Looking for an apartment or house is a major undertaking and requires attention to details such as location, price range, floor space, number of bedrooms and more. For those with disabilities the same considerations are important, but are overshadowed by the need for a house that is wheelchair accessible. For some it may be as simple as grab bars in the bathrooms, for others more extensive needs must be met such as: wheelchair ramping, wider doorways, lower countertops, braille markings on appliances etc. Local Ads may be a good source for accessible apartments, but approach them cautiously.
FOR RENT: 2-bedroom wheelchair-accessible apartment with ramped entry way and wide door; central location; no pets.
This particular apartment may have a ramp or elevator for easy access to the front door, but it’s worthless if wheelchair users can’t navigate bathrooms or hallways. Also, the location may be great – close to schools, jobs or friends. However, if curb cuts are missing or public buses lack wheelchair lifts, a good location may turn into a “landlocked” situation.
The hunt for housing has been simplified by the National Accessible Apartment Clearinghouse. NAAC is a free service that maintains a data base of 10,000 apartments in 40 states. “Callers can also list their requirements so that the apartments will match their needs.” says NAAC spokesperson Ruth Seyler. NAAC will also provide information about low-income properties, and assistance programs.
The ADA, Fair Housing Amendments Act of 1988, and the Department of Housing and Urban Development Act of 1989 have made the search for accessible living easier.
Housing Built Before 1991
- People with disabilities have a right, sometimes at their own expense, to make reasonable modifications to existing premises that will provide them full enjoyment of the residence. (In some cases, landlords may require that the tenant restore the property to its original state before moving.)
- Landlords must make reasonable accommodations for all people to use common areas such as lobbies, laundry facilities, clubhouses and other recreational areas, unless doing so results in undue financial hardship.
Housing Built After March 1991
Multifamily buildings of four or more units must follow these FHAA provisions concerning construction:
- Common areas like laundry rooms must be accessible.
- All doorways within housing units, including entry doors, must be wide enough to allow wheelchair passage.
- All electrical outlets, power switches, thermostats and other environmental controls must be in accessible locations.
- Kitchens and bathrooms must be designed to allow individuals in wheelchairs to comfortably maneuver in them. Technical guidelines follow the standards set by the American National Standard Institute (ANSI).
- All units must be adaptable. For instance, grab bars aren’t required in all bathrooms, but the walls must be reinforced to allow for future installation of adaptive equipment.
Barrier Free Homes touts itself as being a “one-stop-shop” for barrier-free homes and apartments, their site is devoted to the wheelchair-accessible, Universal Design, ADA or barrier-free home and apartment market. An extensive data base makes finding a wheelchair-accessible home much easier.
Easy Living Home is the nations first voluntary certification program that encourages inclusion of features that make a home more cost effective, and accessible, regardless of age, or physical ability. By providing a few criteria in construction, homebuilders and remodelers are able to add functionality and convenience.
The best tip for finding an accessible apartment or home is to start early, give yourself plenty of time. It may take many months to find the right place.