Home Remodeling for People with Disabilities: The Ultimate Guide
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According to the U.S. Census Bureau, there are over 40 million Americans living with a disability, which represents 12.7 percent of the total civilian non-institutionalized population. There are several resources available to help individuals living with a disability to not only have a comfortable home, but the ability to own a home that’s designed to allow them to live safely and happily.
Learn how to remodel your home to accommodate for you or a loved one’s disability through our tips on funding and design options for every room.
Before jumping into a remodel, it’s important to know your rights. Most importantly being that a housing provider can’t refuse you from making reasonable modifications to accommodate for your disability.
Fair Housing Act (FHA)
Whether you’re renting or buying, you’re safe to make necessary modifications to your home thanks to the Fair Housing Act (FHA). The FHA prevents discrimination in housing against those with a disability and has put regulations in place to ensure that accessibility and remodeling is possible.
Although the housing complex is not required to pay for the construction of accessible features, they do need to have safety precautions in place if you are to decide to alter your living situation yourself. For example, if a multifamily housing project with four or more units doesn’t allow reserved parking spots, they would need to alter this for a person who uses a wheelchair or has limited mobility. Same goes for alterations inside the unit, so if you needed to install grab bars in the bathroom, the walls are required to be already enforced to do so.
Rehabilitation Act of 1973, Section 504
Section 504 is a civil rights law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability. Therefore, organizations and employers can’t deny people with disabilities from equal opportunity to receive program benefits or services. This applies to remodeling because it’s expected that reasonable accommodations must be provided and paid for by the housing provider unless it’s an undue financial and administrative burden.
The cost of remodeling your home to accommodate a disability can be intimidating depending on your circumstances. Luckily there is federal funding, assistance programs, grants and loans available specifically geared towards individuals who are disabled.
Whatever funding route you take, include extra padding in your budget to plan for the unexpected. As a reminder, you may be able to claim a medical tax deduction for home improvements if it’s related to a disability as well. Find out what some options are for funding your remodel below.
FHA Limited 203(k)
This program allows homebuyers and homeowners to finance up to $35,000 into their mortgage to repair, improve or upgrade their home. This can be attributed towards improvement for accessibility for persons with disabilities.
Similar to the FHA Limited 203(k), this allows homebuyers or homeowners to finance their home remodel, but is typically for homes that need extensive work done.
Grants for people with disabilities
There are a number of grants available to help people with disabilities become more self-sufficient, many of which can be applied to remodeling. Some well-known foundations that are in support of restoring independence include Gary Sinise Foundation, Travis Roy Foundation and AARP Foundation Grants Program. To qualify for a grant, you’ll need to demonstrate why you are in need of a remodel, often through a formal grant proposal.
Local funding resources
Many cities, counties and states offer their own resources to help people with disabilities in the community alter their home to improve their lifestyle. You can find this funding through your local chamber of commerce, city website, or through a directory that lists how to find programs by location.
There are multiple steps to take when planning your home remodel, so follow our step-by-step when you’re ready to jump into the project.
Consider what your accessibility needs are
The first step to remodeling your home is to decide what renovations are necessary for you to live comfortably in your home. Consider everything inside and outside of the house, down to the landscaping and doorways. View and download our full checklist on what to consider renovating in your home.
Hire a designer
Depending on the enormity of the modifications you want to make in your house, you’ll likely need to hire an architect or interior designer to assist with creating a new layout, getting the right permits and more. There are design professionals who specialize in homes that require changes due to disabilities, so look for one in your area that is meets the needs of your desired modifications. Consider if you want to make permanent changes, or if you rather that they are temporary in case you plan to move out at some point.
First, you’ll want to make sure your home is compliant with the requirements of the Americans with Disability Act (ADA). Additionally, every city has their own set codes and standards for construction, so turn to your local website to learn more about how this applies to your remodel. Oftentimes, your architect will help you through this process.
As a homeowner, you have the right to make modifications to your home, but you will need to get them approved by a local inspector to confirm that they are up to code. If you’re renting the home, you’ll want to coordinate a meeting with yourself, an inspector and your landlord. Remember, the Fair Housing Act makes it possible for disabled renters to make reasonable modifications.
Hire a contractor
It might take a few interviews until you find the perfect fit for a contractor. You’ll want to hire someone that you trust and has experience modifying homes for people with disabilities. It’s acceptable to shop around and receive multiple estimates until you select the right contractor for you.
