National Disability Awareness Month is observed annually in March to raise awareness about and support the rights of Americans with disabilities. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) has been in effect for more than 30 years, ensuring that businesses and organizations make reasonable accommodations for people with disabilities.
While public businesses and transit must be ADA-compliant, not enough homes have the features required to accommodate certain needs. According to HudUser.gov, approximately one-third of housing units have some essential accessibility features that are potentially modifiable. However, fewer than 5% of units have the necessary components to accommodate a person with moderate mobility difficulties.
You can follow ADA guidelines to modify your home to improve accessibility and make it a safer, more comfortable living space. Here’s what you need to know.
What Are the Americans With Disabilities Act’s Accessibility Requirements?
An ADA-compliant building or facility must be physically accessible to people with disabilities.
These requirements impact the design and construction of new public facilities and the maintenance, alternation, and renovation of existing facilities.
The ADA is broken into five sections, called titles. Each title lays out the requirements for different organizations, such as employment, state and local government services, public transit, public businesses, and telecommunications.
All areas must be fully accessible in commercial buildings. Floor and ground surfaces must be stable, firm, and slip-resistant. Doors must be wide enough to allow easy access for wheelchair users and ramps must be a certain length, width, and slope ratio. Other requirements include the following:
- Accessible hardware on doors
- Accessible parking
- Height requirements for bathroom sinks, stalls, and toilets
- Railings and grab bars in appropriate locations
- Furniture arranged to reduce service barriers
Having a national minimum standard for accessibility makes it easier to remain ADA-compliant and guarantees that people with disabilities have equal opportunities.
Exterior Accessibility Modifications for a Home
Exterior home modifications enable seniors and people with limited mobility to navigate their homes safely and independently. Here are a few exterior changes to help make your home more accessible.
- Handrails: ADA-compliant handrails help improve safety while entering or exiting the home.
- Outdoor lighting: Outdoor lighting can enhance your home’s safety and security. Install motion sensors and easily reachable light switches. Lighting needs may be greater for people with poor vision or navigation difficulties.
- Walkways and ramps: Most homes have narrow walkways and steps that lead to the front door, but this is a big barrier for anyone with limited mobility. Consider adding a ramp if there’s no alternate entry that’s wheelchair accessible. Even if no one in the home is in a wheelchair, a ramp may be easier for people with certain disabilities to walk up and down.
Entry, Hall, and Living Space Modifications
Entryways, hallways, and all living areas should be easily navigable and free of obstructions. These modifications allow people with mobility difficulties to move through the home without fear of tripping, slipping, or falling.
- Entrance door: Exterior doors are often wider but still present certain challenges. A small threshold ramp makes the transition in and out of the home smoother. Another option is switching out a doorknob for a lever handle or installing an automatic door opener, which opens and closes with a button push.
- Remove obstacles: Make hallways and living spaces as barrier-free as possible. Remove rugs and liners to prevent trips and falls. Use appropriate furniture and arrange it to create a path that enables homeowners to move around the space freely.
- Widen hallways: Make your home wheelchair accessible by widening the hallways. Doorways, entryways, and hallways should be at least 36 inches wide.
Accessible kitchens ensure homeowners can safely prepare food without needing assistance from others. An accessible kitchen also makes it possible to host guests or participate in shared meals without being limited by the room’s layout or features.
- Lower countertops: Lower your kitchen countertops to easily reach items and comfortably make meals. According to the ADA, the maximum height for kitchen surfaces is 34 inches above the floor.
- Use pull-out shelving: Traditional shelves can be difficult to reach, but pull-out or pull-down shelves make accessing items easier. They also reduce the need for bending or stretching. This feature is especially useful in kitchen cabinets with heavy cookware or appliances.
- Install single-lever or touch faucets: A single-lever or touch faucet allows homeowners to turn the water on and off with a turn or a simple tap, eliminating the need to twist handles.
Water and slippery surfaces make the bathroom the most likely room in the house for a slip and fall. The best way to prevent injury is to install ADA-compliant bathroom modifications for a more handicap-accessible home.
- Add grab bars: Place grab bars near the toilet, bathtub, or in the shower to provide extra stability and support.
- Raise the toilet seat height: Getting up from a standard toilet seat can be difficult for those with limited mobility or lower body weakness. A raised seat makes it easier to sit and stand and minimizes body strain.
- Install a walk-in tub or shower: A walk-in tub or shower is an accessible bathing solution, but it’s vital to ensure your chosen model meets your accessibility needs. Walk-in tubs and showers have lower thresholds, grab bars, and a built-in or removable seat.
It can be difficult to relax in your bedroom if you can’t move around the space independently. Below are some modifications to help create a more handicap-accessible home.
- Lower closet rods: Low closet rods are essential for easy access. Closet rods should be 48 inches from the ground to help those in wheelchairs.
- Install a chair lift: If your bedroom is on the second floor, you may need a chair lift to help with going up and down the stairs.
- Lower bed height: Getting in or out of bed can be challenging and dangerous when the bed is too high. You can purchase an adjustable or lower bed frame to change the height.
How Smart-Home Devices Can Assist in Accessibility
Smart-home technology has improved significantly over the past decade. It gives the elderly and people with disabilities hands-free control of household devices, such as lighting, heating and cooling, home security, and more.
- Amazon Alexa/Google Home: Amazon Alexa and Google Home are both smart-home platforms capable of voice interaction and various tasks. They also act as the hub of all other smart devices, such as an Echo Dot, allowing users to control them from one central location.
- Voice activation lighting: Smart lighting can be controlled by voice, sensors, or smartphones. Lights can be set to automatically turn on or off, change colors, and adjust brightness, which is especially useful to those with vision impairments.
- Video doorbells: Video doorbells send a notification to your smartphone or smart-home platform if someone is on your doorstep. Some offer two-way communication so you can answer without getting up. This is helpful for anybody who has a difficult time getting up to answer the door.
Where Can I Find Financial Assistance for Home Modifications for Accessibility?
Before paying out of pocket, see if assistance is available to help cover some or all of the home modifications for accessibility costs. You may qualify for assistance from federal and state agencies or private organizations.
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs provides grants to service members and veterans for qualifying service-related disabilities. For example, the Specially Adapted Housing grant offers up to $109,986 for the 2023 fiscal year to help with home modifications.
Rebuilding Together, a national nonprofit in safe and healthy housing, helps homeowners retain their homes by assisting with essential repairs and accessibility modifications. The available modification types vary by affiliate.
Each program has its own guidelines, so read the requirements to find one that works for you. Be prepared to provide financial records and details on how you plan to use the money for home accessibility modifications.
Dwelling units aren’t required to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act. This can hinder accessibility for people with handicaps or limited mobility. Homeowners can add many ADA-compliant modifications to create a more handicap-accessible home. Modifying a home usually involves costly updates, but you may qualify for financial assistance from government or nonprofit organizations.