The role of housing in implementing Olmstead, and why it matters to everyone

The 1999 Olmstead decision clarified the court’s intent to afford persons with disabilities the opportunity to live independently in and as part of the larger community, which in turn means access to opportunities available to all persons.

To quote from the ruling, the goal is to seek “the most integrated setting appropriate to the needs of qualified individuals with disabilities” or “a setting that enables individuals with disabilities to interact with non-disabled persons to the fullest extent possible.”

Housing is key to community integration, as where we live determines our access to a host of essential community services. HUD’s message on this is also clear:”Individuals with disabilities, like individuals without disabilities, should have choice and self determination in housing and in the health care and related support services they receive. For this reason, HUD is committed to offering individuals with disabilities housing options that enable them to make meaningful choices about housing, health care, and long-term services and supports so they can participate fully in community life.”

There are many efforts underway in Idaho to achieve the aims of Olmstead, and will take communication and coordination among all partners to create a diverse mix of housing choices throughout the state’s many regions. Housing alone doesn’t make a community accessible, but it’s a really good place to start.

Read more here: Olmstead and housing

Inclusive Design Gets Customers in the Door

By Erik Kingston, PCED

More and more single-family home buyers, builders and designers are recognizing the obvious: we’re all seniors in training (if we’re lucky), and each of us has friends, family members or neighbors with disabilities.

Smart Business Practice. Think of it. What other industry would tell nearly half of its potential customer base, “our products are not for you or your friends and family; we don’t need your business?”

As with most innovation, visitable single-family construction will evolve through a combination of customer demand, builder savvy, and/or regulation. The demand is there, based on the number of folks with mobility impairments who don’t need or want to live in an institution. Baby Boomers are aging, and we (and our parents) prefer the comfort and independence of living in homes that meet our changing needs.

Builders who anticipate these needs will start building and marketing Homes for Life, just as they now build to LEED and “Super Energy Good Cents” standards to attract customers who want to save energy costs. Creative and visionary builders will lead the way to a sustainable housing market, either by acquiring and renovating existing properties or building new homes to Universal Design standards. Here’s what the American Planning Association has to say on the topic.

Simple, cost-effective construction guidelines. Some building professionals are reluctant to consider ‘one more standard.’ There are also many popular misconceptions about the costs of creating ‘visitability.’

Thankfully, the pros at Concrete Change and elsewhere have researched real-world costs to build or adapt homes, and a set of practical, easy to implement construction guidelines that highlight two basic features:

  1. one zero-step entrance.
  2. doors with 32 inches of clear passage space.
  3. one bathroom on the main floor you can get into in a wheelchair

In most cases, visitability can be achieved by simply specifying 2’10” or wider entry and passage doors.

Medicaid savings. There’s plenty of talk about saving Medicaid costs at the state and federal levels. According to estimates provided by the Idaho State Independent Living Council (SILC) in 2002, the average Medicaid recipient with home-based care saves Medicaid up to $32,000 (by some estimates) every year when compared to institutional care. This doesn’t even account for the quality of life issues and personal independence that come with living in your own home. Those interested in maximizing outcomes from Medicaid investments might consider advocating for housing that is both affordable and accessible.

Demographic changes. Wheelchair users are not all seniors. Wounded warriors, athletes and professionals all want housing that is close to services, retail, recreation and culture and that allows them to live independently. They represent a strong market for well-designed and well-built housing that can be used by anyone, whether they currently have a disability or not.

Access means business. Besides residential construction, small business represents a potential market for contractors with knowledge about accessible design practices. There are thousands of small businesses throughout America that can (and should) be made accessible. Someone has to build and install those ramps, widen doorways, and install grab bars in bathrooms. Even better, there are excellent tax incentives for small businesses to remove barriers.* See more on this at

Lean more. Here is one example of how we get to the point of equal access and independent living. To add more news, send an email to and type ‘accessible future’ in the subject line. Let’s do it.


*Note. The former Concrete Change web site contained several helpful resources that are not contained in the current site, although a .pdf version of a portion of the original material is available here:

Archived Concrete Change resources (some links are inactive; as those resources are located they will be posted on this page).

Information from the National Association of Home Builders

Future of Housing: Meeting Accessibility Needs from the AARP

Home For Life, a virtual tour from Remodeling Magazine demonstrating how to create or modify a home for the rest of your life.

Universal Design Principals

Multiple U.S. federal laws dictate accessibility requirements in the built environment as well as access to programs, activities and services. While it is necessary to understand and adhere to any and all specific laws, ‘Universal Design’ is a larger concept that has evolved over time and across political boundaries. Understanding these basic principals helps one appreciate the overall goals of various fair housing and accessibility regulations. Once again, it all comes down to customer service, and expanding our notion of potential customers as broadly as possible. Continue reading