Select appropriate materials
One step that is often overlooked is to diligently select materials that will help you or your loved one live independently.
Your choice of flooring can make a big difference when it comes to getting around and safety. Hardwood and laminates are great choices for those looking for easy-to-clean, non-slip surfaces that wheelchairs can easily move around on. Be aware of the hardness and durability of the wood you choose if you do go in this direction, as softwoods can easily dent and get damaged quickly.
If you’re looking for a water resistant flooring choice in your kitchen or bathroom, vinyl is a great slip resistant and less expensive option. There are also pricier vinyls on the market that have a foam backing to give it a flexible, cushion feeling. Remember that if you decide on multiple different flooring options, you’ll want to make sure that you can easily transition from one material to another.
If you’re wheelchair bound and access to your home isn’t at ground level, you’ll also want to consider if you rather install a treated wooden ramp or an aluminum modular ramp to access your home. If you’re unsure of what material to go with, weigh your options by understanding the pros and cons.
Depending on your disability, you may need to make technological changes in your home to cater to your needs. For example, if you have difficulty hearing, there is technology available to put your phones and doorbells on a light system.
Interested in other technology upgrades for your home? These are a few common types that you might want to consider.
- Clap on lights: If mobility requires added effort, you can install lights that turn on and off when you clap so you don’t need to be near the switch to toggle it yourself.
- Sensor or toe-touch activation faucets: Even if you have lower countertops, it can be difficult to reach the faucet. That’s where touchless comes in.
- Intercom: If you’re living with someone else, an intercom will establish immediate communication without needing to move.
- Stick-on or screw in fluorescent lighting: For those who are visually impaired, adding extra illumination in the kitchen, bathroom, hallways, stairways and bedroom will help getting around.
- Extra smoke dectectors with auditory or visual signals: If you have a diminished sense of smell, it may be difficult to recognize a dangerous smell such as smoke or gas. Installing an extra smoke detector in different areas of the house will warn you quickly.
- Anti-scalding valve: For those who are unable to feel their legs or extremities, it can be difficult to gauge when water is too hot for the skin. An anti-scald valve will limit the temperature of the water.
There are modifications you can make in every room to make living at home more comfortable. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) enforces standards for places of public accommodation, commercial facilities, and state and local government facilities, and although it’s not required for your private home, the regulations are a great place to start to creating an accessible home.
We created a list of remodeling options for every room in the house — which modifications suit your needs?
- Access ramps: Many homes require multiple steps to reach the doorway. If this is the case in your home, you can install a wooden or aluminum access ramp to allow you access.
- Cover uneven thresholds: Use rubber mats to cover any inconsistencies between rooms.
- Install automatic doors or lever-style door handles: Consider how you can make access to your home or rooms easier by modifying the door handle or door itself.
- Install low mounted switches and controls: If you’re wheelchair bound, it may be difficult to reach the thermostat, security system or light switches. Consider moving them lower for easy access.
- Lay anti-slip mats in wet areas: Make it difficult to lose your footing by laying anti-slip mats in areas that could become wet such as the mud room, garage, bathroom and kitchen.
- Remove cords and cables from paths being traveled: Cords can easily become tangled in a wheelchair or can be tripped over. Hide them behind furniture or attach them to the baseboard.
- Remove doors from hinges indoors if too narrow: Sometimes doors are wide enough for wheelchair access, but doors on hinges are preventing access due to their positioning. If you’re not willing to reconfigure the entire door, you can remove the door from its hinges for a quick fix.
- Remove throw rugs or other obstacles: Although throw rugs can introduce a new design element to a room, they aren’t conducive for a wheelchair-friendly home. Remove any hallway runners or throw rugs throughout your home.
- Step-free entryway: Even if your external doorway is at ground level, it’s common to have one to two steps to get inside. If you’re wheelchair bound, you can install a small ramp to easily get over the two steps.
- Turnaround areas: Although your hallways and bathrooms might be wide enough to fit a wheelchair, it’s easy to overlook how important turnaround areas are. Make sure that you’re able to rotate your wheelchair in every room before designing the layout.
- Widen doorways: In order for a wheelchair to fit through the doorway, it needs to be at least 32 inches wide. Unfortunately, it’s common for doorways to be under 30 inches, so you may need to change the external and indoor doorways if you need to fit a wheelchair throughout the house.
- Easy-access storage: While it’s common to store items behind a mirror vanity, you may want to consider a new option for storing bathroom items that is more reachable by introducing storage lower to the floor.
