|Version 4.0 July 9, 2001||
|Basics of Accessible Design||© Edward Steinfeld and Danise Levine, 2001|
|Contents||6. Accessible Housing|
People with physical disabilities who live independently need more than accessible places of employment and public buildings - they also need accessible places to live. But they have found it difficult to find suitable housing. Although Section 504 of the Rehab Act and the ADA, Title II cover housing built with Federal funds and many states have similar laws that apply to state sponsored housing, the bulk of housing in the country is not covered by accessibility legislation. The enactment of amendments to the Fair Housing Law was one step toward improving the supply of non-subsidized, or market rate, accessible housing. Effective responses must address technical issues within severe cost constraints so as not to put the cost of accessible housing beyond reach of those whom it serves.
Using this approach, dwellings adapted for people with disabilities were provided through federally subsidized housing programs for many years. A few states required a small percentage of accessible units within any rental housing or multi-family housing project. These units were sometimes reserved for people with disabilities and held off the market until qualified tenants appear. Although this assured that they would actually be used for their intended purpose, there were reports that, particularly in market-rate housing, they often remained vacant for a long time. The result was reduced profit for developers or financial liabilities for non-profit sponsors. In turn, there was resistance against the implementation of broader policies on accessible housing.
f accessible dwelling units are not reserved, they will often be rented to able-bodied people. This leads to no increase in the availability of accessible housing, a poor use of resources and a false perception of low demand for such units. People with disabilities will not know that accessible units exist and thus, without outreach, potential demand does not become effective demand.
Many accessible dwelling units in subsidized housing have been built within projects for the elderly. These units are, however, available to young people with disabilities as well. They tend to be occupied by individuals who are single, usually young adults. Although there is clearly a need for these units, they do not appropriately meet the social needs of young adults. Similarly, there have been a number of subsidized housing projects built solely for tenants with disabilities. However, many people with disabilities reject such segregated housing because it isolates them. Until the Fair Housing Act Amendments were implemented with the Fair Housing Accessibility Guidelines, very little housing for people with disabilities was constructed for families yet people with disabilities who are parents or parents of disabled children want to live among other families.
Two other problems with the conventional policy on accessible housing are that not all people who live in one dwelling may be disabled and not all people with disabilities have the same needs. The design of dwelling units cannot satisfy the requirements of both non-ambulant and ambulant users adequately without a degree of flexibility. Needs vary even among people with the same disability. The cost of designing for the lowest common denominator can be very high. Developers ask why they have to install features that will not be used, and in fact, may reduce the unit’s marketability.
Finally, in housing for the elderly, research has demonstrated that the incidence of disabilities is very high - much higher than the usual percentage of accessible units. With advancing age, older people are likely to become more disabled, but the lack of vacant accessible units in their building can force them to relocate, become institutionalized or be dependent on home-delivered services.
In 1984, New York State adopted a policy that required adaptability to all elevator-equipped multifamily housing and 25% of all walk-ups, excluding townhouses. In the ‘80’s, several other states adopted laws extending the amount of accessible units required by adoption of the adaptable housing idea. The Fair Housing Act Amendments of 1988 requires all newly constructed multifamily housing to be adaptable.
The concept of adaptable housing cannot be viewed as a substitute for housing that is already adapted for use by residents with disabilities. It is basically a way to provide more accessible housing with little increased costs, more choice in available housing, accessibility for a variety of household types and housing that is not designed for the lowest common denominator, in terms of severity of disability, at the expense of everyone else.
The Fair Housing Amendments Act of 1988 mandated accessibility to all the nation’s newly constructed multifamily housing beginning in March of 1991. The Act does not require full accessibility to the extent described in the ICC/ANSI A117.1 Standard. Regulations (Fair Housing Accessibility Guidelines, or FHAG) issued by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) in 1990 identified seven building components that must be made accessible:
All units in elevator equipped buildings and ground floor units in walk-up buildings are covered. There are numerous exceptions to the seven requirements. In particular, “impractical sites” can have fewer accessible units. Some of the adaptable housing features of the ICC/ANSI A117.1 Standard were adopted by HUD in their regulations. In addition, HUD ruled that designs complying with the Standard would automatically comply with the Fair Housing Accessibility requirements. The Fair Housing Accessibility Guidelines have been incorporated into the latest revision of the ICC/ANSI Standard as "Type B units" so that they will be available for local building code enforcement. But, since more accessbible adaptable and adapted dwelling units are also included as "Type A Units" there is a lot of potential for confusion when the standard is adopted at the state and local level.
