Accessibility PDF Print E-mail

A building has certain legal requirements to be physically accessible to persons with disabilities. accessibilityiconIn addition to legal requirements, there is a growing trend to make all housing "visitable". 

Visitability: The term refers to single-family or owner-occupied housing designed in such a way that it can be lived in or visited by people who have trouble with steps or who use wheelchairs or walkers.

A house is visitable when it meets three basic requirements:

  • one zero-step entrance.
  • doors with 32 inches of clear passage space.
  • one bathroom on the main floor you can get into in a wheelchair.

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If the housing is NOT built or subsidized with federal funds, it is still covered by the Fair Housing Act if it is multi-family housing (3 or more units). That includes a requirement for Universal Design requirements (door width, accessible entrances, etc.). State and Local accessibility building codes may also apply.

Section 504 and the Uniform Federal Accessibility Standards: If the housing project received federal funds, than the UFAS (Uniform Federal Accessibility Standards) applies since it is the accessibility standard for Section 504 of the Rehabilitiation Act. The United States Access Board publishes the UFAS. UFAS provides guidelines for the design, construction and alterations of buildings.

The Uniform Federal Accessibility Standards Checklist provides uniform standards for the design, construction and alteration of buildings so that physically handicapped persons will have ready access to and use of them in accordance with the Architectural Barriers Act.

Section 504 applies to all Federally-assisted newly constructed housing of five or more units, and substantially rehabilitated housing of fifteen or more units. Under Section 504, federally-assisted rental housing developments must provide full accessibility for persons with mobility impairments in at least five percent (but no fewer than one) of the units. In addition, at least two percent (but no fewer than one) of the units must be made fully accessible to persons with sensory (hearing or vision) impairments. Entrances and common areas must also be fully accessible. Furthermore,24 CFR Part 8.29 requires that single family housing units receiving Federal assistance for construction and rehabilitation activities must be made accessible upon the request of the prospective buyer if the nature of that buyer's handicap requires such modifications.

Remember, accessibility isn't just about the architecture. Housing and service providers must also disseminate program information and have services available in a manner that is accessible to persons with disabilities, such as using telecommunication devices, materials in Braille or other alternative formats, or American Sign Language interpreters, as needed.

Federal Fair Housing Act: In 1988, Congress passed the Fair Housing Amendments Act of 1988 (the Act), which requires that most newly constructed multifamily dwellings occupied after March 13, 1991 be designed and constructed to include certain features of accessible design.

In new multifamily housing, 100% of the units in a building with an elevator must be accessible. If a building does not have an elevator, all of the ground floor units in the building (regardless of the percentage or number of units) must be accessible.

In order to be in compliance with the Fair Housing Act, there are seven basic design and construction requirements that must be met.  These requirements are:

Requirement 1. An accessible building entrance on an accessible route.
All covered multifamily dwellings must have at least one building entrance on an accessible route unless it is impractical to do so because of the terrain or unusual characteristics of the site. 

Ø     An accessible route means a continuous, unobstructed path connecting accessible elements and spaces within a building or site that can be negotiated by a person with a disability who uses a wheelchair, and that is also safe for and usable by people with other disabilities.

Ø     An accessible entrance is a building entrance connected by an accessible route to public transit stops, accessible parking and passenger loading zones, or public streets and sidewalks.

Requirement 2. Accessible common and public use areas.
Covered housing must have accessible and usable public and common-use areas. Public and common-use areas cover all parts of the housing outside individual units. They include -- for example -- building-wide fire alarms, parking lots, storage areas, indoor and outdoor recreational areas, lobbies, mailrooms and mailboxes, and laundry areas.

Requirement 3. Usable doors (usable by a person in a wheelchair).
All doors that allow passage into and within all premises must be wide enough to allow passage by persons using wheelchairs.

Requirement 4. Accessible route into and through the dwelling unit.
There must be an accessible route into and through each covered unit.

Requirement 5. Light switches, electrical outlets, thermostats and other environmental controls in accessible locations.
Light switches, electrical outlets, thermostats and other environmental controls must be in accessible locations.

Requirement 6. Reinforced walls in bathrooms for later installation of grab bars.
Reinforcements in bathroom walls must be installed, so that grab bars can be added when needed. The law does not require installation of grab bars in bathrooms.

Requirement 7. Usable kitchens and bathrooms.
Kitchens and bathrooms must be usable - that is, designed and constructed so an individual in a wheelchair can maneuver in the space provided.

HUD has published the Fair Housing Act Design Manual to provide clear and helpful guidance about ways to design and construct housing which complies with the Fair Housing Act. The manual explains the accessibility requirements of the Act, which must be incorporated into the design and construction of multifamily housing covered by the Act. A clear statement of HUD's interpretation of the accessibility requirements of the Act is included so that readers may know what actions will provide them with a "safe harbor." Fair Housing Act Design Manual from HUD User.


For more information, Call HUD's toll-free Design and Construction Resource Center: (888) 341-7781 (V/TTY)


--Source: Fair Housing Accessibility First, HUD

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