Article by Laura LaVoie

This post will show you some basics regarding ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) accessible tiny homes in case you or someone that you know has special needs. We recently had this question as a comment on a post about container homes:

“I rather like the ideas for container housing. What I need is a home that is electric wheelchair (and associated medical equipment) friendly. With an inability to use lofts, the need for a handicapped friendly shower and bathroom. Turning radius issues of the chair and widened door/hall openings the housing I need probably won’t fit in the “tiny” range. Shoving a bed into a corner won’t work either as you cannot get the wheelchair between the bed and the corner to make the bed. I’m trying to determine the balance between space enough to move around effectively and comfortably without a lot of unneeded space. Does anyone have any leads on something like this. Those of us needing this type of housing often are trying to live on disability and cannot afford a “full sized” house.”

ada accessible tiny homes   ADA Accessible Tiny Homes for the Handicapped

Image: FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Alex and I both though this was a worthy topic to discuss here at Tiny House Talk. There is no reason that a small house or other alternative building can’t be modified or designed to fit the needs each individual customer. So I began some research.

What I found when I Googled the subject was very interesting. I came across a lot of people asking the question on a lot of tiny house blogs but limited answers being provided. Here are some of the things I did find.

On The Tiny House Blog back in 2011 a building company called BuildZing was featured. They were described as a company that built eco-friendly and affordable homes. They also indicated that their designs could be modified to be ADA compliant. The problem with BuildZing? Doing a search for the company today leads to only broken links. There is no working contact information and even the owner’s twitter account went silent back in 2009. BuildZing – if you’re out there let us know!

I also came across an interesting website and concept called Elder Cottages. These homes are intended to be affordable solutions for elder family care. The idea is really great and could be easily adapted for multiple uses.  The concept isn’t necessarily intended to fit into the Tiny House movement; their smallest home is still nearly 600 square feet and costs over $32K to build. However, if you already have land or space in a family member’s lot this could be a reasonable solution.

Seattle Tiny Homes advertises an ADA Accessible design called The Magnolia. This design is the only I’ve seen that offers the typical tiny house on wheels solution with full ADA compliance while still being customizable to fit your specific needs or requests. I wonder how this might address some of the concerns from our original question.

Stephen Marshall from Little House on the Trailer designs and builds wheel chair accessible homes which he calls home care cottages in Petaluma, California. In fact, you can enjoy a video tour of one of his designs directly below.

Tiny or Alternative Houses are out there for individuals who need better accessibility. If you’re interested in something like this consider contacting the individual companies here but you can also search alternative or tiny handicapped accessible houses and find a few other options. Have you discovered other avenues? Are there companies out there with experience in ADA building regulations who wish to chime in? This is only the beginning of the discussion so I hope we are able to explore many potential solutions.

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Alex

Alex has been living in small spaces for more than 7 years, he's the founding editor of TinyHouseTalk.com, and has passion for exploring and sharing tiny homes (from yurts and RVs to cabins and cottages) and inspiring simple living stories. Send in your story and tiny home photos so we can share and inspire others towards simplicity.

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{ 36 comments }

  • jparkes

    It’s a design challenge that shouldn’t be at all difficult to beat! My own doodled plans always seem to lack doorways, and use instead strategic walls and line of sight for placement…meaning you don’t need doors or even hallways if you plan it out right…doors and hallways are only needed if your design is flawed and you’ve wasted living space.
    Of course i’m the kind of person who always thought the bathtub should be in the kitchen anyway…

    Reply
  • Samantha

    That is a tough one since a lot of them are built with lofts, including my own small house. It seems the solution would be to have it be one story. One built on a trailer, like many people are doing, would be doable as well but I would suggest a removable ramp or one that folds up, to access the house. My father has a prosthetic foot so we have been working on making it to where he can drive a four wheeler up to the back of our house and access it that way when he wants to come visit. What I think would be the hardest thing to deal with would be how to make a tiny house bathroom easier for handicapped individuals to use.

    Reply
    • Alex

      Great point on the bathrooms Samantha and thanks for the other ideas too!

      Reply
  • Small House Bliss

    I don’t know how he solved the issue of making the bed, but Mark Chenail designed a “200 sqft cabin for the disable” with a built-in bed nook. From http://www.countryplans.com/contest.html:

    As Mark Chenail said when posting this design, “I found this a very intriguing exercise but would like to point out that most of the designs posted are aimed at the young skinny nimble and able-bodied. As I am confined to a wheelchair and plus-sized into the bargain, I decided to see what I could design all on one level and as accessible as possible. That meant NO steps, ladders, lofts for sleeping. [Here is] a simple minded shed.”

    Mili

    Reply
  • ktashrobb

    Please, someone, develop a movement like Habitat for the disabled community with small houses and perhaps on site case management services. Also remember that the chronically mentally ill need these services too. Perhaps acquiring a “dead” RV park or Mobile home park would get around the zoning issues. If there is anyone out there with grant writing acumen I would be happy to help with the scut work to get this done.

    Reply
    • Alex

      I’d also love to see a mobile home park purchased by tiny house enthusiasts and converted appropriately. Thanks!