The newest form of accessible housing is visitable housing. The Visitability movement originated in Europe but is now spreading accross the U.S. through the efforts of Concrete Change, a disability rights group, and others. This type of housing has minimum accessibility features and is intended for single family applications, the only type of housing not covered by the Fair Housing Act. The rationale behind Visitability is three fold. First, people with disabilities should be able to visit their neighbors for mutual assistance, friendship formation and childcare. Second, homes that are basically accessible, can be more easily converted to accessible units should the need arise in the future. Third, most extended families have elderly members who are very likely to have a disability. Barriers in housing can prohibit them from participation in family events or create risk of accidents to themselves or caregivers.
Visitable housing has three basic provisions:
The no-step entry does not have to be the main entry. Some successful examples have used a driveway to serve as a low slope ramp and then a ramp up from the end of the driveway to a deck in the back provides the no-step entrance. This entry is very convenient for all the family, e.g. when carrying groceries into the kitchen, moving a bicycle or stroller in and out, bringing grandparents to visit..
Several communities in the U.S. have adopted Visitability ordinances and there are several state laws pending. Currently, these ordinances and the proposed laws only apply to housing that is built in whole or in part with public funds but there are efforts underway to cover all single family housing as the law does in England.
Visitability does not have the same degree of accessibility as fully adapted or adaptable units nor even the provisions of the Fair Housing Law. However, adopting Visitability as a basic feature of all housing will go far toward the development of a universally designed community. Not only does visitability allow easy modification in the future but it also makes the neighborhood accessible instead of just a few dwelling units. And, the cost is very low, approximately $200-$300 per home. Consumers like Visitability because it makes access to a home more convenient for everyone.
When someone rents or buys a unit in a multifamily complex, they are entitled to the full range of opportunities available to all residents. This means that wherever adaptable or adapted dwelling units are provided, at least one of each type of site facility available for common use should be accessible to people with disabilities. This includes swimming pools, playgrounds, picnic areas or other recreation and service facilities. Children’s play areas, for example, provide social interaction both for the children and for parents who accompany their young children while they play. At least one play area should be accessible but preferrably all such areas since young kids tend to play in the areas closest to their dwelling unit.
All accessible dwelling units in a housing facility should be connected by at least one accessible walkway to all the accessible facilities on the site. On most sites it is relatively easy to achieve full accessibility to all common use facilities. On some sites, steep or rugged terrain may make it difficult to provide access to certain buildings and certain site facilities. Alternative fully accessible facilities should be available for each type of site amenity.
Steeply sloping sites are not impossible to make accessible. In fact, sometimes the topography itself provides an opportunity to increase accessibility beyond minimum requirements. For instance, walk-up apartments running with the contours can have entries directly on grade on two different levels. If topography does make it difficult to achieve access to all buildings in a complex, the main facilities used by the entire group of residences should be made accessible as well as the pathways leading to them. In some cases, recreation trails are planned in residential neighborhoods that are designed to provide a challenging and physically demanding experience and which inherently will be inaccessible. Segments of such trails can be made accessible so that residents with disabilities will be able to get to it and use part of it.
Common Interior Spaces
Standardization in the design of dwelling units is always an effective way to keep costs low in walk-up apartments. Thus, it often proves cost effective to make not only ground-level units adaptable but also units that are reached by stairways; then they can be designed identically. There are many people with disabilities including those who are deaf and blind and others with limitations of walking who can use stairs, so there is no reason to restrict allocation of adaptable dwelling units to only those on the ground level. Adapted units, of course, should only be on accessible floors. Recognizing that many older tenants age in place, some builders are planning enough space within the circulation cores of walk-up apartments for future installation of lifts or small elevators. Planning ahead for adaptations like this can increase the marketability of apartments to the older population. Tenants have even been known to pay for installation of elevators from their own funds.
