Home modifications for seniors and people with disabilities

If you or a loved one has a disability, there are several modifications you can make to your home to create a safer and more comfortable environment.

Catherine Collins
November 10, 2023

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If you or a loved one has a disability, there are several modifications you can make to your home to create a safer and more comfortable environment. Completing home modifications for disabled homeowners can include anything from widening doorways to installing elevators to adding Alexa for voice commands. Here’s how you can improve accessibility in your home and finance the updates.

What makes a home accessible?

There are several considerations you can make to create a truly accessible home for people with disabilities.

Understand the principles of universal design for inclusivity

Universal design is the concept of creating spaces and environments for all people, regardless of their age or abilities. If you were to apply universal design principles to your home, you’d consider all the ways to make it inclusive for all ages and ability ranges.

Identify key accessibility features for various disabilities

Disabilities include physical disabilities, visual impairments, hearing impairments, and cognitive impairments. When making your home more accessible for you or a loved one with a disability, consider what updates would be best for your personal situation.

Consider changing needs and progressive conditions

Some disabilities might worsen over time. If this applies to you, consider future needs and adaptations that might be necessary in the future.

Be aware of ADA compliance

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) protects the rights of Americans with disabilities in public spaces. They provide guidelines you can review and consider when modifying your home to be more accessible.

Ways to make your home more accessible

Here are some ideas if you want to make home modifications for elderly and disabled loved ones.

Entrance and exterior

  • Install ramps: Wheelchair accessible homes typically have ramps and accessible entryways to their front doors. To achieve this, eliminate or modify your entryway steps to accommodate a ramp.
  • Create wheelchair-friendly paths: Make it easier for wheelchair users to go from their vehicles to your front entrance by creating a smooth and accessible path.
  • Install automatic doors: You can install an electric door opener, which makes opening your front door much easier
  • Improve lighting: Lighting is incredibly important for safety, especially when accessing the entrance to your home at night.

Bathroom

  • Add grab bars: Grab bars are an excellent addition to your bathroom to ensure the safety of those taking baths or showers.
  • Install roll-in showers: These are helpful for wheelchair users to access the shower easily.
  • Raised toilets: Higher toilets are helpful, especially for seniors or people who have trouble bending down.
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Kitchen

  • Lower countertops: If possible, consider lowering your countertops so they are more accessible to those with disabilities. The American with Disabilities Act states accessible countertops should be between 28-34 inches from the floor, so wheelchair users can access them.
  • Lower placement of appliances: Putting appliances on lower shelves or lower cabinets can help create independence for small daily tasks like cooking.
  • Create accessible storage spaces: Ensure everyone can access storage areas, such as the pantry.

Living areas and hallways

  • Widen doorways: Making doorways wider helps wheelchair users become more independent. It enables them to access every part of the house, including kitchens and bathrooms, without assistance.
  • Install lever-style door handles:  If your loved one has limited strength in their hands, installing a lever-style door handle instead of a doorknob makes it much easier to open and close doors.
  • Add handrails: Handrails in the hallways are very useful and can provide a lot of stability if needed.
  • Install non-slip flooring: Non-slip flooring can help prevent accidents in your home.
  • Remove tripping hazards: It's a good idea to remember to remove tripping hazards in your home. If you have guests over, especially those with small children, spread awareness and let them know not to leave things around the house.

Staircases

  • Install a stairlift: Stairlifts can dramatically help people who have difficulty climbing stairs.
  • Add an elevator: Installing an elevator might be more expensive than installing a stairlift, but it will help you or your loved one be able to access different floors of your house.
  • Lower light switches: You can lower light switches in order to make them more accessible to wheelchair users.
  • Add staircase lighting: Add lighting to your staircase to ensure that you or your loved ones can see where you are going, especially at night.

Expanding home accessibility beyond physical modifications

In addition to updating the physical aspects of a house, you can also consider other modifications that can make life easier.

  • Implementing smart home technology: Using voice-activated assistants like Alexa and Siri can dramatically help improve the quality of life for many people. For example, you can program technology to turn lights on and off via voice activation.
  • Providing adequate lighting and contrasting colors for visual impairments: You can also program smart light bulbs to turn different colors and have different brightness settings, which can help those with visual impairments.

How to finance accessibility home modifications

Government grants and assistance programs for disabled homeowners: There are several assistance programs that can help when it comes to funding home modifications for those with disabilities, such as the USDA Single Family Housing Repair Loans and Grants.

Housing grants for disabled veterans: The Department of Veteran Affairs offers home modification grants for disabled veterans with service-connected disabilities.

Rural housing repair loans and grants program: Homeowners who live in rural areas can apply to the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) for loans and grants to modify their homes.

Section 203(k) loan program from the Federal Housing Administration: This is a specific loan program that enables people to purchase a home and finance modifications using a single mortgage.

Personal loans: It’s possible to secure a personal loan to fund your home modifications. Personal loans typically come with specific terms and uniform monthly payments (unless you have a variable APR.)

Credit cards: You can also use your credit card to finance home modifications, but credit cards typically have extremely high interest rates unless you can pay the amount in full each month.

Home equity loans: If you have equity in your home, you have a few different options when it comes to tapping into your equity to fund home improvements. A home equity loan or a home equity line of credit could provide the necessary funding to make appropriate accessibility modifications to your home.

Home Equity Investments: A Home Equity Investment enables you to receive a lump sum in exchange for a portion of your home’s future appreciation. This option requires no monthly payments, and your credit does not have to be perfect. There are also no income requirements.

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Final thoughts

If you want to create an accessible home, there are several ways to get the funding necessary to modify your home. With some planning and understanding of which accessibility features you or your loved one needs, you can create a comfortable and safe environment in your home for many years to come.

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