The Challenge to Find Accessible Housing


Shelter is one of our basic needs as humans, yet you wouldn’t think this is true if you’ve ever tried to find housing and have a disability. I am 20 years old, so I am at the point in my life where looking for apartments/housing has begun to matter. This journey first started when I began looking at colleges. In my experience, most colleges were not very accessible due to their age, this means that most of them didn’t have accessible dorm rooms either. My search for accessible housing at colleges left me feeling defeated as there were not many options at universities I was considering. Most of their buildings didn’t even have elevators, let alone ADA compliant rooms. I made the decision to attend Christopher Newport University in Virginia solely based on their accessibility. It is a brand new campus with the oldest building being built in the early 2000s. Despite the new construction of my university, I still encountered issues around housing. The accessible dorms had inaccessible bathrooms, or there were not accessible rooms on the first floor (so in the case of a fire I would be left to fend for myself stuck with no elevator access out).

I am now looking for apartments with my boyfriend, and let me tell you, the search is not easy for accessible housing.

During my search I found that I had been under a lot of misconceptions regarding the ADA. This law only applies to public spaces and areas, therefore excluding most apartment buildings. They are required to have an accessible office space, and maybe any common areas, but as far as the individual apartment units, they do not have to be ADA compliant. This is especially true if the building themselves were constructed before 1990, which many are. The owners are grandfathered into inaccessibility and do not have to comply unless they are doing renovations.

What all of this means is that our basic need to shelter is being overlooked and ignored. As individuals with SCI/D we have the same right to housing as any other person who is looking for housing. I have been searching for apartments for about 4 months now, and my search is becoming exhaustive at this point.

Along with the Fair Housing Act, which denies owners the right to discriminate when it comes to granting people housing. There are apartment buildings or other housing options that do work for people with disabilities, if there is a good landlord or person in charge, you might get lucky. But I am tired of relying on luck. We have laws in place that are meant to give us independence and access, but these laws only go so far.

There are a few options to set us up for success when it comes to accessible housing. Some websites include the ability to “search for needs” that are intended to benefit us, these include options to search for accessible units specifically. Some include specific features, such as wider doorways, grab bars in the bathroom, etc. There are also organizations non-profits that can help you find accessible housing. Depending on where you are looking to live, check out resources specific to that area!

What I have found is that you have to be an advocate for yourself, and your rights to secure housing. You need to be adamant about what you need and that it is a right to have access to housing. Use the resources at your disposal to the best of your ability, and hopefully your search for housing will be successful!

Below are some links to the laws I mentioned and also some websites that have tips for finding accessible housing!


My name is Madisyn Hess and I am 20 years old. I am currently a junior at Christopher Newport University. I am completing my undergraduate degree in Psychology and I hope to pursue a Master’s degree in Occupational Therapy. I am a T-10 paraplegic, and I have an adorable service dog named Oxford. In my limited free time, I love to watch movies or TV shows, occasionally “bingeing” them (whoops), and I enjoy trying new restaurants as well as new types of food.  You can find me dancing, singing, or trying any adaptive sport I can!

Leave a Comment