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Guide to Buying a Home for People with Disabilities:
Accessible Homes and Accessible Home Modifications

January 31, 2002  [Revised April 30, 2002]

The purpose of this guide is to provide information for people with disabilities who are 18 to 59 years of age, and does not necessarily offer information specifically for the elderly.

New Horizons Un-Limited assumes no responsibility in guaranteeing the services, programs or conditions as described. If you are interested in a resource listed below, call or contact the resource to verify the current situation. Evaluate information and make your own decisions when using this guide.


The following guide will assist people with disabilities or their families in evaluating a home for accessibility, what to do if you have to make home modifications and working with a contractor. The following is a quick outline of this guide. Click on the link to go directly to the section of your choice.

Accessible Design

What are the design features that make a home more accessible?

Before you begin to look for a home, you will want to become aware of some of the accessibility issues that you may face in living in a home of your own and the designs that can change homes into accessible environments.

The seven universal design principles developed at the Center for Universal Design at North Carolina State University are meant to increase a home's accessibility, use-ability and safety for people of all ages and abilities. These home modifications can simplify life for all, not just people with disabilities. These features may make the home for the elderly, young homemakers, children and the disabled a safer and more accessible environment.

Once considered a threat to the value and marketability of a home, home improvements for people with disabilities constructed with universal design techniques can now be an asset to a home. Universal design offers home improvements to be more permanent. Changes are looked upon as safety features rather than obstructions.

The following resources define universal design and offer information on accessible home design features.

disABILITY Information and Resources, Accessible Design/Universal Design Resources page includes the seven principles of universal design and a list of universal design guidelines, resources, companies, house plans, articles and books.

Domania offers a great article called "Universal Design" on the "Homeowner's Library Resource Center," "Architects and Designers," "Design Ideas."

Homestore offers a list of "Pre-Screened Architects and Interior Designers" rated by other customers.

Iowa State University, Universal Design and Home Accessibility page offers several links to universal design from universities, disabled organizations and foundations. Links are also included on home assessment, home modification and repair, public policy and remodeling examples.

Kansas State University, Universal Design Facility offers "Creating Accessible Homes" (PDF file) which discusses accessible features you may consider for each area of your home.

North Carolina State University, Center for Universal Design is the website for the beginning of universal design. The Center for Universal Design is a national research, information and technical assistance center that evaluates, develops, and promotes universal design in housing, public and commercial facilities and related products. This site offers information and services on fair housing practices, home modifications and accessible and universal design features.

Resna Technical Assistance Project offers "Making Homes Accessible: Assistive Technology and Home Modifications," a comprehensive guide, that includes information on universal design and various resources on home modifications including listing of books and videos on the subject. The guide covers definitions; laws and guidelines; initiatives from the Assistive Technology Act grantees; advocacy, financing, modification, and research resources; accreditations; online courses; and a bibliography. Please link to the project's Internet homepage at Resna Technical Assistance Project. Click on Policy Information Pipeline, under Major Policy Areas. Then click on Community Living. Find this article under Housing or call (703) 524-6686.

U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) offers several resources on accessibility: accessible housing designs, modification funds, accessibility guidelines and accessibility analysis of model building codes.

To learn more about universal design and other architectural and interior design accessible features, see the following NHU housing category resource page, Housing: Universal Design.

Assessing Your Home Accessibility Needs

Next you will need to assess your accessibility needs. Your individual situation will determine what accessibility features you will require. If you use a wheelchair, there are many issues you will need to consider, such as access to the building, entryways, hallways, turning space, counter heights, cabinet heights and pulls, etc. If you feel you may need assistance in determining your accessible needs, contact your local Center for Independent Living for an assessment of adaptive needs. For the CIL nearest you, see NHU's resource page, Centers for Independent Living.

When searching for an accessible home, you will need to thoroughly investigate each home you are considering. When you call the realtor, find out what level of accessibility is offered. Just because a home lists as an accessible home does not mean a home meets all of your criteria of accessibility.

Accessible Homes

Finding a home that has accessible features can be difficult and take longer to locate. There are programs that do offer accessible home listings such as the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and some realtors do offer listings and searches for accessible homes. For these resources and more, see the NHU housing resource page, Housing: Realtors.

Home Modifications

It may be a little more difficult, take longer and require more research to locate an accessible home. Rather than looking for a home that is accessible, you probably will have to look for a home that can easily be modified.

Can you afford the cost of modification construction?

Ramps may cost around $6,000, an accessible tub or roll-in shower $2,000.

