Making Your House Accessible

If you are a person with a disability, the dream of owning your own house is possible.  There are many […]

If you are a person with a disability, the dream of owning your own house is possible.  There are many adaptations that can increase your independence and abilities.  Creativity is a must, along with a good contractor who will assist you in constructing your perfect home.

Assessing Your Needs

Starting out can be difficult.  Standard universal design concepts such as wider doors and ramps can be a beginning.  Beyond that, there are many other resources available to help you meet your personal accessibility needs.

The Center for Universal Design is a national research, information, and technical assistance center.  Their website is a great starting point:  www.design.ncsu.edu/cud.  Print information may be obtained by calling 1-800-647-6777.

CASPAR is a comprehensive assessment tool that assists with identifying problems (doorways, lighting, appliances, and so on) in both pre-existing homes and new plans, and providing a summary of recommendations. Their website can be found at www.ehls.com/caspar/caspar.html.  The assessment tool is extensive and allows a person to think beyond simple adaptations to create an accessible home.

Another good resource is found through the RESNA Technical Assistance Project at www.resna.org/taproject/policy/community/HMRG.htm or by calling 703-524-6686.  This resource guide provides information about assistive technology (AT) and home modifications.  It covers definitions; laws and guidelines; initiatives from the Assistive Technology Act grantees (such as the Fair Housing Act); advocacy, financing, modification, and research resources; accreditations; on-line courses; and a bibliography. 

The American Association of Retired People (AARP) also offers information on universal design and home modification at www.aarp.org/universalhome/, including useful information for people with disabilities.

Finally, IDEA Center, University of Buffalo (http://ap.buffalo.edu/~idea) is a site dedicated to universal design.  It contains links, useful resources, publications, general standards, and a free CD ROM of examples of modifications and
new housing that is more accessible.

Seeing the Possibilities

Recently, Habitat for Humanity and Courage’s Assistive Technology Initiative partnered in building an accessible home.  The house was built for Lisa Baron and Scott Dehn, both of whom have cerebral palsy.  The project incorporated assistive technology products and features available for use by people with disabilities.  The project is an excellent example of community-wide collaboration and partnership.  Assistive technology vendors, donors, manufacturers, and volunteers teamed to achieve measurable outcomes (affordable housing with technology, learning accessible housing implementation and design) for both consumers and participants in creating an affordable, accessible home.

By combining Habitat’s affordable housing program with Courage Center’s expertise in assistive technology, this pilot home project showcases some of the assistive technology features available to meet the needs of homeowners with disabilities.  Hopefully, this unique partnership will continue to allow more people with disabilities to realize the dream of owning an affordable, accessible home that incorporates assistive technology such as aids for daily living, environmental controls, and mobility devices.  Examples of such items include: a ceiling tracking system, specialized telephones, and proper placement of common items used in the kitchen and throughout the home.

Scott and Lisa’s home was just dedicated on Saturday, October 5.  For more information, please take a look at the Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity’s website at www.tchabitat.org.  Read the on-line journal of Scott and Lisa, which includes photos of the home.

Also, in this year’s Parade of Homes, Regel has a $649,560 demonstration barrier-free home which features up-to-date technology.  The house contains a variety of high- and low-tech accommodations.  For example, by speaking into a cell phone, you can tell windows to open, blinds to close, lights to turn off and on, and the television to change channels.  A push-button ceiling monorail-style sling lift carries a person from the bed to the oversized bathtub.  When the doorbell rings, the television switches to a view of the front door.  When it rains, sensors automatically close windows.

Funding

Funding for AT features in the home is always an issue.  In Minnesota, there are several resources available:

One of the first to investigate is the Minnesota Housing Finance Agency (MHFA).  They offer services to persons with low and moderate income who need affordable housing.  Through loans or other funding, they can assist with a purchase or modifications to a home, including AT features and architectural adaptations. 

Furthermore, Wells Fargo and other banks have programs to assist persons with disabilities when purchasing housing and making the adaptations needed to live independently.

There are also many other financing resources available to fund AT devices for your home.  The STAR program offers a free listing and guide on funding.  An updated version will be available from STAR this month.

Finding and pursuing these resources is a challenge, but by being an advocate and being resourceful, home ownership can be a reality for many people with disabilities.

Jeni Mundl is the Assistive Technology Specialist at Courage Center.