How To Modify Your Home For Someone With Physical Disabilities

Cathie EricsonDecember 17, 2019

While it’s easy to think that a physical disability is something that only would happen to someone else, the truth is that disability can occur to any person at any time – whether from an accident or a condition like cancer or just the natural aging process. And many times people find that their home requires disability modifications in order for them to return there after a hospital stay or to allow them to live there comfortably for the long term. Here’s what you need to know about home remodeling for someone with a disability.

How Do I Make My House Handicap Accessible?

There are as many ways to make your home handicap accessible as there are types of disabilities that need modifications. Here are some of the general things to think about when tackling home remodeling for disabled, particularly someone who’s in a wheelchair. They also come in handy should you choose to buy a new home that already features barrier-free design.

Eliminate Or Modify Steps Near The Entry

Sometimes the first barrier a disabled person encounters is getting into the house at all. If you have steps to your front door, see if there’s an alternate entry that a disabled person can use, such as through the garage or back door. Otherwise, you’ll need to create a ramp or other way that a wheelchair can roll into the home.

Make Sure You Have Access To A First-Floor Bathroom And Bedroom

In today’s modern two-story houses, often most of the actual “living” areas – that is, where you sleep and use the bathroom – are upstairs. If you have someone in your home who’s disabled, you’ll need to either move to a one-story home or add in a bathroom and bedroom downstairs to eliminate the need for stairs.

Create Wider Doorways And Hallways

Expanding your doorways and hallways may be necessary to make your home wheelchair accessible; ideally doorways should be at least 36 inches wide. While you’re at it, check your flooring to ensure that it is smooth to allow for easier traversing; replace carpet with linoleum, wood or tile. Remove throw rugs or hall liners so they don’t “grab” wheelchairs or walkers. Removing rugs is a smart solution anyway as they can be dangerous, contributing to slips and falls for someone with limited mobility.

Retrofit The Bathroom

The bathroom can be the most challenging room of the house to make handicap accessible, but it is possible. First, install grab bars near the toilet area to ease the person transferring from the wheelchair to the toilet. Then add a roll-in shower – or one that otherwise has a low lip which doesn’t require a huge step to enter – along with another set of graspable handles.

Ensure Adequate Lighting

Low lighting can create a hazard for anyone in a home, but particularly someone who is disabled. Make sure that you have strong overhead lights that they can turn on with just the flip of a switch – or even better, with voice-activated commands.

Take Into Account All The Obstacles

As you move about the house, anticipate what areas might be challenging for a wheelchair to maneuver, whether it’s a coffee table that blocks a path or a cupboard that’s too high to be easily reached. Determine what things are OK to leave as-is with some changes – perhaps you only move some of the kitchen items to lower, more accessible shelves – and which need to be addressed with retrofits or other modifications.

Are There Grants For Home Improvements?

Given the expense of home remodeling for disabled, it’s important to look into any aid you can find. According to HomeAdvisor, remodeling for a disability accommodation can run approximately $800 – to $8,000, depending on what modifications are needed – and of course that can go even higher if you’re making structural changes, such as widening hallways and doorways and adding first-floor accommodations.

Grants for home modifications for the disabled are possible, but not assured. The key will be to properly document your needs and fill out the paperwork completely, describing in detail how these changes will be crucial to your quality of life. Here are some places to look:

·     Housing Grant for Disabled Veterans: If you are a veteran, you might be eligible for one of two different types of grants. The Specially Adapted Housing  Granthelps a veteran construct a specially adapted home or remodel an existing home to make it suitable. A Special Housing Adaptation Grant does the same, but extends the assistance to a family member in whose home you are living.

·      Rural Housing Repair Loans and Grants program: Low-income home owners who are age 62 or older may be eligible for loans of up to $20,000 and grants of up to $7,500. Note that for a loan of more than $7,500 a mortgage is required.

·      The Self-Sufficiency Grant from ModestNeeds.Org: This private grant doesn’t have an income requirement, but is designed to help those in need so they don’t have to spend their remaining income on retrofits. Recipients must be employed and able to document their source of income.

·     The Individual Adaptive Equipment Grant from the Travis Roy Foundation: Another private funding source, these grants are offered to those who suffer a sudden spinal cord injury, rather than those suffering paralysis as the result of a health condition. Applicants must demonstrate financial need and include a request for one specific item in their application.

