House Hunting with Special Needs? Here’s What to Look for

by Patrick Young

Searching for your forever home isn’t always easy, especially when you have disabilities. Mobility concerns, visual impairments, or other physical limitations mean you can’t simply choose the house and move right in. Keep reading for advice on things to look for before you make the leap to home ownership.

Single-level living. When you have issues walking, seeing or hearing, it makes sense to move to a location where your living space is on one level. A single-story or ranch-style home offers numerous benefits, including stairless access to the laundry room and easier maintenance. The Plan Collection explains that single-level house plans with less than 2,000 square feet are ideal for those with special needs and health care concerns

Ample lighting. Adequate lighting is important for everyone, but particularly seniors and others with visual impairments. Cataracts, nearsightedness and partial blindness make it more difficult to distinguish objects from one another, especially in areas of low contrast. Look for a home with ample natural light and plenty of adjustable interior lighting. Studies show that the visually impaired experience a significant standard-of-living increase when residing in a home with proper illumination. The American Foundation for the Blind offers an overview of the pros and cons of the two most popular types of lighting, fluorescent and incandescent.

Logical flow. A home’s layout, specifically the way it flows from one room to the next, is one of the most important aspects of purchasing an accessible home. “The Seattle Times” detailed how flow can affect a home’s livability.

When house hunting, take things such as access to recreational spaces into account. Think about it this way: You don’t want to have to walk through your bedroom to get to the back patio – you want your public spaces separate from your private spaces so that you can best design each area for your need versus that of guests.

Slip-proof flooring. Even if slipping and falling isn’t a particular concern, finding a home with slip-resistant flooring is a smart move. Most public spaces are outfitted with tactile flooring; while you don’t necessarily have to invest in commercial-grade floor coverings, you can use flooring to make your home a safer place. Tightly stretched, low-lying carpet, laminate planks and textured tile are all good options when accessibility is a must. In addition to being slip-resistant, flooring should be even throughout the entire home. A significant height difference between floor types when transitioning from one room to another can limit the navigability of the home.

Proximity to needed amenities. If your disabilities make it necessary to frequently visit your healthcare provider, the location of your home should be factored into your decision. If you don’t drive, you will need access to public transportation, which is designed to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act. You will also want to note proximity to grocery stores, parks and other points of interest. For example, if you have a child with a disability, you may wish to consider a location with an inclusive playground within walking distance.

Even if you find a home that mostly meets your criteria, some modifications may be necessary depending on your specific needs. These can be expensive, however, so don’t count out alternative funding methods such as grant programs through the Red Cross, Veterans Administration, Americorps or other needs-based organizations.

If you plan ahead and note a few key points to your realtor, you can save yourself lots of time and trouble. After all, there’s no reason to look at homes that don’t fit your needs.

For more information about alternative funding, see