7 Tips When Adapting a Home for Those With Disabilities

Qualifying Veterans with 100 percent disabling conditions and those with other combined disabilities incurred during their time in the service can avail themselves of one of four types of housing allowances currently offered by the VA. They are as follows: Specially Adapted Housing (SAH) Grant, Special Home Adaptation (SHA) Grant, Temporary Residence Adaptation (TRA) Grant, and the Home Improvements and Structural Alterations (HISA) Grant.

But receiving housing grant money is only the first step for Veterans with disabilities to live comfortably and independently in their homes. Whether you’re planning to remodel your newly purchased house, or you want to retrofit a current residence, making the appropriate modifications is the most crucial step. And depending on how extensive your adaptations need to be, it can be an expensive and challenging experience, so you want to make sure that you plan wisely.

The good news is that today we have far more products available to accommodate various disabilities – they can be as simple as installing a taller toilet to putting in an elevator – and, better still, more contractors are becoming familiar with these specialties.

Here are 7 tips to consider before adapting your home to accommodate disabilities:

  1. Research and plan. Before redesigning or modifying your home, proper research will save you time, money, and frustration. You need a solid plan in hand and knowledgeable people in place before any work starts.
  2. Hire professionals. This is especially true for major modifications, such as lowering kitchen counters, widening doorways to accommodate wheelchairs, or adding an appropriate bathroom on the first floor. For these types of large jobs, consider hiring a designated Universal Design Certified Professional or a Certified Aging-in-Place Specialist. Universal design products and environments are inclusive and can be used by as many people as possible without adaptation. For example, a no-step entry to a home benefits not only a person in a wheelchair but also someone delivering furniture or even a small child. Some universal design elements may even add value to your home.

You can get away with a reputable maintenance person for smaller tasks such as installing handrails, adjusting the peephole on the front door, and changing out light switches.

  1. Get references and follow up. Don’t be afraid to question these pros thoroughly when interviewing. For instance, ask for at least three references for similar – and recent –  jobs they’ve completed. Then follow up by calling those clients. Chances are, if they’re satisfied with the work on their home, you’ll be happy with yours. It’s vital that you feel completely comfortable with the person you’ll work so closely with, so consider that when you’re interviewing contractors.
  2. Permit the job. Be sure to ask your contractor if you’ll need permits for the project. Building permits for extensive renovations are required in most areas. The last thing you want is to have a project that violates the local zoning laws and find that your shiny new bathroom must be demolished. A reputable contractor will be acutely aware of the permit process and pull all the ones needed for the job before work begins.
  3. Integrate technology. Although most of us see smart-home devices as a luxury or convenience, to those with disabilities, this technology empowers them to live more independently. The ability to turn on lights, lock and unlock doors, answer the doorbell, and adjust the temperature with a smartphone or voice command – whether or not you’re home – simplifies everyday tasks that many take for granted. There is a lot of home tech to choose from these days, so it’s imperative to consider precisely what you want to accomplish and what will best serve the needs of you and your family. Some items, such as robotic vacuum cleaners and smart lightbulbs, are easy to purchase and use. In contrast, others, including Wi-Fi security cameras, smart speakers that can operate your appliances, and smart hubs that serve as the brains of your tech-savvy home, require a learning curve – and a smartphone or tablet to install.
  4. Don’t sacrifice aesthetics

Sure, you might need to include roll-under sinks and vanities, lower countertops, pull-down shelving, wider doorways, roll-in showers, and a floor plan that allows for unrestricted movement in your home. But that doesn’t mean that your house has to look dramatically different from others in your neighborhood.

Safety, accessibility, and comfort for you and your family are your top goals, and you can achieve those without sacrificing aesthetics. For instance, use landscaping to build a natural sloped path to your entry, which will blend in much better than a traditional ramp. Also, consider attractive battery-operated, hands-free faucets in kitchens and bathrooms and touch-control drawers. As an added bonus, many of these adaptations will benefit the homeowners who want to age in place.

  1. Check your tax benefits

Under certain circumstances, for tax purposes, you can deduct some medically necessary home renovations if they qualify as deductible medical expenses. However, to do so, you must itemize your personal deductions rather than taking the standard deduction. If you don’t itemize, you won’t get a deduction for your medical expenses, including home improvements. Today, it’s more difficult for many taxpayers to itemize due to the changes brought about by the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act that took effect in 2018. You should know that the rules for valuing renovations get muddy if they also improve the value of your home. So, to ensure that you don’t go in over your head, it’s essential to check with a tax professional when you consider adapting your home.

There’s a lot of work involved in building or adapting a user-friendly house to accommodate those with disabilities. But when it’s done correctly, the end result is a home you love in which you and your family can live comfortably for many years.

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