What Do You Require When Looking for Accessible Housing

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


There are three federal laws that relate to the protection of people with disabilities from discriminatory housing practices. They are:

The Fair Housing Act:

The Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination based on disability by:

  • Prohibiting discriminatory housing practices
  • Requiring reasonable accommodations to be made and
  • Requiring certain construction standards for covered multi-family dwellings built for the first time occupancy after March 1991.
Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973:

Any public housing or public assisted housing provider that receives federal dollars is covered under the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.

The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990:

Title II:
Title II of the ADA extends protection to all "public entities " ­ state and local governments regardless of whether they receive federal funding.

The is no one definition of accessible housing. It could mean accessibility on a certain level to someone with a mobility impairment, and accessibility on a very different level to someone with a visual impairment. It means something different to someone who uses a wheelchair than to one who uses crutches. It means something different to someone who is blind than to one who has a visual impairment.

People who are not disabled and people with disabilities may look for the same thing: the location and availability of good public transportation, for example, or the cleanliness or safety of the neighborhood.

For others who live on a fixed income even the "smallest" expense may be too much. Certain things must already be provided in your housing.

What do you need to know before you go to see a housing unit?

What follows are descriptions and lists of housing related elements important to people with disabilities who wish to find and live in accessible housing. Read all of the following sections. Add to them if you wish, for these lists are not complete. Use this guide as a tool to assist you in making an informed housing choice.

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For People with Cognitive Disabilities

  • Neighborhood
    • Public Transportation and Safety:
      • Is it nearby?
      • Is there a clearly identifiable route from work, community programs, shopping and doctor offices?
      • How far is the grocery store, or community recreation facilities?
      • In the apartment can you hear so much street noise that it interferes with your concentration?

    • Parking:
    • Is parking available on the premises?
    • If you must park on the street, how hard is it to find parking nearby?
    • Is it confusing to find parking?

  • Building/Unit
    • Does the manager or landlord seem easy to deal with?
      • Is he or she willing to write things down for you?
      • Will he or she repeat things that are unclear?
    • Is the layout of the apartment confusing?
    • Can you find your apartment easily?
    • In buildings with elevators, is there more than one elevator?
    • Is the building entrance easy to use, or does the door have a complicated key pad?
    • If you have memory problems, can you set up a reminder system?
      • If you have not paid rent on time will the landlord or manager give you written reminder or a call?
    • Do you have an evacuation plan if something were to happen and you needed to exit your unit?

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For People with Mobility Impairments

  • Neighborhood
    • Public Transportation and Safety:
      • Is public transportation close to the complex?
      • Is there an a defined accessible route from your unit to the public transportation stop?
      • Is the bus wheelchair accessible?
      • Are the streets and sidewalks in good repair and at least 36" wide?
      • Are there steep slopes and cross­slopes around the vicinity of your complex?
      • Are there adequate curb cuts around the complex?
      • Are there wheelchair accessible shopping facilities nearby?

    • Parking:
      • If you have your own vehicle, is there a parking space with an access aisle close to your apartment?
      • Does it connect to the building's accessible route?
      • Is the parking space designated by the international symbol of access?

  • Building/Unit
    • Does the entrance door to your accessible unit provider a 32" wide?
    • Is there a level or ramped entrance?
    • Does the ramp have handrails?
    • Are the door knobs the lever type?
    • Does the elevator car have 60" turn radius?
    • Are the hallways and common use areas, such as the laundry room and recreational facilities, accessible?
    • Does the laundry equipment have controls in the front?
    • Are the trash cans usable?
    • Can you maneuver throughout your apartment?
      • Are the doorways in your unit usable?
      • Are light switches, plugs and thermostat controls within reach from your wheelchair?
      • If there is carpeting in your unit, is it too thick to travel on?
    • Can you use the bathroom and kitchen facilities?
      • Are there grab bars installed, or a place to install them, next to the toilet and the shower?
      • Are the appliances in the kitchen at an accessible height from your wheelchair?
    • Do the bedroom closets have lower shelves or a lowered rod for hanging clothes?
    • Can you open the windows easily?
    • Is the landlord willing to allow you to make reasonable accommodations to the unit at your expense?
    • Does the landlord have an obligation to pay for any of the modifications?

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For People with Environmental Illness

  • Neighborhood
    • Traffic and Safety:
      • Is traffic light or heavy? (this affects the pollution level).

      • How close are dry cleaners, gas stations, laundromats, auto shops, factories, power lines?

      • Are there active wood burning stoves in the area?

  • Building/Unit
    • Does the manager or landlord seem willing to work with you on controlling pesticide use, to use safe cleaning and construction products and materials, or to post "NO SMOKING" signs in the lobby and in other common use areas in the complex?
    • Are fireplaces, wood stoves and BBQ's used and how close to your unit will they be?
    • What is the heat source in your unit?
    • Is the cooking source in your unit electric or gas?
    • How close to your unit are garages and parking areas?
    • Do windows in your unit open onto areas that are toxic for you such as garages and parking lots?
    • Has foliage been treated with pesticides?

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For People with Vision Impairments

  • Neighborhood
    • Public Transportation and Safety:
      • Is public transportation close to the complex with a defined accessible route to the bus stop?
      • Is the area well lit?
      • Are the streets and sidewalks in good repair?
      • Is traffic light or heavy?
      • Do neighbors' cars block the accessible pathway around the building?

  • Building/Unit
    • Can you get information from your landlord in an usable format?
    • If there is an elevator to your unit, can you use it?
      • Are the elevator controls raised, brailled or have audio sound to indicate which floor you are on?
    • Is there directional signage in hallways, stairways and common use areas?
    • Are stairways well lit?
      • Do the stairs have a non­slip surface?
      • Do the stairs have contrasting color strips at the base of each stair?
    • Are there protruding objects in the halls, common use areas, or in the lobby?

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For People with Psychiatric Disabilities

  • Neighborhood
    • Public Transportation and Safety:
      • Is public transportation close to your unit or complex?
      • Is there a clear path free from encroaching shrubs and low hanging tree limbs?
      • How far do you have to go for shopping, laundry or recreational facilities?
      • Are the streets well lit at night?
      • Is the activity of the neighborhood quiet or loud?
      • Does the noise level distract you?

  • Building/Unit
    • Does the manager seem easy to relate to?
    • Is the complex well lit or do the buildings seem close together and dark?
    • Does the appearance of the building(s) depress you?
    • How do the other tenants seem to you?
      • Are they friendly and seem to be accepting of diverse cultures or people?
      • Is this important to you?
    • Is the unit placed in an acceptable location for you?
      • Can you see outside activity from your windows?
      • Do the rooms meet your needs?
      • Is it too loud outside?

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For People Who Are Deaf or Hard of Hearing

  • Building/Unit
    • Can you communicate easily with the manager or landlord?
      • Do they have a Telecommunications Device for the Deaf (TTY) number?
      • Are they familiar with the TTY relay service?
    • If the building has a voice communication system for entry, is it capable of being amplified?
    • What alternative is available for you enter the building?
    • Is your unit located in a noisy area of the complex?
    • Is there a visual smoke alarm system in the building and in your apartment unit?
    • Is the layout of the unit accessible so you can easily see the door or telephone indicator lights?
    • Can a flashing door knocker be easily installed?
    • Are electrical outlets in the unit placed for visual alarm or indicator systems?

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Where do you get help in the Fairfax Area if you have been discriminated against because of your disability?

Fairfax County Office of Human Rights and Equity Programs: 703-324-2953, TTY 703-222-3981

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