When people live in safe, affordable, and accessible housing, they are better able to manage their health. People with mobility disabilities and other types of disabilities can live more independently when accessible housing is attainable. Affordable housing leaves room in the budget for other expenses, including food, transportation, healthcare costs, and supportive services. How easy is it for people to find both — accessible housing that is also affordable?
What Is Accessible Housing?
“There are 61 million adults in the United States who live with a disability. That’s one in four people,” said Merrill Friedman, regional vice president, Inclusive Policy and Advocacy at Elevance Health. “Many experience inequities in accessing healthcare, education, employment, and transportation, and they also have trouble finding housing that is affordable and accessible.”
Considering that approximately 11% of adults have mobility disabilities but less than 4% of housing is designed to meet their needs, it’s clear there’s a housing gap.
People with mobility disabilities often require specific adaptive modifications in their housing. A U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) accessibility index classifies and measures the accessibility features in housing.
- Level 1, potentially modifiable: Housing with a stepless entry from the outdoors and a bedroom and bathroom on the first floor or accessible by elevator. These housing options are classified as potentially modifiable and often referred to as ‘visitable.’ About one-third of U.S. housing units is potentially modifiable.
- Level 2, livable for individuals with moderate mobility disabilities: Housing with existing modifications for people with moderate mobility disabilities. These housing options include the features listed in Level 1 as well as no steps between rooms or installed grab bars by any stairs and an accessible bathroom with grab bars. Fewer than 4% of housing units meet Level 2 classification.
- Level 3, wheelchair accessible: Housing with the necessary accommodations to provide full wheelchair access, allowing residents who use mobility devices to easily navigate the home and have the most independence. The accommodations include those in Level 1 and 2 housing, as well as extra wide doorways and hallways, no steps, sink, and door handles instead of knobs, height-appropriate light switches, electrical outlets, climate controls, kitchen cabinets, and appliances. They will also have countertops that can accommodate a wheelchair by having a clearance area below the counter or are low enough for a little person to access. Only .15% of housing is accessible enough for people using mobility devices. Even among homes currently occupied by a person who uses a wheelchair, less than 1% are considered wheelchair accessible.
While the accessibility index focuses on mobility access, people with vision and hearing disabilities also benefit from accessible home modifications. For example, installing smoke alarms for those who are deaf or hard of hearing can greatly improve safety. These include alarms that use strobe lights or emit a loud, low-frequency sound. Installing a doorbell alert that flashes, activates a shaker device, or amplifies the doorbell sound also makes the home more accessible.
Modifications for people who are blind or have low vision may include a phone doorbell that allows residents to talk to someone at the door, non-slip floors and low-pile carpet to minimize tripping hazards, and talking thermostats and appliances.