How To Find The Perfect Accessible Home
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How To Find The Perfect Accessible Home

Chair Call: Drew McPherson, TOM:Berkeley Organizer at TOM:Israel in January designing a device to help call a power wheelchair to ones' bedside. Courtesy of Tikkun Olam Makers
Chair Call: Drew McPherson, TOM:Berkeley Organizer at TOM:Israel in January designing a device to help call a power wheelchair to ones' bedside. Courtesy of Tikkun Olam Makers

Nearly 60 million people in the United States live with some kind of disability. From challenges with mobility to low or impaired vision, people with disabilities need a home that encourages them to live a happy, safe, and supported life. Whether you are looking to live on your own or with a loved one, if you need an accessible home, then this article is for you.

Know Your Rights

 A person with disabilities has certain rights that protect them from discrimination in the home-buying process. The Fair Housing Act prohibits lenders, realtors, and seller from discriminating against a person based on their disability. It’s illegal for a seller or a lender to alter any of the home-buying documentation based on your disability. In addition, the FHA also prevents sellers or lenders from disqualifying people with disabilities by altering the conditions of sale. It also means that governments — federal, city, state, or county — can’t change their zoning laws to prevent a person with a disability from moving in the area.

Prioritize Your Needs

When buying a home, it’s important to consider your current needs and your future needs. If you have mobility issues that require a walker now, but you anticipate needing a wheelchair five years from now, that should factor into what you look for in a home. When house hunting, prioritize your needs related to your disability.

  • Mobility: Look for single-story homes with ramps. If looking at a two-story house, seek out one with chairlifts on the stairs. Search for homes with cabinets and appliances that have large knobs and handles, which are easier for people with arthritis to use.
  • Mental Health: Consider touring houses with plenty of natural light, a space for meditation or calming quiet, green space outside, and in an area with access to activities they enjoy such as parks, shopping, or movie theaters.
  • Vision: Look for a home painted with contrasting colors to identify important features. For example, painting a sink basin bright red can help you find it better. Floors with different colors or textures help a person with low vision identify the room they are in.
  • Hearing: Consider homes that have security and alarm systems modified for hearing impairments –– a doorbell with a strobe signaler, a smoke detector that vibrates your bed, and a security alarm that flashes lights.

Upgrading Furniture

When moving into a home where modifications and accessibility features are a priority, think about what furniture you will take with you and what will need to be updated. For example, if you have a mattress that hasn’t been replaced in seven to 10 years, it’s likely time to get a new one. Worn-out mattresses (and couches or recliners) can exacerbate chronic pain that many people with mobility issues feel. In addition, a poor night’s sleep can lead to depression, anxiety, and poor physical health. Before making a purchase, do some research to see if it’s time to replace your mattress, and to determine which one will fit your needs.

Give careful consideration to which items to take to your new home. If you’re unsure about certain items, it may make sense to put them into a self-storage unit to give yourself some extra time to make a decision. Keep in mind, however, that the average cost per month to rent a self-storage unit in New York City is $91.36, so be sure to budget accordingly. You can also pick up some storage bins to keep things as tidy as possible during the selling process. And if a friend, family member, or loved one has storage space to spare, ask if you can temporarily house some items there. Just remember to not overstay your welcome!

Remember the Exterior

 While it is incredibly important for a person with a disability to feel safe and comfortable in their home, they also need to enjoy being outside, as well. When touring homes you’re considering purchasing, look around the front and back yard. Are all the walkways accessible? Is the front door bold and bright and easy to see from the curb? Is there enough light to illuminate the area in the evening and at night? These are just a few questions you’ll want to answer before you start working on the closing paperwork.

Buying a new home is an exciting adventure for anyone, but a person with a disability should feel especially empowered to find a place that reflects their personality and enables their independence. You may have to complete some adjustments after you move in, but you can give yourself options that start your home-buying journey out right.

Patrick Young is an educator and activist. He believes people with disabilities must live within a unique set of circumstances–the outside world often either underestimates them or ignores their needs altogether. He created AbleUSA to offer helpful resources to people with disabilities and to provide advice on navigating various aspects of life as a person with disabilities.

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