in Dwelling Units
Accessibility for both adaptable and adapted units means that halls and doors are wide enough and have enough maneuvering room for passage by a person in a wheelchair and that there are no stairs along the path of travel to required accessible spaces. With careful planning of clearances in hallways, this can be achieved without additional space being added to conventional dwelling unit floor plans. If doors are located for easy circulation and maneuvering clearances are adequate, 36-in. widths are sufficient in most cases. When a hallway has a door directly at the end, the minimum width of the hallway is based on the size of the door. For example, a 34 in. door plus about 4 in. on either side for jambs results in a 42 in. minimum hallway width. The required clearances in halls often results in a more usable dwelling unit for all people. It makes it easier to move furniture in and out and for individuals to pass each other conveniently.
Where flooring materials change, there is often a change in floor surface height. These changes should not be greater than one-half inch, and the edge should be beveled. Where there are thresholds in doorways, the height of the threshold should be no more than one-half inch and its edges should be beveled down to a 1/4 in. edge at maximum. It has been found that most wheelchair users can negotiate abrupt changes in height of one-half inch and sometimes more. However, floor surface changes in dwelling units are often at doorways where this abrupt change in height can be extremely difficult to manage while manipulating the door. This is the reason for the beveled edge. At exterior doors to patios and decks it is often desirable to have a higher threshold to reduce leakage caused by pressure differentials in the track, particularly when using sliding patio doors. At these locations, a short ramp should be used. Several manufacturers of door products make ramps for just this purpose. Another alternative is to inset the track or threshold into the floor to reduce its effective height.
Because of the generally tight spaces in dwelling unit plans, careful attention must be given to the clearances at doors. Doorways must have at least a 32-in. clear opening. Maneuvering room is necessary in front of doors if wheelchair users are to be able to reach door opening hardware and pass through easily. Entry doors to apartments are sometimes set back in alcoves. Such doors can be extremely difficult for wheelchair users to open unless there is a clearance at the latch side of the door within the alcove. Although the Fair Housing Accessibility regulations do not require compliance with the ICC/ANSI A117.1 maneuvering clearances, it is advisable to follow them anyway since wheelchair use will be compromised significantly otherwise. Most recognized authorities on accessibility acknowledge that the FHAG does not provide a sufficient level of accessibility for wheelchair users in this regard.
Often the ICC/ANSI clearances can be met easily by changing the swing direction of doors or relocating them in the room plan. Bathroom doors should open out if there is not enough room for a wheelchair beyond the swing of an in-swinging door. There are two side benefits of out-swinging bathroom doors. The first is that it is easier to rescue someone if he or she is injured and falls behind the door. The second is that the space within the bathroom can be kept to a minimum. Less space is needed on the push side of the door than the pull side and the door swing will not intrude upon clearances at bathroom fixtures.
In adaptable housing, the kitchen cabinets at the sink and the mix center area of the counter should be designed so the cabinet fronts and base can be removed to provide a clear area underneath for access by a person using a wheelchair or someone who sits while working. The countertops of these two areas should be initially set at 36 in. high but designed so they can be lowered to at least 32 in. and 28 in.. Although the ICC/ANSI Standard has the option of a fixed 34-inch counter height for kitchens this height is not really appropriate. There is no acceptable compromise height for a person working in a kitchen in both standing and seated positions.
People standing need a counter height of between 35 and 36 in.. When sitting down, the optimum height for most kitchen work is as close to knee height as possible. A 1 1/2-inch thick counter positioned at about 28 in., is about as low as it can be and allow the knees of a tall person to fit underneath. Some wheelchairs have detachable armrests; others have desk-type armrests which allow a closer positioning to a low counter; still other have armrests that cannot be detached. When the counter is lowered to a height of 28 in., wheelchairs with fixed armrests must be positioned with the armrests behind the edge of the counter. Many wheelchair users having chairs with such armrests would rather work at a counter height that is higher than optimum but high enough so that their armrests can slip underneath the counter itself. Thus the 28-inch height provides a low work surface and clearance for knees, while the 32-inch height provides clearance for the armrests. Ideally, more variability in counter height between 28 and 36 in. should be provided to account for differences in stature and variation in wheelchair armrest height.
