Universal Home Design for Children with Disabilities

Bringing a newborn home can be overwhelming for first-time parents. Even the most prepared couples may experience physical and emotional exhaustion. But for some parents, bringing home their newborn who has been affected by a birth injury or a birth defect can be an immense undertaking. A commonly overlooked aspect of raising a child with mobility impairments or disabilities is the overall functionality of the family’s home. Beyond child-proofing cabinets or anchoring furniture, a family may need to consider making significant home modifications to ensure a comfortable living space for their child as they age.  Following the principals of universal home design can help achieve a safe and functional living environment.

Knowing Your Child’s Needs
As your newborn grows and develops more skills over time, it will be easier to spot your child’s specific needs. Even within certain types of birth injuries or birth defects, not every child has the same physical impairments. For example, there are four types of cerebral palsy (CP) that can cause both neurological and physical disabilities. The severity of this disorder can also vary from child to child. A child with CP may or may not need a wheelchair depending on their specific symptoms. Understanding your child’s individual needs can make determining appropriate universal home design modifications easier. If your child is non-verbal or too young to assess their own needs properly, consulting an occupational therapist is a great way to get a professional’s perspective and find reassurance in your remodeling decisions.

Seeking Universal Home Design Guidance
Depending on your child’s specific needs, a home modification can be a large undertaking. or some families, it can be overwhelming to consider all the necessary changes a disabled child may need as they grow. As previously mentioned, an occupational therapist is a great resource to start with when looking at home solutions, but you can also seek counsel from a vocational therapist, a universal design specialist, an architectural design engineer, a U.S. Department of Housing and Development agent, or a real estate specialist. These are people who see different impairments daily and understand the universal home design solutions available to make a home environment more inclusive for those with disabilities.

If you are renting your home, you can review the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD)’s published Fair Housing Act Guidelines which provide answers to helpful questions for both landlords and tenants around reasonable modifications required because of a disability.


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Finding Financial Solutions
Raising a child with a disability or an impairment often requires sacrifices by their parents or other family members, and it can take a financial toll over time as well. If you are making universal home design modifications to your home due to a family member with a disability, you do have some financial options to consider to help pay for the home renovation.

  • Legal Claims – If your child suffered an injury during the birthing process resulting in an impairment, you might consider filing a claim against the hospital or medical facility where your child was born. For example, if your child suffers from a neurological disorder or a motor function disorder like cerebral palsy due to any form of medical malpractice at or shortly after birth, you might be able to file a legitimate legal claim. This may then allow you to receive funds to afford home modifications and any short or long-term care requirements necessary for your child.
  • Property Improvement Loans – A family looking to make “alterations, repairs, or site improvements” to their home for the benefit of a disabled child or family member might consider a FHA Title 1 loan. While these types of loans are procured at any bank or financial institution that offers Title 1 loans, the lenders themselves are insured against losses by the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) which is under the umbrella of HUD. These improvement loans lend up to $25,000 for a single family home at a fixed interest rate for universal home design renovation projects that make the space more livable. For a family building around a child’s disability, this could mean wheelchair ramps, lowered countertops, grab bars on certain walls, new flooring with better traction, or door handles to replace traditional knobs.

  • Rehabilitation Loans – A Section 203(k) loan provides opportunities for people buying a home or refinancing their home to also make significant home improvements. Similar to a FHA Title 1 loan, the FHA provides mortgage insurance to lenders. With a 203(k) loan, borrowers can combine the cost of home renovations with their newly refinanced mortgage payments.
  • Disability Advocate Groups – If a loan is not an option for your family, you might also consider reaching out to a local advocacy group that works with people who have disabilities. Groups like the National Council of Independent Living may have funds available in local chapters to provide assistance for home modifications.

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Raising a child with mental or physical disabilities can be difficult enough for a family, but implementing the necessary home modifications doesn’t have to be overwhelming. Talk with your child’s doctors and experts in the field to gain a better understanding of your child’s limitations and needs and then work from there. Take things one step at a time to build a universal home design that truly fulfills your family’s needs both now and in the future.


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