Written by Jaron Clinton
Buying a house: It’s one of the big coming of age moments for many people, but it can also be an overwhelming experience. If you or your loved ones need assistance it can be even more daunting as there are additional aspects that you must look for. Perhaps you are helping a client look for a house that will make it easier to perform your caregiver duties and responsibilities. Or maybe it’s for a family member. Regardless, if you’re not prepared and you do not know what to look for, the process will be miserable and you will overlook certain aspects that will greatly inhibit the way of life for the person needing daily assistance. But if you’re willing to put in the time to do the methodological research you will most likely avoid future bumps in the road and you will purchase/rent the most handicap-friendly home!
Here are some things to consider when buying a more accessible home.
For anyone with mobility issues, the most important issue is space. A house with narrow hallways, tight turns and complicated labyrinths of rooms isn’t going to be conducive for independence and easy maneuverability for anyone who uses a wheelchair or any other mobility device. A flat, one-story house is often the only option for mobility device users, but be careful with houses with sunken rooms and random steps, which will instantly make certain rooms off-limits or challenging to get to.
Seen more and more in newly built homes, open floor plans and houses with more space give homeowners more flexibility with decorating and making the house their own. But when a wheelchair is involved, it adds yet another level of convenience, allowing you to organize large items of furniture where you want, leaving room for open walkways and maneuvering space. Make sure doorways, hallways and corners are all wide enough for a wheelchair or any other equipment. Compliant to the Fair Housing Act, doors must have a 32-inch passable opening, but many people, if able or willing to renovate to their preference, prefer it wider, closer to 36 inches, if possible.
Kitchen design is one of the most varied areas of home design, but following trends won’t make a kitchen accessible or even operable for anyone who uses a wheelchair. There are a few things to look for, and a few simple fixes if the house you decide on isn’t perfectly optimized for you. Side-by-side refrigerators are more user-friendly than setups with the freezer on the bottom or on the top, simply because of what’s in reach. Ovens, often placed high on the wall, are not only awkward and unsuitable for use, but can be dangerous. The folding-down door is hot and will get in the way, and lifting items that are both heavy and dangerously hot don’t make for a good cooking combination. Look for double, stacked ovens, and lower-level microwaves, or at least scope out cabinetry that can possible be moved.
If the problem becomes affording a home, there are numerous programs set up to help. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has a homeownership voucher program, Social Security has a Supplemental Security Income program, and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has housing grants for disabled veterans.
And if there’s any question, remember the Fair Housing Act, which says that when selling or renting houses to anyone, the renter or seller may not question race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status or handicap of the person looking to rent or buy housing.
It may take some creativity to find the perfect house, or to customize one you find, but it’s possible. Create a checklist of the things most important to you, making sure to know what’s non-negotiable and what you can live without. If you can’t get everything, make sure you can at least get the things most important.