ADA Compliant, wheelchair accessible, universal design

Folks may remember I broke my ankle 3 months ago. Besides the happy meds they gave me that made me go on a rose bush buying spree (hey, we all have our weaknesses), it made universal design a much higher priority in my life. (Not being able to have a shower for 6 weeks will do that to a person.)

I’ve got 3 separate architects busily drafting proposals to create a basement entrance and legal bathroom down there.

I think there could be a market for this- there are hundreds of rooms for rent on Craigslist in my zip code, but only one wheelchair accessible one. And the closest subway is getting an elevator installed right now. It might also be better for families with a stroller.

I even found an adorable all-in-one kitchenette with an accessible sink:

Anyone else have (or want to have) accessible listings? For people outside of the US, what terms do you use to indicate that a space is designed to allow wheelchair users easy access?

Thank you for your thoughts!

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I have an accessible space and have hosted 3 wheelchair users, a gal on crutches after surgery, and an unknowable number of folks who are attracted by the “No steps!” in my title. I put wheelchair accessible, and descripton of the ramped entrance, right in the short description.
Airbnb does it for you. There is a HUGE checklist of accessibility items on your listing, and they just added another HUGE section (may be experimental in my area) that requires (sometimes multiple) photos of every accessible bit that you checked “yes” on, from pathway to entrance to hand held shower sprayer. I think they’ve gone a little overboard, but as someone who had a personal bad experience in the past staying at an Airbnb the host thought was accessible just because it was a ground floor apartment, but turned out to be dreadfullly un-accessible, I see how they are probably responding to complaints.
My unit was designed in a hurry for a family member with motor neuron disease who was suddenly struggling to get to the upstairs single bathroom, and who eventually used a motorized wheelchair, and is not completely ADA compliant. Our architect friend and our contractor did not have experience with universal design so it was a learning experince for us all! (Like when rainwater came pouring into the no-threshold doorway because the contractor hadn’t installed a channel drain. OK, turns out my contractors weren’t the sharpest tools in the shed.)
I am the only advertised wheelchair accessible Airbnb in about a 40 mile radius, although I think some of the (probably illegal) apartment Airbnbs could advertise as such if they thought to do so.
Here is my advice: Do it for YOU if you see yourself aging in place in the home. Disabled folks have a lot of challenges and uncertainties when traveling, and one way to address that is to stay in accessible hotel rooms where they KNOW the facilities are going to be ADA compliant. Airbnb is always a bit risky, isn’t it, and those risks of a bad travel experience are bigger if you need universal design. PM me if you want more info.


Many years ago I used to specialise in designing fully functional kitchens for wheelchair users and the visually impaired. A long time after that I was responsibly for making websites ADA compliant. So this is an issue that has always interested me and I wanted to make our listings as friendly as possible.

The smaller one has no chance because the guest needs to climb 14 exterior stairs but the larger one is downstairs I thought might have a chance. But there was absolutely no way of making the bathroom wheelchair-friendly.

I have had a wheelchair user stay there - she could move around inside okay with crutches - and people with mobility problems appreciate the fact that it’s on the ground floor and that it’s easy to get around inside. But it would be a dramatic and unaffordable redesign to be compliant enough to advertise it as such. Shame.


They were interested in this angle for awhile and bought this startup to give themselves a boost in attracting these guests

When I had my new addition done I considered making it fully accessible. But for the space and $$ I had it just wasn’t practical. To have wide enough doors and hallways and space around the bed…another $8000 on a $16000 job. Also taking down a 30+ year old healthy tree.

If I need an accessible space for myself in the future I could create one in existing spaces for a more reasonable cost for what I was getting.

It isn’t practical or affordable for us. But another issue is permitting. Because the building is seventy years old, I’m pretty sure that we’d be doing something against local regulations if we tried to make the place accessible.

It’s easy for organisations that are concerned with the rights of people with disabilities to imply that we should have accessible places, and in a perfect world, we would. But it’s not a perfect world.

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As a part time wheelchair user (inside) and crutches (outside) I am a bit more sensitive to the variations in what “accessibility” can mean. Air lets you state that your place has:

Wide hallways
No stairs or steps to enter
Extra space around bed
Accessible-height bed
No stairs or steps to enter
Wide entryway
Fixed Grab Rails for toilet
Accessible height toilet
Roll-in shower
Shower chair
Hand held shower head
Wide doorway to guest bathroom

Instead of the old “Wheelchair friendly” or “Accessible”.

So while there are no doubt ADA compliance standards, which ideally everyone will follow, not all will be suitable for hosts without renovating their home eg widening doorways.

