What to Look for in an Accessible Home When You Live with a Disability

by Patrick Young

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If you’re living with a disability, you know the frustration that comes with living in a world that’s not designed for you. For those in wheelchairs, getting around can be a major challenge. There are times when you’re met with a set of stairs and no elevator in sight, or when you can’t ride the subway or enter a building because of the steps. Not every public space is accessible, but the one place where you should always have access is your home.

While it is possible to move into a fully accessible home that meets all of your criteria, you will more than likely have to make a few modifications. But why not start with something as close as possible to what you need? Homes that have been fitted for accessibility do exist on the market, whether it’s for troubles with mobility, vision, hearing, or dexterity. Some homes were once inhabited by other disabled tenants, while others may have been built to sell. Either way, there are options on the market for your next home.

Find a Realtor

You can go through the home buying process on your own, but everything is easier with a realtor. They can help you navigate the market in your desired location based on average home prices. In the DC area, for example, the average sale price has been $550,000 the past month. Realtors can also help with negotiating an offer and other confusing steps in the home buying process. They might also recommend local contractors to make additional modifications. If you’re selling your current home, a realtor can help you get the best price for your home’s value. When interviewing realtors, ask about their experience and knowledge with finding accessible homes.

Accessible Design

As you conduct your housing search, look for accessible designs. Using an online search, you can filter your results to show homes with disabled access or handicap access. Your realtor can also help you find the right listings to accommodate your disability. A few things to consider are:

1. Safety

  • Medical alert/security system in case of an accident
  • Non-skid flooring with no carpets or rugs that can be tripped over
  • Grab bars in the shower, next to the toilet, and in hallways

2. Function

  • Lower counters and cabinets
  • Lower closet rods
  • Step-in shower with a low-level, removable shower head
  • Lever handles or push plates instead of doorknobs (or doors that slide instead of swing out)
  • Lower power outlets
  • Ramps and no-step entries
  • Counters with space underneath to fit a wheelchair

3. Space

  • Wide hallways to get around and eliminate congestion points
  • Open floor plan to improve mobility and visibility

Paying for Modifications

You may find a home that fits ticks off many items on your criteria list, but there are a few in-home modifications that will still need to be made. If that’s the case, you may be able to obtain funding for your projects, which will cover at least part of the costs if you’re eligible. Look to organizations like the VA, Red Cross, AmeriCorps, and USDA for more information about grants. You can also reach out to the AARP and Social Security Administration for useful information about making and paying for modifications.

Before You Move

Once you and your realtor have found your next home, it’s time to get ready for the big move. You’ll first want to have the locks changed to keep your new home secure. A quick online search can lead you to a locksmith that services your area (which costs $380 – $500 on average), as well as vendors that offer other security and surveillance systems. Book a moving company to help your day-of tasks go smoothly. Make all of your address changes ahead of time so you never miss a bill or important document. Finally, hire a Washington, DC cleaning services provider to ensure your home is fully ready for its new occupants – you’ll also want to bring in a cleaning service before moving into your next property.

Considerations for Renters

Because renters don’t have the flexibility and freedom to make modifications to their living space, you’ll have to move into one that’s already accessible. Look for apartment buildings with elevators, and type in “disability access” into your search criteria. If you have a service animal to assist you with your disability, the Fair Housing Act legally permits your animal to live with you even if the building has a “no pets” policy. Service animals are not considered pets; therefore, they are not subject to the same rules as non-working animals.

If you’re not sure where to start with your home search, put the feelers out there in your disabled community. Someone in your network might have leads on accessible houses that are about to go on the market. Don’t be shy about asking for help. Whether it’s a friend, relative, or real estate agent, there’s always someone who will be willing to support the biggest purchase you’ll ever make.

Photo Credit: Pixabay