Apartment Essentials for Disabled Renters

If you’re on the hunt for a new apartment, you don’t want to waste your time looking at listings that won’t match your needs.

We’ve gathered information and resources that could prove helpful for people with disabilities to find an apartment home. And the importance of an independent lifestyle is on the top of the list. There’s a docket of essentials that apartment seekers with disabilities are looking for. Among the must-haves are:

  • Accessible ramps on the property
  • Common areas designed for accessibility by all
  • Grab bars by the toilet and in the shower
  • Door jams wide enough to accommodate a wheelchair, walker or scooter
  • Wheelchair access for turns in the kitchen (at the very least, a 5 x 5-foot space)

ADA and beyond

Since its inception in 1990, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) has changed the landscape of accessibility. ADA-compliant design has faced hurdles, but nowadays, architects are allowed to go beyond technicalities into more innovative and holistic design.

Manufacturers have taken up the cause to produce stylish-yet-ADA-compliant grab-bars, sinks and bathing equipment. The end goal: To help reduce the clinical feel of accommodations for those with disabilities, and instead, increase the appeal of independent living in your own apartment.

Accessible apartments are far less common than traditional apartments, which leaves fewer options overall. That’s why design innovations must go above and beyond the requisite wheelchair-accessible ramp. It’s estimated that nearly one in four Americans lives with some form of disability, according to the Center for Disease Control (CDC).

Disabled renters have fewer choices on accommodations that suit their special needs. But the good news is that architecture studies are reframing design. An accessible route into and through the dwelling unit is just the start.

Tenants will be able to find floor plans with wide-axis circulation to accommodate a wheelchair, thanks to new methods of design that help improve access to the built environment, according to the article titled “Architecture for All” in Architzer.

Defining accessible

wheelchair ramp

What does handicap-accessible mean? For apartment living, it translates to a space that is ready to fit the needs of renters with limits to their mobility. Tenants could be in a wheelchair or using a scooter, walker or cane.

For some people, access could be as simple as adding grab bars and a tub seat in the bathroom. For wheelchair users, access may require ramping entrances, widening doorways and lowering counters.

Challenging the norms

Monica Ponce de Leon, Dean of the School of Architecture and Urban Planning at the University of Michigan, spoke on National Public Radio as a proponent of universal design. She challenges the idea of “able versus disabled.”

Ponce de Leon’s approach to design would render the little wheelchair symbol obsolete. Her premise: “That we no longer think, again, of the wheelchair sign as the one that is imperative. That will happen when we embed the notion of designing for the many within everyday design.”

Universal design emphasizes that an environment (or any building, product or service in that environment) should be designed to meet the needs of all people who want to use it, according to the National Disability Authority.

Building for Everyone provides comprehensive best practice guidance on how to design, build and manage buildings and spaces so that they can be readily accessed and used by everyone, regardless of age, size, ability or disability.

In real-world apartment living, must-haves for a person with a disability include:

  • A wheelchair ramp for entrance to a building
  • Automated doors (or an automated door opener) for entry
  • Light switches, electrical outlets, thermostats and other environmental controls in accessible locations
  • Doorway entrances at least 32-inches wide
  • Offset door hinges to keep the doorway clear when opened
  • Specially designed door handles for individuals who may have grip struggles
  • Entry thresholds should be flush with the floor


The typical kitchen layout presents significant challenges for individuals who cannot stand or reach remote dishes. Adjustable countertops are among the solutions. Others include subtle design features like a raised dishwasher and oven to make life easier for people with disabilities.

Finding an apartment that fits your needs is ultimately about lifestyle choices that work best. Being able to live and function independently is what it’s all about, after all. And that’s why seeking an apartment with the right design is especially critical for people with disabilities.

Resources for apartment seekers with disabilities

Here’s a list of resources to look to for assistance if you’re a person with disabilities and need help in your apartment search, or related needs:

This article fits under the following categories:

Susan FriedmanSusan Friedman is a lifestyle journalist with a background that includes real estate, interior design, architecture and kitchen and bath design. The former senior editor of Florida Travel + Life magazine, Susan resides in sunny south Florida and loves exploring the next great place to live, local culture and neighborhoods with cool vibes. Whether it’s in her own backyard or beyond, she has the pulse on what’s trending now in apartment dwelling and more.

Recent Articles

Dallas is big and bold. And if you’re from the “Big D,” you know these things to be true.

Taking your family to an NFL game will cost you — unless you live in one of these cities.

Most Popular