Public Accessibility Codes & Residential Housing

There are many misconceptions in the industry pertaining to wheelchair accessibility in privately owned, residential housing. Many perceived experts or authorities will often refer to public accessibility codes, such as the ADA and Fair Housing Act, for design requirements and specifications when designing space for individuals in private residential houses. There are two noteworthy points to this practice; not only do these public accessibility codes not apply to privately owned property but actually implementing these design requirements for an individual in a private house can be dangerous. Below is a list of commonly cited public accessibility codes which do not apply to residential housing:

  • Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) (United States Access Board 2012)
  • Fair Housing Act (United States Department of Justice 2013)
  • ANSI A117.1 (International Codes Council 2009)
  • Uniform Federal Accessibility Standards (UFAS) (Federal Register 49 FR 31528 1984)
  • National Association Kitchen and Bath (see Appendix B)

Universal Design in Residential Housing

Since accessibility codes are not enforced during the remodel or new build of a residential house, what is the best approach when designing space for an individual with special needs? Our approach to residential accessibility is centered on Universal Design. The term “Universal Design” refers to designs and features that make housing usable by people with a wide variety of abilities. Tall or short, left or right-handed, ambulatory or an individual who uses a wheelchair; the goal is universal usability by all users. Some accidentally mistake Universal Design for a code. It’s not a code. It’s a concept based on seven principles that when applied to a design, is usable to the greatest extent possible by all types of people (Centre for Excellence in Universal Design).


Accessible & Universal Design House Availability

Since accessibility codes do not apply to residential housing and Universal Design is the preferred choice, where do you find accessible housing? More than likely, a home buyer with special needs cannot find an accessible house in their area and within budget. In our years of identifying and obtaining housing for this population, it occurs about 1% of the time. The best approach to this problem is to identify a house with the following characteristics:

  • A flat lot to allow car transfers and multiple egress options
  • A house with the main level close (0-18”) to grade. Slab foundations are ideal.
  • Parking close to the house. Covered parking is ideal.
  • Short hallways or hallways without load-bearing walls.
  • Large bathrooms or space adjacent for possible expansion.