- Easy-access toilets: Everyone has different requirements when selecting an appropriate toilet, but many opt for an elevated toilet, which measures 17-19 inches high (about 1-3 inches higher than the average toilet). These make it easier for you to slide sideways from the wheelchair to the toilet seat if you’re wheelchair bound.
- Hand grips and grab bars: With various options that are either temporary or permanent, hand grips and grab bars with ensure stability in the shower or bath.
- Handicapped-accessible showers with seats: Install a shower without a lip and a wide opening to allow for easy access. If you have enough space, install a seat allows for an easy transfer from a wheelchair.
- Height-adjustable shower head: Install a height-adjustable shower head to accommodate different angles and postures.
- Roll under sinks: While many bathroom vanities have cabinets underneath, it’s not conducive for a wheelchair-friendly bathroom. To allow access, install a vanity that allows you to roll under with at least 29 inches between the floor and the bottom of the sink.
- Transfer-benches: Transfer benches or sliding shower chairs provide an easier way get in the shower for those with low mobility.
- Walk-in tubs: If you have trouble stepping over the walls of a bathtub to take a bath or get into a shower, install a tub with a low step and a water-tight door.
- Weighted shower curtain and water retainer: It’s common for water to spill onto the floor if you have a handicap-friendly shower, so weighted shower curtains and water retainers are great options for keeping the bathroom floor dry.
- Accessible closet storage and low closet rods: Design a closet that is easily accessible by positioning all storage closer to the ground.
- Accessible dresser: If you have minimal closet storage in your bedroom, opt for a longer dresser versus a taller one.
- Bed height: Make sure the height of your bed makes it easy to enter or exit. If you’re in a wheelchair, a height of 20-23 inches should align well for a transfer.
- Direct bathroom access: You’ll want to have easy access to the bathroom from the bedroom especially if you have low mobility.
- Reinforced ceilings for lifting equipment: If you require lifting equipment, you’ll want to make sure the ceilings are enforced before installing lifting systems.
- Additional railings: If you have long hallways, you may want to install railings to provide support when moving from one room to another.
- Small ramps: Some homes have 1-2 steps from one room to the next, but smaller ramps can be installed to easily move through levels.
- Stairlift: If stairs are difficult or impossible to climb for you, you can install a stairlift that you can either put your wheelchair on or sit on an installed chair itself.
- Hose faucet: A hose faucet allows you to easily reach and move the faucet where you need it.
- Lever-handle valves: Lever-handle valves make it easier to adjust temperature settings and turn the water on and off.
- Round edges to prevent injuries: In the chance of any falls, you’ll want any sharp corners to be rounded off to prevent injuries.
- Shallow-basin sink: A shallow sink will allow you to easily place and grab the dishes at the bottom.
- Side-by-side refrigerator-freezer: These kind of refrigerators create easy access to the freezer or refrigerator.
- Wheelchair-accessible countertops and cabinets: This is one of the most common changes in a wheelchair accessible home, as it makes accessing most parts of the kitchen much easier.
- Cover or hide cords: Prevent tripping over wires by hiding your cords behind the furniture or along the baseboard.
- Cover sharp corners: Soften a painful run-in by covering sharp corners or investing in soft furniture.
- Space furniture far apart: Space your furniture far enough apart to easily move around in a wheelchair or with a walker.
- Automatic garage door openers: Install an automatic garage door opener to access your garage with a remote.
- Designate parking areas: Make sure that there is an easy and accessible spot to park in to access your home.
- Driveway and walkway conditions: If you have cracks, holes or an uneven driveway and walkway, make necessary changes so it doesn’t become a hazard.
- House number: Make sure that your home address is easily visible from the street, so your house can easily be identified in the case of an emergency.
- Motion-detecting lights: Make it easier on yourself so you’re not fumbling with the lock on your door or finding your way to the top of the ramp by installing motion-detecting lights.
- Wheelchair ramp: If your house needs to be handicap accessible, install an aluminum or wooden ramp.
Whether your home requires small modifications, or a complete overhaul, these changes will allow you to stay in the home safely and comfortably. If you’re in the early stages of a remodel, download and print our checklist that covers everything you should consider modifying in your home if you or a loved on has a disability. Cross out the modifications off that you don’t require and check off the modifications that you’ve covered in the planning process.
Sources: HomeAdvisor | ADA National Network | ImproveNet | US Insurance Agents | U.S. Census Bureau | DiscountRamps