While there are millions of vacation properties in the United States and abroad, many of them don’t include accessibility features that meet the needs of people with disabilities. If you’re interested in modifying your vacation rental so that it’s more accessible to this underserved and often overlooked population, there are a number of steps you can take. Obviously, improving the accessibility of your rental will depend on a number of factors such as the type of property you own and your budget. But with some basic changes, you can make it easier for even more people to enjoy your vacation rental.
Accessibility Rules and Regulations
Different areas have different laws, rules, and regulations in place when it comes to a property’s accessibility. Before you make any property modifications, check to see if your area has any such regulations or other local building codes. The Americans with Disabilities Act primarily addresses public buildings and areas while the Fair Housing Act addresses the accessibility of multifamily housing (which may be a factor if you own an entire apartment building).
But keep in mind that “If you advertise anything as handicapped accessible, it must meet ADA standards. In such a case, you should find out precisely what is necessary for compliance (i.e. slope of a ramp to your front door or the height and placement of grip bars in the bathroom).” – Markus Nordvik, MyVR.com
Also, laws (and interpretations of those laws) change all the time. We’re not lawyers and you should definitely not rely on us or this article as legal advice. This article is intended to be informational only. So, if you find yourself in need of legal advice, it’s best to work with a licensed local attorney.
First things first, take a look at your front door (and other exterior doors that could be used as entrances) and how they’re accessed. If there are stairs, you should add (or provide) a ramp. Is there a raised threshold? Thresholds that are higher than 3/4-inch should be removed or modified. The Americans with Disabilities Act Accessibility Guidelines (ADAAG) recommends that the entrance door has at least a 32-inch opening. Installing offset hinges ensures that the door swings entirely clear of the opening, which makes it easier for those in wheelchairs or with walkers.
The door handle shouldn’t be any higher than 48 inches and it should be “operable with a closed fist. The ‘closed fist’ test for handles and controls: Try opening the door or operating the control using only one hand, held in a fist. If you can do it, so can a person who has limited use of his or her hands.” – ADA Checklist
On the interior side of the door, check to make sure that there’s at least a foot and a half of empty space along the wall. You’ll need to remove any entryway tables or other furnishings to ensure that a person using a wheelchair, walker, or crutches can easily get to and operate the door.
Inside your vacation rental, whether it be in the living room, bedroom, or other room, look at all pathways to ensure that they’re at least 3 feet wide. You may need to move furniture around to provide your guests with a 5-foot diameter circle or T-shaped space that will allow enough room to completely turn a wheelchair around.
Don’t forget to take a look at the furnishings in your vacation rental. Is the dining table 28 to 34 inches high with knee space that’s “at least 27 inches high, 30 inches wide, and 19 inches deep”? – ADA Checklist
Are items like televisions and stereos within reach of those who use wheelchairs or scooters? Does your smoke alarm and any other emergency systems feature both an audible and visual alarm? Smoke alarms with strobe lights can be found at most home improvement stores.
Low pile carpet is preferred as it provides less of a tripping hazard and less of a challenge for those in wheelchairs or using walkers. Double check that all the edges of the carpet are securely fastened and get your carpet re-stretched or replaced if necessary. Walk through every room and be on the lookout for other items that may present trip hazards, like rugs or cords, and remove them. In addition, furniture and other obstacles should be “cane-detectable (located within 27 inches of the floor or higher than 80 inches, or protruding less than 4 inches from the wall)” – ADA Checklist
Kitchens & Bathrooms
In both kitchens and bathrooms, there are a number of items that can make it difficult for people with disabilities to fully enjoy their vacation experience. Countertops present a number of problems. Most times, they are too high for someone in a scooter or wheelchair to easily access. In addition, cabinets and cupboards along the floor make it even more difficult for these individuals to get where they need to in order to easily prepare a snack, meal, or even to pour themselves a glass of water.
“Lowering countertops to 30 inches makes all the difference” and makes it easier for these individuals to utilize “more of the surface space.” In addition, if you can “take out some of the floor cabinets, leaving empty space [this allows] them to get up close to the countertops.” – Stephen Michael White, RentPrep
Pedestal or wall-mounted sinks are accessible and stylish options for bathrooms. And if any of your faucets are controlled by knobs, change them out to lever faucets that can be operated with one closed fist. In addition, items like hand or paper towels, soap dispensers, kitchen tools, and storage spaces for personal items should be within reach of those who may be using a wheelchair or scooter.
Toilets, showers, and baths are the next items you’ll need to take into consideration when improving your vacation rental’s accessibility. With regard to toilets, you can opt to install a raised toilet and other options are also available including toilet seat risers and pedestals. Grab bars on either side of the toilet are also recommended. Walk-in tubs or curbless showers with non-slip floors are ideal for those using wheelchairs or walkers or those who may be at risk for falls. Grab bars should also be installed in the bathing area.
Finally, think about what other extra touches you can add to make your vacation rental that much more special for those with disabilities. Books and board games in braille or large print are great additions. All new television sets (starting in 2017) are required to have accessibility features designed for individuals who are blind or who have low vision. Some cable providers also include accessibility features or large-button remotes with their services. Smart home systems can provide your guests with assistance for everything from turning the lights on and off and adjusting the temperature to locking the doors and closing the blinds.
Looking for More Information?
If you’d like to make your vacation rental as accessible as possible, you’ll be able to find a number of great resources online. On homeability, you’ll find lots of great information on the best products to buy as well as safety tips. Expertise provides information on hiring a home remodeler and the different modifications you might consider. You can also get information on the various steps you can take to improve your vacation property’s accessibility on Redfin.