a family sitting and watching tv together in their handicap accessible aprartment

Handicap Apartments: Must Have Components of a Handicap Accessible Apartment

Did you know that one in four U.S. adults have some type of disability that impacts, but does not stop, their ability to perform life activities? This translates into 61 million Americans!

Luckily, having a physical disability doesn’t have to mean a loss of independence. Simple modifications to your physical environment can often make it fairly easy to live a normal life. One of the most important things you can do is find the right place to live.

Not all handicap apartments are created equally! Here are some of the things to look for while you’re comparing your options.

U.S. Fair Housing Act

The U.S. Fair Housing Act outlines the seven basic design and construction requirements that must be met for handicap accessible apartments. This includes:

  • Accessible entrance to the building on an accessible route
  • Access to common and public use areas
  • Doors that are usable by a wheelchair user
  • Easy access in and out of the owned unit
  • Accessible locations for electrical outlets, light switches, thermostats, etc.
  • Bathrooms with reinforced walls that can support grab bars
  • Kitchens and bathrooms that are easily usable by disabled persons

While this is a great start, it’s pretty vague. If you’re looking for an apartment for yourself or a loved one, you’ll want to confirm a few additional details.

Other Important Features of Handicap Apartments

Whether you’re working with an agent or you’re exploring apartments on your own, there are some design specifics you’ll want to look for. This includes the following.


You’ll want the hallways to be at least four feet wide and have either non-slip flooring (like hardwood, embossed sheet vinyl, or certain ceramic tiles) or well-secured thin carpet. Any light switches in the hallway should also be at an accessible level.


If you happen to find a multi-floor apartment, you’ll want to make sure at least one bathroom is on the bottom floor. The bathroom door should open outward (this gives you more bathroom space to maneuver) and should be at least 34 inches wide.

Also, make sure there is enough room alongside the toilet and bathtub so you can comfortably maneuver around.


If you want ultimate accessibility, look for kitchens in a “U” or “L” shape. While this is definitely a bonus, you don’t necessarily have to exclude an apartment based on solely the floorplan.

What is important is that the kitchen has plenty of continuous countertops set at the appropriate level and that they’re flush with the cooktop or stove. The cooktop and sink should both also have knee space underneath.

It’s also great if the countertop has rounded corners as this will make the apartment even safer and more comfortable.

Living Rooms

The living room shouldn’t have a door in the entryway, and if there’s a threshold, it should be less than a quarter-inch high or have a subtle ramp. There should also be a light switch at the entrance to the living room, and, like all light switches in the home, it should be easy to reach from a seated position.


According to the ADA, bedrooms should have enough room for a bed with an additional five feet by five feet of room to allow for comfortable maneuverability from a wheelchair.

The bedroom will also be more accessible if it has adjustable hanger rods and shelves that are easy to reach from a wheelchair.

Parking and Entrance

You’ll want to make sure that you’ll have a designated parking space that’s in close proximity to the entrance of your apartment and positioned appropriately so you can easily get in and out of your wheelchair van or vehicle.

Note that your parking spot should be in addition to the general ADA parking that the apartment complex is required to have for other visitors. There should also be access aisles and curb cutouts.

How to Start Your Apartment Search

You can start your search by looking through classified ads or apartment websites just as you would any other type of apartment. However, you’ll have to sort through a lot of inadequate apartments before you find the right one.

You can also check certain publications like AbleNews.com (for New York), NewMobility.com, or AbilityMagazine.com. Often, you’ll have good luck working with a real estate agent who can help you find the perfect apartment or rental.

Sometimes, if you find an apartment you really like, you can work with the landlord to get the modifications you need. They may agree to pay for the updates, or, at a minimum allow you to make the updates on your own.

Whatever agreement you come to, make sure this is laid out in the lease or rental agreement. This should include the modifications that are needed, who will pay for them, how soon they will be completed, and who is responsible for any future maintenance or repairs that may come up.

Most landlords simply want a reliable tenant and are willing to accommodate simple requests. If not, this is a good sign that they’re not a person you want to rent from anyway. Keep looking, and, eventually, you’ll find the perfect home.

Maintain Your Independence

Now that you know exactly what to look for when comparing handicap apartments, you can start your search for the perfect place to live! But, don’t stop there.

When you or someone you love is dealing with a disability, transportation is critical to maintaining an independent way of life. If you don’t have a wheelchair accessible vehicle or handicap van, or you need a new one, we can help.

Browse through our site to learn more and get started today!

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