In adaptable kitchens, the counter fronts of the cabinets at the sink and mix center can look conventional in appearance and simply detach when accessibility is needed. Usually the backsplash will have to be deeper than normal to accommodate the lower counter position. Moreover, the base cabinet at either end of the adjustable counter must have finished sides. All of these features can be provided using standard kitchen cabinet parts with the exception that the counter top itself may have to be reinforced structurally if it spans 60 in.. There are several methods that can be used successfully to provide adjustable support of the countertop; these include metal L-shaped brackets that are bolted into the back wall or ledger strips at each side of the adjoining cabinet and back wall. The counter itself may have to be seamed so that if it has to be lowered, it can simply be relocated without being cut. The seam can be avoided by carefully planning the adaptable counter and sink in the same section of counter top. There are several other methods that can be used to provide adaptability in kitchens. One is the use of replacement base units and counters. Units with lower heights can be kept in storage until needed. A second is the use of modular stacking base units. Drawer units can be removed and replaced with smaller filler pieces or the counter lowered to the top of the remaining cabinet section. Third, automatically adjustable countertops can be used. They are available but still very expensive.
In the kitchens of dwelling units that are intended specifically for people with disabilities, the base cabinets can be omitted and lost storage replaced by a full height pantry cabinet. In adaptable dwellings it is preferable to provide a closet or other storage area conveniently located to the kitchen that can be used to make up for the cabinet space lost when base cabinets are removed.
Even for the person without a disability, a range of counter heights can be an advantage in a kitchen. Different kinds of work require different work surface heights. Heavy work requires lower counters in order to exert maximum force with arms and light, fine detailed work requires higher counters in order to make fine movements with the arms, and hands and to have more visibility. A counter higher than 36 in. , for example, can be helpful in writing while standing. A good relationship between appliance heights and counters is also important to reduce the effort required to complete many tasks. For example, removing items from an oven can be facilitated for everyone if the oven door is at the same height as an adjacent counter. Items can then be transferred from oven to door to counter more easily. If dishwashers are raised off the floor 6-10 in., it is less work to empty their contents to an adjacent counter. Designers should avoid being trapped by the convention of a single counter height and learn to fit the environment to the task.
Storage and Counters
In adaptable dwelling units, over-the-counter wall cabinets can be used, as in conventional kitchens. The bottom shelf of such cabinets, however, should be mounted no higher than 48 in. from the floor. In dwelling units where it is known that people with disabilities will be residents from the start, wall cabinets can be omitted in favor of a single shelf within 48 in. of the floor running above the counter area. The space lost from wall cabinets can be made up by the addition of full height storage units.
Conventional ovens and ranges are very difficult for people with disabilities to clean. Thus, in adaptable dwelling units, the ovens should be self-cleaning or a separate cook-top and wall-hung oven should be provided. Self-cleaning ovens are initially more expensive than others but energy savings through the increased insulation provided results in a long-term saving in operation costs.
The conventional minimum clearance of 42 in. between base cabinets is sufficient to provide wheelchair maneuverability in the kitchen, but only when base cabinet fronts are removed. Some codes require a 60-inch turning radius in kitchens. While such additional space is helpful, it is not necessary for basic access because the space under the open counters can be used for maneuvering. In a U-shaped kitchen, however, a 60-inch clearance between base cabinets is needed to provide enough space for access to the mix center, sink and refrigerator. All appliances and fixtures need a wheelchair approach clearance parallel to the device (30 in. x 48 in.) if they do not have knee clearance underneath.
Some codes require a 5-foot turning radius in the bathroom. Given adequate clearances and especially knee space under a lavatory, there is no need for a wheelchair user to make a 180 degree turn. However, where the budget allows, a full turning radius certainly provides more accessibility.
]As indicated in the last section, there are new types of grab bars appearing on the market that pivot up out of the way when not needed. These bars are mounted to the wall behind the water closet. This type of bar provides the flexibility to locate the toilet in other places but most building regulations do not accept these bars as yet. One exception, however, is the FHAG. It should be noted that accessibility to the tub is reduced when a water closet is located adjacent to it. The lavatory is not as deep and the controls are therefore more accessible.
The height of water closets in adaptable dwelling units can be the conventional 15 1/2 or 16 in. to the top of the seat. Where it is known that people with disabilities will be living in the units and, in housing for the elderly, a 17-19 inch height should be used.
