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.

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. Many items can be purchased at hardware stores at lower prices.

Accessible Design

Accessible generally means that dwelling meets the standard requirements for accessible housing. Requirements may vary by 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 using a wheelchair to maneuver, lower countertops, level and loop type handles on hardware, seating in tubs or showers, grab bars in bathrooms, knee space under sinks and counters, audio and visual signals, switches and controls in easy-to-reach 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 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 reinforcements, and other access features must be built in. Grab bars, however do not have to be installed unless 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 without structural or finish material changes.

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Universal Design

Items that are usable by most people are 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.

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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.

  • 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; 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 online.

  • 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 everyone. For exterior stairs, these strips should be taped on every riser.

  • Handrails installed on both sides of a stairway provide increased safety for everyone. They are particularly important to someone who is blind.

  • Peep holes that are placed lower in a door can accommodate a person using a wheelchair or a person of short stature.

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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 older adults. 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.

  • An automatic door may also be installed to allow enough time between opening and closing for a person to enter the building safely.

  • 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.

  • Door thresholds higher than 1/2" may be reduced to 1/4" or be removed to assist with wheelchair passage through the door.

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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.

  • 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.

  • Visual­signaling smoke detectors have a light that flashes when smoke is detected. This will alert a person who is deaf or hard of hearing.
  • Rugs and mats can be fastened to the floor to reduced the chance of tripping or slipping. Uncarpeted floors also help people with chemical sensitivities who have severe allergic reactions to dust, synthetic carpet, and chemicals.

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  • Handles or easy grip knobs on cabinets and drawers allow people with limited dexterity to open them easier.

  • 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.

  • Removing cabinets close to the stove, oven and under the sink will also allow for a workable clear floor space for people using 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.

  • Stove controls placed on the front the appliance can prevent people from reaching over hot burners.

  • Florescent lights under head cabinets in sink and stove areas provide additional light for meal preparation and clean­up for persons who have low vision. 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. 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.

  • Lever handles for the sink and shower will assist the person with limited dexterity or hand strength.

  • Hand­held shower heads mounted on a vertical bar allow the spray to be adjusted up or down as needed.



  • Lag bolts in ceiling above the bed that have a rope or trapeze attached may assist the person with a spinal cord injury or has back problems in sitting up or rolling over while in bed.

  • Adjustable-height clothes rods let a person who uses a wheelchair or person of short stature to hang clothes easily.

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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 of the door and flashes a light when a visitor knocks.

  • 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 disabilties from injury.

  • Filters in heating and ventilation systems should be changed frequently to keep dust and mold from adversely affecting people with chemical sensitivies or respiratory illnesses.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • Speaker phones from the lobby to an apartment increased security for every tenant.

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


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