The Misery of Accessible House Hunting

Last updated: March 2022

Searching for a dream home or apartment is a daunting task and even more so for a person with a disability. There aren’t any laws that mandate accessible requirements within an apartment or for newly constructed houses.

Once again, the disabled community is forgotten when it comes to equality and universal design. Even more so during a housing market where prices continue to rise, a person with a disability is stuck with the added cost of making their new residence accessible.

Looking to purchase my own home

For the past five years, I had been living in an apartment building where I had to fight just to get permission to install my ceiling lift system in my bedroom and bathroom as well as request an additional parking spot for my nurses. So, about two years ago I began looking to purchase my own home.

The town I lived in is fairly old and the houses would need to be torn down just to make them accessible for my power wheelchair. Construction like that couldn’t be lived in and it would be almost financially impossible to take out a mortgage plus renovation costs and continue to pay rent on my apartment.

Floor plan limitations

This led me in the direction of building a brand new house. Neighborhoods were being constructed all around with the marketing of first-floor bedrooms and any other customizations. You would also think these new homes would come standard with wider doorways and halls, right? Wrong!

I was told by numerous corporate builders to take or leave the already designed floor plans and that I would need to do any modifications on my own after moving in. Why would I build a new house just to tear it down? Just seems like laziness by their architects and sales teams. Or just blatant ableism.

Lack of options and accessibility

My next thought was to look at 55-and-up active adult communities. Since my parents would be living with me, I qualified to purchase in those developments. A shocking surprise was that those floor plans are commonly not designed for disabled people.

The hallways and doors were still too narrow with no option to widen on the blueprints and there weren’t models that offered no steps inside or out. That didn’t make any sense considering “active adults” could very well end up in wheelchairs as they continue to get older.

I ended my search to move as I got discouraged that nobody was willing to accommodate. It’s exhausting when the world progresses yet ADA building codes remain relatively stagnant, never forcing private builders to consider the needs of the disabled community.

A home builder with accessible house experience

The universal design needs to not only be taught but also legalized. A flat entrance can be used by anyone. A well-designed and aesthetically pleasing ramp can be used by anyone. Wider doorways can be used by anyone, don’t cost more, and are frankly easier to move furniture in.

Fortunately, I started up my home search again toward the end of 2020, expanding my search to other towns and states. I ended up finding a smaller home builder who’s local to certain areas of Pennsylvania and only an hour from where I was living.

They were more than accommodating and already experienced with building other accessible houses. In my next article, I’ll share my tips for designing your own wheelchair-friendly dream home.

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