As I use crutches when not at home some of these things are important but other aren’t. I’d prefer to see what hosts actually mean by “accessible” rather than an impossibly ideal (for most) standard only hotels can meet. If I travel by car within Australia I take a shower chair with me and have asked the doorman at a 5 star hotel to carry it in for me since “accessible rooms” really means suitable for wheelchair users not necessarily folks who normally wear AFOs (leg braces) but take them off to shower.

On the downside I don’t think many disabled people travel much. Motels and hotels in Australia are required by law to have an accessible room which I usually book and when I arrive they open it up and it has a musty smell because “nobody ever books it”. A bit chicken and egg I guess. If you think about it just because there are wheelchair accessible toilets at service (gas) stations someone in a wheelchair still needs to get out of their car and into one. Sadly I think most people with disabilities just give up. I on the other hand have caught the train from LA to Albuquerque and driven back and the train from Danang to Saigon. I usually give up washing for a few days though.


Interesting about kitchens for wheelchair users. I do my cooking sitting in my wheelchair. I designed and installed a “normal” height kitchen which means I can’t usually look into pots and pans but have no problem cooking. I’m very careful carrying, for example, large pasta pots to the sink to colander. Some people are surprised I didn’t get a wheelchair user suitable kitchen with lower benches. Then again I am 6’2" when standing so it would probably be different if you were a 5"5’ wheelchair user. Another example where you really need to know something about the user before deciding what it is appropriate.


This is something that specialist kitchen designers have to take into account even when designing kitchens for clients who aren’t in wheelchairs. I recall designing a kitchen for a couple and she was just over 5’ tall but he was some sort of giant - taller than you are. To make it more difficult, they both used the kitchen equally - it wasn’t a case of one of them being the main kitchen user.

I found that there were two aspects that ordinary kitchen designers didn’t take into account when trying to design kitchens for wheelchair users. The first was that (in those days anyway) wheelchairs had quite a large turning circle and it was important to create manoeuvring space. The other was that in about 95% of situations, the wheelchair user shared the kitchen with a spouse or partner who did not use a wheelchair. So the kitchen had to be suitable and workable for them both. Quite tricky.

One particular challenge was a young man who had been in a motorbike accident and wasn’t just wheelchair-bound but he had visual problems too. Yet his family (or carers) had decided that he should have as much independence as possible so he lived alone.

And yet the blanket word ‘disabled’ can include people with visual problems including people who are 100% unsighted. There are other conditions too that don’t seem apparent at first but yet the person needs special consideration when designing interiors


Thank you all for this! I have an activist friend who is in a motorized wheelchair and she’s helped me think about what I can offer. I asked her if there was a grey area and she said no. The ADA rules are written as strictly as they are because otherwise everyone would just do the bare minimum.

I’m definitely designing the space with myself in mind. Since my sister & I are not quite 5’ but the rest of my family is (or soon will be) 6’, i’m thinking about creating “stations” at different heights so we all have a space to work at that’s comfortable. I want induction burners so no one’s loose sleeve catches on fire.

This is part of a big remodel (I hope), and i’ve been researching Edwardian kitchens. I’m deeply amused that period wall hung sinks with wide legs (because they thought the pipes should get plenty of air) make them ideal for wheelchair users.

I had not yet thought about bed height (I used an ikea hemnes daybed when I was limited and it was a good height), i’ll go research that now!

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Consider using some wall cupboards in your kitchen that are set low and on their sides. (Let me see if I can explain this…)

Imagine a tallish wall cupboard that’s about 300mm wide and about the same depth. Let’s say it’s 700 mm high. Instead of setting it to the wall upright, have it on it’s side as it were, with the hinge at the bottom. A carpenter will have to do this for you but he/she will be able to fix it so that the door, when open (downwards) can form a horizontal surface which becomes a 300 x 700 mm working area. (A bit like a dropdown table).

You can keep items such as a mixer in the cupboard (make sure that there’s an electrical outlet in there) along with (example) baking goods so all you have to do is pull the mixer forward a little and you’ve got all that workspace to makes your cake :slight_smile:

That probably doesn’t make sense but I know what I mean…


Wouldn’t have the storage space like Jacquo’s suggestion, but for workspace, low cost option is a butcher block-type shelf with fold down shelf brackets


USA too

My condo is advertised as “not truly wheelchair accessible but no steps with wide doorways and all on one level”. In the “off season” 75% or more of my rental time is due to “no stairs”


One of my high school teachers died a few years ago (she was elderly) from burns suffered from exactly that happening. My next cook top will be induction.

In my dream (tiny) house, I will have no stove, just two or three portable induction burners that can be stashed in drawers.