Seek financial assistance or help for such modifications before you make an offer on the prospective house.
If you make the offer before you have the means to make the modifications, you will be legally bound to execute the offer whether or not a home is accessible at the time. If you have the funding or help in modification before you make the offer, you will avoid canceling the offer because you could not find the funding for modifications. If you have made the offer with the modification issue pending, you will be placing yourself in jeopardy of legal action or losing earnest money and fees to the seller for lost time. "The Cart before the Horse (When Is it Time to Write an Offer?)," by Joe Gavic, Breaking Away, IndependenceFirst.

Can you make home modifications in a progression of stages?

Some modifications may be necessary immediately, while others may be acquired in stages. It may be more affordable to make the home modifications in a progression of stages.

There are financial options available for making home modifications.

Depending on your disability you may qualify for assistance for home modifications through your state's Medicaid waiver program, vocational rehabilitation agency or worker's compensation program.

If you are a veteran with a disability, you may be able to qualify for a grant, a supplemental financing loan or housing insurance through the Veteran's Administration.

If you are a homeowner, a portion of the construction of a ramp is tax deductible or check with services or organizations that may build a ramp for free. These same organizations may offer other accessibility modifications for free.

National Resource Center on Supportive Housing and Home Modification offers a National Directory of Home Modification and Repair Programs, additional links, a library, FAQ and much more on home modifications.

U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) offers several programs for funding home modifications. There are also two home improvement loan programs: Property Improvement Loans (Title I) and Rehabilitation Loans (Section 203(k)). HUD also provides 800 Numbers to contact your local housing and community development offices to find out about local home improvement programs that might be available using blockgrant or Home program funds.

Check with your local city or county housing authority, your local Rural and Economic Development office or with the local social services or human services department for current information on housing assistance programs for renovating or weatherizing existing housing.

In Pennsylvania, check out the Pennsylvania Access Grant Program. The state departments of Community and Economic Development and Public Welfare offer low and moderate income people with disabilities funds to install ramps and lifts; widen doors; lower kitchen counters; enlarge bathrooms, install grab bars; install visual door bells and visual phone signals; and make other structural changes to their private homes. This program is designed specifically to give people with disabilities in Pennsylvania the opportunity to remain in their own homes.

In Wisconsin, check out the Wisconsin Department of Health and Family Services (DHFS) that offers an overview of "Housing Assistance Programs" geared toward assistance with renovating and weatherizing existing housing. For more information on Rural and Economic Development Loans, Home Improvement Loan Program, Low-Income Energy Assistance Program and Weatherization Programs, see this section on this site.

For more information on financial options for making home modifications, see NHU's Guide to Buying a Home: Financial Options.

For more information on programs that offer home modifications, see NHU's housing page on Housing: Home Modifications.

Working with a Contractor

Here are some tips on working with contractors who make accessible home modifications. These tips were derived from "Working with Contractors" by Cindi Pichler, Breaking Away, v22 #3 Fall 2001, IndependenceFirst.

ImproveNet is an internet service company dedicated to being the homeowner's advocate in finding reliable contractors, architects and designers for their remodeling or new construction projects. Get information on how to, for free, access the largest, independent, internet database in the country of carefully screened home remodeling professionals.

National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) official site, provides information on choosing a remodeler. The Research Center keeps U.S. home builders in tune with new technology and changing needs.

National Association of the Remodeling Industry provides a guide for hiring a professional contractor for any region in the U.S.A. The guide offers design ideas and tips on hiring a professional contractor.

AccessAbility Home Medical and Rehab is a contracting firm in the Milwaukee, Wisconsin area that helps disabled homeowners make big changes. The types of construction home modifications Homestead makes include: grab bars, entrance ramps, wheelchair-accessible showers with hand-held sprayers, stair lifts and a home version of "supermarket" automatic doors. This firm can be reached toll free at (877) 486-9900.

For more resources on architects, contractors, and builders of home modifications, see NHU's housing resource page, Housing: Architects.


The preceding guide was derived from the following resources:

"As homeowners age, homes need to change," by Sheila Rockweiler, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, January 7, 2001.
"The Cart Before the Horse (When Is it Time to Write an Offer?)" by Joe Gavic, Breaking Away, IndependenceFirst.
"Origin of the Alliance," National Home of Your Own Alliance.
"User Friendly, Homes for the disabled" by Broderick Perkins, Homestore.
"Working with Contractors" by Cindi Pichler, Breaking Away, v22 #3 Fall 2001, IndependenceFirst.
National Fair Housing Advocate.
United State department of Agriculture: Rural Development- Building a Better America.
U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.


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[Updated April 30, 2002]
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