New Horizons Un-Limited Inc.



Guide to Buying a Home of Your Own for People with Disabilities
Talk the Talk

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.

Guide to Buying a Home of Your Own for People with Disabilities

Talk the Talk - Terminology for the Home Buyer

It is very important to know the lingo, talk the talk, become familiar with the terminology associated with the home buying process. Knowing the meaning of these terms will assist with homebuying decision making.

The following resources have glossarys that define general homebuying terms. In addition, there are terms that may apply to the disabled home buyer. There are Federal Housing Administration (FHA) and Federal National Mortgage Association (FNMA) loan terms.

E-loan has a fairly comprehensive"Glossary" of terms A-Z under "Tools & Resources" available from the home page. This glossary is even more complete than that of listed below. has a "First Time Buyer's Guide" that includes a "Comprehensive Mortgage Term Glossary" that defines common mortgage terms A-Z such as adjustable rate mortgage, annual percentage rate, closing, FHA and FNMA for the novice homebuyer.

New Horizons Un-Limited provides the following glossary that defines the terms and the options of homebuying that are specific to the disabled home buyer and their families.


As defined by the Resna Technical Assistance Project, "accessible design generally refers to houses or other dwellings that meet specific requirements for accessibility. These requirements are found in state, local, model building codes, and the regulations of the Fair Housing Amendments Act of 1988, the American National Standards Institue (ANSI) Standards A117.1-1998, and the Americans wtih Disabilities Act Accessibility Guidelines. These regulations, guidelines, and laws dictate standard dimensions and features such as door widths, clear space for wheelchair mobility, countertop heights for sinks and kitchens, audible and visual signals, grab bars, switch and outlet height, and more."


Americans with Disabilities Act Accessibility Standards

Adaptable Housing

As defined by Accessible Homes, adaptable housing incorporates features that meet the needs of the less able while maintaining a conventional look and feel. It avoids the appearance of an institutional surrounding, while maintaining accessible routes and fixtures. Adaptable housing is also more convenient for family members who are completely physically able. Adaptable housing is a common sense approach to home building and remodeling that considers the current and future needs of all members of the household.

Some examples of adaptable housing features include, increased doorway and hallway width, adjustable countertops and cabinetry, no steps, electrical outlets and light switches placed at more accessible heights, larger bathrooms, wall reinforcements for hand rails, and accessible baths and toilets.


American National Standards Institute

Barrier free home

Barrier free refers to a home that has no physical barriers. This includes steps, curbs or other similar structures that would present a barrier to someone in a wheelchair. Barrier free means that the home includes 32" or larger clear openings through doorways.

Fair Housing Act

As defined by IndependenceFirst, "This act prohibits discriminatory housing practices based on disability and familial status, establishes an administrative and judicial enforcement mechanism for cases where discriminatory housing practices cannot be resolved informally, and provides for monetary penalties in cases where housing discrimination is found. The Fair Housing Amendment Act also establishes design and construction requirements for certain new multi-family dwellings for first occupancy on or after March 31, 1991 (30 months after the date of enactment) and an exemption from the prohibitions against discrimination on the basis of familial status for certain housing for older persons."

Housing Counseling Agency

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development funds housing counseling agencies throughout the country who can give you advice on buying a home, renting, defaults, foreclosures, credit issues and reverse mortgages. You can also find HUD approved housing counseling agencies on the HUD website. To contact the agency nearest to you, call 1(888)466-3487. Homeowners with problems that could result in default of their mortgage or foreclosure on their property need to contact a HUD approved housing counseling agency immediately by calling the number listed above.


The lender is going to require some of the following insurance when you purchase a home. If the lender requires the insurance, they will probably add this to your monthly mortgage payment amount and hold the money in an escrow account. In the case of homeowner's insurance, you are responsible for acquiring the policy, reviewing the policy for adequate coverage and paying for the policy, although the lender may require you to pay the actual yearly payment from your escrow account.


Public Housing Agency or Authority


Trusts are legal financial plans that allow family members to contribute to the long-term housing needs of a disabled family member. One may be able to use trusts to facilitate homeownership for a person with disabilities. There are two different kinds of trusts: Special Needs Trusts and Pooled Trusts. For more information on trusts see the NHU Guide to Buying a Home of Your Own for People with Disabilities: Financial Options.


Uniform Federal Accessibility Standards

Universal Design

As defined by The Center for Universal Design, Universal Design is the design of products and environments to be usable by all people, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaptation or specialized design. The intent of universal design is to simplify life for everyone by making products, communications, and the built environment more usable by as many people as possible at little or no extra cost. Universal design benefits people of all ages and abilities.


As defined by Temple University Institute on Disabilities and Resna Technical Assistance Project, Visitability is an advocacy movement proposing that when topographically feasible, basic access to all new homes is a civil right. This includes access to enhance the user-friendliness of all homes to include the needs of everyone, through wise design choices and decisions. Visitability specifically encourages: a zero-step entrance, doorway clearances of at least 36 inches, and accessible bathroom design, such as roll-in showers for a wheelchair user to enter. Visitable refers to homes that are not only accessible to guests with disabilities visiting the homes of nondisabled hosts, but to the future needs of the nondisabled residents as well.


Center for Universal Design.
"Homeownership and Section 8 Vouchers" by Lee Schulz, Breaking Away, V22 #3, Fall 2001, Independence First
"Independence First's Housing Services - Housing Information," Edited by Tom Jacobs, Independence First
"Making Homes Accessible: Assistive Technology and Home Modifications," Resna Technical Assistance Project.
U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

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[Updated April 30, 2002]
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