Either tubs or showers can be provided in accessible bathrooms. Where it is known that many people with severe disabilities will live in a building - for example, in service-supported housing for the elderly - shower stalls should be provided in all units. Although many people with disabilities can use bathtubs if they have seats, hand-held shower spray units and grab bars, there are quite a few who cannot use the tub at all. Since soaking in a bathtub is good therapy for many individuals, a tub room can be provided somewhere in the building whenever the dwelling units do not have bathtubs. All bathtubs and shower stalls should be equipped with a hand-held shower spray.
There are two types of accessible shower stalls. A small, 3 x 3-ft (outside dimension) stall makes it easier for individuals to maintain their balance and to catch themselves on the opposite side if they start to fall. This type is called a “transfer stall.” The other type the “roll-in stall,” is a 5-foot-long shower stall that takes the same amount of space as a bathtub. Shower stalls should not have curbs or thresholds to be fully accessible. Small ramps can be built up to overcome level changes but they add to the space required in the bathroom. Without a curb or ramp, the area within the stall (particularly the roll-in stall) provides additional maneuvering room for people who use wheelchairs and makes a minimum-size bathroom much easier for them to use because the space in the stall can be used for general maneuvering in the bathroom.
The 3-foot shower stall should have a folding seat installed. A seat that is in a fixed open position is not appropriate because a fixed seat that is adequately sized in a stall as small as this would be a barrier to an ambulant resident using the shower. A 5-foot-long stall has enough space to accommodate a fixed chair or bench. If bathtubs are provided they should have seats; a ledge at the back of the tub can be used as a seat or portable seats can be used. The seat must be designed and attached so that it will not move as the person transfers into the tub.
Some accessibility codes require a 4-foot- or 5-foot-square shower stall. Although, these sizes may provide a real space advantage over the stalls described above they are not necessary for minimum accessibility. Some manufacturers offer prefabricated units that are designed specifically to be accessible, in the minimum sizes and also in the more generous sizes.
Many people cannot use shower stalls or tubs unless they have grab bars. People use the bars to maintain balance as they step or transfer into the tub and for support as they lower themselves down or pull themselves up. The best location of grab bars varies considerably from person to person. Generally they are needed on all sides of tubs or showers. Although one exception to this is the seat side in a transfer stall. A grab bar on that side would interfere with use of the seat. Many people need assistance from grab bars at water closets. Side bars must be located so that a person can pull themselves forward. This means that the bar must project beyond the front of the toilet or the water closet. A few people find a bar at the back of the water closet useful, although it is of questionable value. Adaptable dwelling units do not need grab bars initially; they can be installed according to individual requirements. However, reinforcement in the walls must be provided so that grab bars can be attached securely where they might be needed.
In adapted dwelling units, horizontal grab bars should be installed initially. Vertical bars and diagonal bars do not provide as much safety if a person should start to fall. A single set of horizontal bars at toilets and shower stalls is sufficient. At bathtubs, however, bars should be provided at both ends and two bars should be provided along the side of the tub. One bar should be about 9 in. from the top of the tub rim and another bar should be directly above that one at 33 in. from the floor surface. Both of these bars should be no less than 24 in. long, starting at about 12 in. from the back wall. Lavatories should be installed at a height of 32 in. with adequate clearance underneath and protection against abrasion and burns. The adaptable concept can be used for lavatory vanities as well as kitchen counters. The bottom edge of mirrors should be no higher than 40 in.
In apartments where it is known that people with hearing impairments will live, a visual indicator should also be provided to substitute for doorbells. In adaptable housing and housing designed specifically for people with disabilities, electrical switches, controls and thermostats should be located no higher than 48 in. and wall outlets should be located no lower than 15 in. from the floor, on center. Controls that will be used frequently should be within the 24-48 in. “comfort range.”
Units adapted fully for people with disabilities should have the same provisions because there may be a need to adjust and modify the unit to fit specific needs. In addition, they should have grab bars already installed. Base cabinets and wall cabinets above counters can be omitted in fully adapted units but it is necessary to substitute full height cabinets or pantries.
Vistable housing has the following three characteristics:
Although visitable housing is less accessible, it can be provided at a community scale, applying universal design to community planning and design.