabilitation program."

Definition: Defining the Meaning of Home Accessibility

Home Accessibility - Accessible house design is design that will accommodate everyone, including people with disabilities. Accessible housing includes houses that are minimally accessible, houses that can easily be made accessible at a later date, and houses that are completely accessible with power door openers, large bathrooms etc.

Main Document

People with disabilities who are considering the purchase of a home need to assess their accessibility needs. A person's individual situation determines what accessibility features they require. For example; if you use a wheelchair there might be a number of issues that you need to take into consideration, such as access to the home, entryways, hallways, counter heights, turning space, cabinet heights and pulls and more. A local Center for Independent Living can help you to determine your accessibility needs in relation to a home.

The main issues for me where a home is concerned involve stairs, grab bars in the shower, and making sure the toilet isn't so low that I fall onto it. As a person with osteoarthritis, these are very real issues. A home with stairs to a second level or to a basement or an attic could be potentially life-threatening, so a ranch-style home would suit me best. Homes with a full-sized tub that I have to climb into to get into the shower are also a hazard; having a walk-in shower is very greatly preferred.

When you search for an accessible home you will need to completely investigate each home you take into consideration. When you call a realtor, find out the level of accessibility a home offers. Simply because a home is listed as being accessible does not mean it meets all of your individual accessibility needs. Pictures in advertisements revealing accessibility features on real estate websites can be misleading because the features may not always be in good repair. Ask yourself the following questions concerning your accessibility needs:

  • Do I need a ramp
  • Is the home fully accessible
  • Will the doorways need to be widened
  • Is the entryway to the home accessible
  • Are the sinks and counters in the kitchen and the bathrooms lowered
  • Is there enough space for a wheelchair between interior walls and in the doorways
  • Are the bathrooms, kitchen, and laundry room accessible? Will they need more accommodations like grab bars
  • How many barriers are there to get from outside the home to the inside such as uneven pavement, alleys, hills, and stairs

Also take into consideration the location of the home you consider. Take into consideration the security of the home, as well as the convenience. Ask yourself if you will be comfortable in the home.

Choosing a Home and Modifications

Finding a home that is accessible can take a little longer and be more difficult; it can also require more research. Instead of looking for a home that is accessible, you might want to look for a home that can be easily modified instead. For example, ramps cost around $6,000, while an accessible tub or roll-in shower might cost $2,000.

It is important to look for financial assistance related to making accessibility modifications before you make an offer on a home you want. If you make an offer before you have the means to make the modifications you need, you are legally bound to pursue the offer you have made - whether or not the home is accessible at the time. If you have the money or the help to modify a home before you make an offer on it, you will avoid canceling the offer because you could not find the funds to make modifications. If you have made an offer with the modifications pending, you place yourself at risk of legal action, or at risk of losing any fees or earnest money to the seller.

Making Home Modifications in Stages

Some home modifications might be ones you need immediately, while others are ones that you can make in stages. It might be more affordable for you to make home modifications in a progression of stages if you can. There are financial options available to you where making home modifications are concerned. What follows are descriptions of some of the options available to people related to home modifications.

If you are a veteran with disabilities, you might be able to qualify for a grant, housing insurance, or a supplemental financing loan through the Veterans Administration.

Depending upon the disability you experience, you might qualify for assistance for home modifications through your State's Medicaid waiver program, worker's compensation program, or vocational rehabilitation program.

For people who already own a home, a portion of the construction of a ramp is tax deductible, or check with organizations or services that might build a ramp at no cost. The same organizations might offer additional accessibility modifications for free.

If you live in the State of Wisconsin, look into the Wisconsin Department of Health and Family Services (DFHS). It offers people an overview of, 'Housing Assistance Programs,' that are geared towards help with weatherizing and renovating existing housing.

Look into your local Rural and Economic Development Office, your local city or county housing authority, or with the local social services or human services department for up-to-date information on housing assistance programs for weatherizing or renovating existing housing.

The United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has a number of programs for funding home modifications. There are two home improvement programs through HUD - Property Improvement Loans (Title I), and Rehabilitation Loans (Section 203 k). HUD has 800 numbers you can use to contact your local housing and community development offices and find out about local home improvement programs that may be available using Home program funding or block grants.

In the State of Pennsylvania look into the, 'Pennsylvania Access Grant Program.' The State Departments of Community and Economic Development and Public Welfare offer people with low and moderate incomes, as well as people with disabilities, funds to:

  • Widen doors
  • Install grab bars
  • Enlarge bathrooms
  • Install lifts and ramps
  • Lower kitchen counters
  • Install visual doorbells and visual phone signals
  • Make other structural changes to their private homes

The program is designed specifically to provide people with disabilities living in the State of Pennsylvania the opportunity to remain in their own homes.

As I begin the process of looking into the options related to owning a home, some different possibilities have crossed my mind. Location appears to be everything in the State of Colorado Springs for example; the prices of homes are far higher than they are in Pueblo or elsewhere in the State. The option to purchase a manufactured home has crossed my mind, along with the awareness that they can be easily modified. While searching through listings, something I have noticed is that many homes have the dreaded stairs I am avoiding. Other homes are very old and may have a number of serious issues. It is important to take the time to find just the right home that you feel comfortable with living in; I know I will.

Related Information:

Universal Design: Seniors & Disability Information - Disabled World
Home Accessibility and Safety for Seniors - A number of accessibility and home safety tips for seniors and disabled to make a home safe and accessible - (Published 2009-01-03).
How to Stay in the Place You Call Home - Accessible Homes - Loneliness is one reason why many seniors choose to move into long-term care facilities - (Published 2010-05-19).
Accessible Home Design Tips for Independence - Accessible home design tips for seniors and persons with disabilities wanting independence - (Published 2009-02-04).
Home Modification Tips for Wheelchair Accessibility - Basic tips that will help you make your home wheelchair accessible - (Published 2009-01-03).

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