Resources for Home Modifications for People with Disabilities

The text for this brochure has been produced by Pacific Nonprofit Training Center under a
Fair Housing Initiatives Program Grant from the Department of Housing and Urban Development, Grant #FH200G9300012.

(Available in alternative formats, call 703-324-5421,
TTY 703-449-1186, or send an e-mail.)

This brochure is intended to be an introduction to basic, generally low cost modifications that can help make a home more enjoyable for people with disabilities. It does not represent a complete list of the modifications required by any one person or all people with disabilities; however, it does list some of the most commonly needed, low­cost, low­tech solutions.

Many modifications presented can be accomplished for less than $500. Cost estimates are given, but costs may vary substantially depending upon the exact nature of the modification, where products are purchased and who does the work. Simply using a catalog of disability related products may often be the most expensive way to go. Many items can be purchased at hardware stores and plumbing or electrical supply houses at lower prices. Definitely shop around before purchasing any equipment.

This guide is organized according to specific dwelling areas. Many suggestions will work in multiple rooms and situations.

But first, let's talk about some commonly used definitions when contemplating modifications to the dwelling.

Accessible Design

Accessible generally means that dwelling meets the standards or guideline requirements for accessible housing. Requirements may vary from state to state but the seven basic requirements for new construction are provided by the Fair Housing Act.

Accessible features in dwellings include items such as wide doors, clear floor space for a person in a wheelchair to maneuver, lower countertops, level and loop type handles on hardware, seating at bathing fixture, grab bars in bathrooms, knee space under sinks and counters, audio and visual signals, switches and controls in easily reached locations, entrances free from steps or other barriers and an accessible route throughout the house.

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Adaptable Design

An adaptable dwelling unit has all the accessible features that a an accessible unit has but allows some items to be omitted or concealed until needed.

In an adaptable dwelling, wide doors, no steps, knee spaces, controls and switch locations, grab bar reinforcing and other access features must be built in. Grab bars, however do not have to be installed until needed.

Because the bathroom walls are already reinforced, the bars can simply be screwed into the wall and unscrewed when the tenant no longer requires them. The knee space under the sink may be concealed with a removable base cabinet. Counter tops and closet rods can be placed on adjustable supports rather than fixed at lower heights as required by some people who use wheelchairs.

Adaptable design means readily achievable. It does not allow building inaccessible units on the promise that they will be renovated or remodeled for accessibility upon request. It is best to remember that adaptable features can be adjusted in a short time by unskilled labor without structural or finish material changes.

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Universal Design

Items that are usable by most people regardless of their level of ability or disability can be considered universally usable. Many accessible and adaptable features are universally usable. For example, round knobs are not usable by people with limited dexterity, but lever handles can used by almost everyone. Some features are more usable by where they are located within the dwelling. Light switches and electrical outlets placed between 15"and 48" floor allows use without bending or stretching. Landscapes free from stairs and steep inclines would be considered a universal design.

By incorporating the characteristics necessary for people with physical limitations into the design of common products and building spaces, we can make them easier and safer for everyone to use and more widely marketable and profitable. The universal design approach goes far beyond the minimum requirements and limitations of current guidelines and regulations.

Following is a list of cost modification that can be easily done in rental or remodels.

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The Outside Environment

  • Proper lighting along the walkways and pathways not only increases security but also assists persons with visual disabilities to locate their home or apartment safely. Motion detectors will turn the lights on as one approaches and off again after a preset amount of time. Cost will vary depending on the layout of the residence, but outdoor lights cost $15 to $40 each.

  • Portable ramps might be substituted for a permanent wooden or cement ramp if there is only a small rise or one step to enter the residence. Ramp slope should be no greater than 1:12; in other words, one foot of ramp for every inch of rise. These ramps can be bolted in place for added stability. Portable ramps may be found in an automotive supply store or ordered through a catalog for approximately $300.

  • Non­slip, contrasting color strips on exterior stairs will aid a person with low vision to identify individual steps, and will assist in making stairs less slippery for all user. For exterior stairs, these strips should be taped on every riser. Tape is available in hardware stores for under $3 per roll.

  • Handrails installed on both sides of a stairway provide increased safety for everyone. They are particularly important to someone who is blind or elderly and may have per linear foot and materials are available in lumber stores.

  • Vision or peep holes that are placed lower in a door can accommodate a person using a wheelchair or a person of short stature. Vision holes can be purchased between $10 to $20. They can installed by a security company for approximately $50.

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  • Pressure on doors that have automatic closures can be adjusted to make the door easier to open. This is particularly helpful for people who use wheelchairs or elderly people. As most closing devices have adjustment screws that can increase or decrease the door pressure, new equipment should not be required.

  • Lever door handles that replace round knobs may assist persons with limited hand mobility or dexterity in opening and closing doors. The handle can be attached to the existing knob, or new hardware may be installed. Lever handles are available at most places where door hardware is sold at a cost of $30.

  • An automatic door may also be installed to allow enough time between opening and closing for a person to enter the building safely. Automatic door prices range form $350-$1500.