·     Additionally there are financing programs available, such as the Section 203(k) loan program from the Federal Housing Administration, which allows home buyers and homeowners to finance the purchase or refinancing of a home, along with its corresponding rehabilitation needs in one mortgage.

·     For more specific programs in your own state or community, visit The National Resource Center on Supportive Housing and Home Modification, which has a directory that may help you identify additional sources of aid for disability modifications. Your local government can potentially provide additional resources, and the Department of Housing and Urban Development offers helpful information on its website.

Can I Get A Grant For A Disabled Bathroom?

This is a common question, given how expensive it is to retrofit a bathroom – from a redesigned shower that allows roll-in capability to potentially having to reinforce a wall so that you can add grab bars near the toilet. In addition to the resources described above, you can visit the Independent Living Research Utilization program’s Directory of Centers for Independent Living to find other possible sources of funding.

And if you do decide to undertake a retrofit or adaptation, it is wise to seek out a Universal Design Certified Professional through the National Association of the Remodeling Industry. They know the ins and outs of the right way to do a retrofit so you can be assured your project will ultimately meet your needs.

There are many clever ways to adapt a bathroom even if you have a smaller budget or space, such as using a pocket door or choosing wide throw hinges or swing clear hinges, which help add space to the doorway. Talking to a professional can help you identify the modifications that are most useful for your situation.

Does Medicaid Pay For Home Modifications?

One thing people wonder about is whether you can get home modifications through Medicaid. For some individuals, the Home and Community Based Services program of Medicaid may be able to offer some relief, specifically through the Waivers Program, which is designed to help people stay in their homes.

Their grants are available on a case-by-case basis; this page should help you learn more, or you can visit the benefits finder for additional information unique to your situation. Your state’s Department of Human Services can answer other specific questions and point you in the right direction for applications.

What Are Some Of The Most Cost-Effective Home Improvements?

If you are able to get assistance, that’s fantastic. But even if you have to pay for the home modifications out of pocket, remember it still might be more cost-effective to complete them and stay in your home than have to move to another potentially more expensive home or to an assisted living facility.

Here are some relatively affordable home improvements you can consider starting with. While they won’t solve all your problems – for example, if you can’t climb stairs, there’s really no substitute for a main floor bed and bath – they might make your home a little more adaptable and easy to get around depending on the severity of your disability. Here are some to try.

More Accessible Flooring

Look for durable, smooth flooring that allows easy rolling for wheelchairs or walkers and prevents slips and falls. Vinyl and laminate flooring are affordable options that also wear well.

Lever Handles

Twisting doorknobs can be challenging for individuals with arthritis or other mobility problems. Installing lever-style handles can add a big boost to their ability to be independent.

Roll-Under Shelving

If you’re in a wheelchair, you might find yourself knocking into cupboards or bathroom sinks. Replacing solid cupboards with open shelving or a roll-under vanity or pedestal sink in the bathroom can help you get closer to the action.

Grab Bars In The Bathroom

These are relatively easy to install near the toilet and shower (assuming you don’t need to reinforce the wall), and can make your bathroom safer and easier to maneuver around independently. A raised toilet seat is another helpful and affordable apparatus.

Smart Home Technology

Controlling your lights, thermostat and appliances with voice-activated systems makes it far easier for someone with dexterity issues to have the ambience they need. Strategically placed video cameras can help you feel safer and make it easier to know where others are in the house or if you have visitors. Find stand-alone devices that meet your particular needs or work with a provider to integrate your whole house.

While retrofitting your home to be barrier-free can be a challenge, it’s hard to put a price on the independence and sense of well-being you will gain from staying in place. Finding out everything you can and exploring all options related to modifying your home for disabilities ensures you will be able to seek and reap the benefits of any available funding.

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    Cathie Ericson

    Cathie Ericson writes about personal finance, real estate, small business, education, retail/ecommerce and other topics for a host of brands and websites. Her work has been featured on major media websites, including U.S. News & World Report, Forbes, Business Insider, The Oregonian, Industry Dive, Boston Globe, CNBC,, and Yahoo Finance, among many others. Find her