Mobility and Modifications: Renovating a Handicap-Accessible Home

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Disabled homebuyers have a difficult task finding a home that meets their needs and is in their budget. There aren’t many search resources or specialists who can help identify properties that either have the necessary features and layout, or those that have the potential to be adequately modified. Given the difficulty of locating an accessible home, it’s often necessary to search for homes that can be retrofitted to suit. It takes patience, determination and a skillful use of the internet, but there are real estate agents who can help you find a home in which you can be happy and live safely.

Online search

Barrier Free Home is one of the few websites specific to disabled housing on a national level. It allows you to use specific search terms so you can look in a specific geographic area and locate homes in a particular price range. Search results indicate whether houses are compliant with federal regulations concerning handicapped access and mobility. You also seek square footage, numbers of rooms and features of interest, such as granite countertops. You can also search on a state-by-state basis. 

Agents and organizations

Agents who specialize in accessible housing are relatively rare; however, there are some who maintain contact with organizations specializing in disabled issues in various ways. An agent finds buyers and properties via direct-mail campaigns aimed at people in the disabled-housing field, disabled associations including the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, and attorneys who are active in disabled housing cases and issues. When it comes to purchasing a new home, the federal government has established several laws and administrations for the sole purpose of protecting your rights as a disabled home buyer, no matter the nature of your disability. 


Real estate agents can help you identify properties that possess the basic qualities needed for a disabled person and around which upgrades can be made to create a livable and maneuverable space. Those basic qualities include hallways and doorways wide enough (generally 36 inches) to accommodate a wheelchair or other mobility assistive device, as well as an accessible entryway and a bathroom with a roll-in shower. Bathrooms can be made safe and modified with grab rails in the shower, alongside the toilet and by placing non-slip material in front of the sink and in the shower. 

Light switches should be lowered and placed within easy reach for those in a wheelchair. Consider having sensor-activated lights installed in areas that are dimly lit and difficult in which to maneuver. Door handles and locks should also be lowered, and knobs replaced with levers or some other hardware that can be easily grasped and turned. Bear in mind that mobility can be impeded by uneven transitions between rooms and flooring types, and carpeting should be replaced with hard flooring, such as tile or hardwood, which is easier to traverse by a wheelchair, walker or scooter. 


Kitchen countertops should be lowered to 34 inches to provide easier access for food preparation. Other adaptations might include a height-adjustable cooktop and a lowered kitchen sink. Keep frequently-used items within easy reach, and make good use of floor-level cabinets.

Disabled homebuyers often need to widen their search when they find it difficult to locate a property with accessibility adaptations that have already been made. If you’re purchasing a house that needs significant renovations, don’t forget to consult a real estate agent to determine what grants may be available to defray the expense.  
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