  • Slide blots used instead of dead bolt locks will aid people with limited dexterity. The bolt can be used with a closed fist or elbow. Bolts are available at hardware stores for less than $10.

  • Door thresholds higher than 1/2" may be reduced to 1/4" or be removed to assist with wheelchair passage through the door. The cost for removal should be minimal, depending on the floor finish required.

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Interior Rooms

  • Doors can be removed in areas not requiring privacy. An example is between the kitchen and the living room. This may increase the width of the door as much as two inches allowing a 32" wide passage through the door. Cost is negligible.

  • Wireless and remote control environmental controls allow a person to operate controls from other locations within the dwelling. Currently there are many such devices that do not require rewiring. Modifying a switch may be required depending upon the system used. The cost generally does not exceed $100­$150.

  • Visual­signaling smoke detectors have a light that flashes when smoke is detected. This will alert a person who is deaf or hard of hearing. Battery lights can be purchased for around $80. Batteries for a smoke detector is minimal.

  • Rugs and mats can be fastened to the floor to reduced the chance of tripping or slipping. Tacks, staples or double­sided tape is available at most hardware stores for less than $3 per roll. Uncarpeted floors also help people with environmental illness who have severe allergic reactions to dust, synthetic carpet and chemicals. The cost will vary depending on the condition of the floor the removal and disposing of the carpet.

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  • Handles or easy grip knobs on cabinets and drawers allow people with limited dexterity to open them easier. Handles and knobs with an open u­shape can purchased for $5­10 each.

  • Pull out shelves for low or deep shelving allow a person to reach items towards the back of the cabinet. The cost will vary depending on the number of cabinets modified. An estimate of $30­$40 per cabinet may be used.

  • Removing cabinets close to the stove, oven and under the sink will also allow for a workable clear floor space for people in wheelchairs. Lowering counter heights to no more than 34" above the finished floor will allow space. Wrap pipes under the sink so people don't burn themselves on hot water pipes. These costs may be more substantial depending on the extent of cabinet removal or lowering of counters. It is advisable to seek several estimates before the work is started.

  • Stove controls placed on the front the appliance can prevent people from reaching over hot burners. This might require purchasing a new appliance at approximately $400.

  • Florescent lights under head cabinets in sink and stove areas provide additional light for meal preparation and clean­up for persons with visual impairments. These lights are available at hardware stores for approximately $10 for an 18" light. The ballast of florescent lights may be removed for people with a seizure disorder.

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  • Grab bars for the shower, tub or toilet area can keep the person from slipping when transferring into the bath or on off the toilet. Grab bars can be purchased from plumbing supply or hardware stores for a cost of $20­$35. Labor for installation may run close to $50 per hour. The interior walls may have to be reinforced to handle the weight and safety requirements.

  • Sliding shower doors and tracks may need to be replaced with a shower curtain to allow the person to transfer into and out of the tub or shower. The cost for removal of the shower doors and tracks and replacement with shower curtain and rod should be under $50.

  • Lever handles for the sink and shower will assist the person with limited dexterity or hand strength. Depending on the type of faucet, the handles can easily changed to a lever type for less than $25.

  • Hand­held shower heads mounted on a vertical bar allow the spray to be adjusted up or down as needed. The costs may range from $50­$125.



  • Lag bolts in ceiling above the bed that have a rope or trapeze attached may assist the person who is paralyzed or has back problems in sitting up or rolling over while in bed. Lag bolts are available in hardware stores for under $5.

  • Adjustable-height clothes rods let a person who uses a wheel chair or person of short stature to hang clothes easily. Materials are available from any hardware store for less than $20.

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General Ideas

  • Door knocking devices, in addition to door bells, alert a person who is deaf or hard of hearing that someone is at the door. The device is hung on the inside o f the door and flashes a light when a visitor knocks. The National Catalog for the Deaf sells these devices for between $30 and $80 each.

  • Protruding or low hanging objects, such as exterior porch lights or hanging baskets should be removed or relocated whenever possible to prevent people with visual impairments from injury. Removing objects most likely can be accomplished by maintenance personnel with little or no cost. the removal or relocation of electrical equipment (such as a fuse box or electric panel) may be more substantial.

  • Filters in heating and ventilation systems should be changed frequently to keep dust and mold from adversely affecting people with environmental illness or respiratory illnesses. Costs vary depending on the size of the filter.

  • Braille indicators or labels on fuse boxes, entry phones, mailboxes, and washer/dryers assist a person who is blind to identify and operate the item. Labeling tape is found in hardware store and a brailler can be purchased for $30­40 from agencies who have services for people with visual impairments.

  • Swing clear hinges increase the width of the door. Clear door opening space needs to be 32" wide. You may have to widen the door frame to 32" to allow clear passage. Swing clear hinges range from $15 to $30. Widening of a door frame may be closer to $150.

  • Speaker phones from the lobby to an apartment increased security for every tenant. The system ithose who are blind or elderly. This equipment is available from security companies and a basic system may cost around $500. Some stores may have do­it­yourself kits for less.

  • Pest controls used for planting, for control of insects and lawn care should be chemical-free. This is important to a person who has environmental illnesses. The cost is minimal.

Resources for Home Modifications

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