Tag Archives: accessible housing

How to Plan a Wheelchair Accessible Universal Design Home from the Ground Up

Universal Design Living Lab accessible house

Rosemarie Rossetti and her husband Mark Leder moved into a new home this past spring. Rossetti, who was paralyzed after a tree fell on top of her, has waited fourteen years to have the freedom to move about her home and yard. The new home is more than a home, however, as it doubles as the Universal Design Living Laboratory, showcasing state of the art features of home accessibility for those with disabilities.

Universal Design Living Lab accessible door handle

The term “universal design” refers to a way of designing and producing products and environments that are equally accessible to people with disabilities and to those who are able-bodied. This form of design blends adaptive and assistive technology and barrier-free concepts with modern, flexible esthetics that appeal to everyone. The emergence of universal design has coincided with the rise in life expectancy and advances in modern medicine, allowing many more people to live longer than ever before after illness, injury, or advancing age have created a disability.

Universal Design Living Lab accessible kitchen

Rossetti and Leder had tried to modify their two-story home after the accident in 1998, and had also looked for a new home that would meet her needs. When they failed to find a suitable home, they enlisted the help of donors and broke ground on their new residence in September of 2009. The plan was to move in during the summer of 2010.

“For a nine-month project, this sure has taken a long time,” joked Rossetti.

Universal Design Living Lab accessible kitchen counters

In the end, the project took three full years, a million dollars, and 182 corporate donors to complete. Instead of simply a handicapped accessible home, the couple now has what may be the most technologically advanced home in Ohio.

Universal Design Living Lab accessible oven

The 3,500 square foot, single-story home includes many features that make Rossetti’s live easier: wide doorways and halls, sinks in both the kitchen and bathroom that allow her to wheel her chair under them instead of sitting sideways in front of a sink, an oven with a door that opens sideways, four-inch-deep pantry shelves, barrier-free showers, motion-sensor lights, pocket doors, level door handles, barrier-free access to outside, multiple-height kitchen counters, raised garden beds, an elevator (for the basement), and a large laundry room that is wheelchair friendly.

Universal Design Living Lab accessible kitchen dishwasher

“I no longer have to ask Mark to help because I can’t get something or can’t do something,” Rosetti said.

Universal Design Living Lab accessible backyard

“I won’t have the fatigue or the sore shoulders chopping something on high counters, or the fatigue at the sink because I can now roll up to it instead of sitting sideways, and I can take a bath on my own, and garden. I have not been able to go outside since my accident. I was always relegated to inside the house. Now I can grow vegetables and flowers. …It’s the whole idea of taking back my life.”

Universal Design Living Lab accessible kitchen stove

The home features include much more than just accessibility features. The structure is the first privately built home in Central Ohio to be certified as a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) home. It has also been designated a green building by the National Association of Home Builders. Unique features include: structural insulated exterior panels in place of wood studs, LED lights throughout the home, solar panels, permeable pavers that permit rain to pass through the patio, and a factory-made concrete and foam basement wall system.

Universal Design Living Lab accessible faucet

The home is visually stunning, with a custom stained-glass ceiling over the library, a two-story great room for entertaining guests, a modern exterior design, and professionally landscaped gardens. What is most impressive is that the house does not look like a home designed for wheelchair accessibility.

Universal Design Living Lab accessible bathroom sink

“You don’t walk in there and say, ‘Oh, this house is meant for someone with a wheelchair,'” said the home’s architect, Patrick Manley, president of Manley Architecture Group in Columbus, Ohio. “We wanted to show that a home designed for someone with limitations doesn’t have to be limited.”

Universal Design Living Lab accessible bathtub

In an effort to raise funds for spinal cord research at Ohio State University, the couple will open the home to the public for a month. After that, they will continue to host special events and tours for architects, designs and others in the home building industry.

Universal Design Living Lab accessible laundry room

Soliciting donors for a private residence required some creativity. In exchange for their participation, donors have the ability to have access to the home. Rossetti and Leder hope that the home will be a catalyst for change in the home-building industry.

Universal Design Living Lab accessible pocket sliding door

“I think it’s going to have one of the biggest impacts in residential design in many years,” Manley said. “What the Universal Design Living Laboratory will show is ‘OK, this is pretty much everything you can do to accommodate someone in a wheelchair.'”

Universal Design Living Lab accessible windows

This video is geared more to be a commercial for the wall structures, but also gives more of a view of the interior:


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How to Find a House that is Already Wheelchair Accessible

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.