      Reply
  • jim sadler

    Designing a home for the disabled needs to be specific to the person and the disability involved. One size will not fit all so to speak. Without living with a specific disability the difficulties involved will not be apparent and often the solutions can be counter intuitive. The one thing that might give the disabled an edge in this issue involves the American With Disabilities Act and the very real need to towns and associations allowing their zoning requirements to comply with the Act.
    I noticed that one zoning district counts lofts of any types as floor area and therefore the exemption for 100 sq. ft. out buildings means that lofts are not allowed. The struggle continues.

    Reply
    • Alex

      Thanks, Jim, wow- didn’t know that.

      Reply
  • jerryd

    One solution is having the E wheelchair be chair and bed. I’m working on one because sometimes I just have to lay down from back problems to heat stroke/low BP. Once you do that it leaves a lot of space for other things or less space.

    Also mine will go 20mph for 40 miles or so which ewould eliminate the need for a car for most things.

    I’m building mine to go on the back of my Harley size EV trike as backup or for events, flea markets, etc I can’t do now.

    On the bath just have it open to the room with a slightly slanting floor for the water to drain, sitting on the toilet for it, showering, etc. The sink can be within reach because the whole thing is only 2.5′x3′. One can even include the area just outside it and enclose it with a curtain, etc.

    As a long time sailor being in very tight quarters is an advantage as one can pull oneself along with ones arms with overhead, side handholds like on most sailboats have. A single level with bad, kithen, bath on level with the slick say varnished wood, could just easily slide from one part to another.

    Slightly modified, for some handicaps this could be a solution for a very tiny house, freeing them from wheelchairs at least at home.

    Reply
    • Alex

      Awesome ideas Jerry, thank you so much!

      Reply
  • Bill

    Looking at The current newsletter and seeing the ADA focus is encouraging to me .I am 52 and would require a house where the loft might be used for something other than sleeping .I am rather intrigued with the idea of a murphy bed or a ‘Descending” bed…of course you would have to pick a power source to raise and lower it whether that be hand crank or electricity.Just some points to ponder…

    Reply
    • Alex

      Thanks Bill. A murphy bed that would work in a tiny home is a great idea. Not sure why it’s not done much.. A descending bed would be neat too instead of a loft. Thanks again for the ideas and I’ll keep it coming with more.

      Reply
  • Terrie

    Thanks so much for trhis article. Being that both my husband and I are disabled, we are very much interested in a tiny home that we could use. I found one floor plan that might work for our situation but it is 850 sq ft. It is an open floor plan and everything is within reach. I have to use an E-chair most of the time and having to walk more than 50 ft is extremely painful. My husband has to hold onto everything when he walks but he is not yet to the point of an E-chair. A small, open-floored, one story home is our idea of paradise! Our problem is price and location as our town is not diabled friendly in zoning or having to comply to ADA requirements, even in public/comerical places. Being on one Disability allotment, we are not able to put up 32G or more for a tiny home. Trying to get out of the monstrocity we live in now is not happening as the housing market is still very flat to non-existant here. But, we are still trying to plan and maybe one day, we will be able to get a small plot of land outside of city zoning and be able to build a very small home that is disability friendly and we can have a better life. This article gives me some leads which I appreciate very much!

    Reply
    • Alex

      Thanks, Terrie, I’m glad you found the article helpful. Wish you the best in your search for a new home and in the sale of your current one.

      Reply
  • ktashrobb

    Look at James Marple Jr’s Plan 53 for a 485 ft2 modified shotgun home that might meet many needs for universal accessibility. The plan is available through Amazon and you can use the “look inside” feature to see the layout.
    I do not think that the plan would work for a totally chair bound user.

    Remember to modify doors in ADA houses. They need to be greater than 32″ to get a stretcher through w/o turning the person on their side. (As a former assistant to a funeral director I KNOW this for a fact.) Pocket doors are a good option and there are specialized hinges tat will add a few inches of clearance if one has to go smaller.

    Reply
  • Lisa

    Murphy beds are not used very often because the of the high cost.

    Reply
  • jerryd

    I think murhy bads are not used because when up they are not much use of the space.

    Better is a couch/bed that one can sit on when not used as a bed. They can be pull out, back folds up to be a bunk bed, etc.

    Another is a pair of recliner/beds like I’ll use on my wheelchair but without motive power.

    Reply
  • Rich

    Alex there is a very real need to provide options to the physically challenged. Tx for taking this on. My first thought about taking this forward was a workshop but location (convenient and accessible) is immediately daunting. So how about a webinar. It is unlikely that folks with such challenges will be building their own house so it is the design process, codes and products that should be discussed. 20 years ago I designed a 3 unit “motel” for elder relatives that served them well and continues as viable rental property. And I spent 26 years working as a designer/project with a campus accessibility facilitator on various challenging projects. I’m willing to discuss some sort of webinar with you and others. Let’s stay in touch. Rich

    Reply
    • Alex

      Hi Rich- great idea, I’m definitely down for a webinar focused on the topic. Thanks so much for your thoughts. Talk soon, Alex

      Reply
  • Deena Larsen

    We rebuilt an ADA accessible house for two people in two manual wheelchairs–in under 320 square feet. Our blog has our notes and progress, etc. If you are ever in Denver, look me up–I can show you the house and the accessible garden in back. I have now lived there for 3 years and I love it.

    Reply
    • Alex

      Thanks, Deena! Checking out your blog now, glad you shared!

      Reply
  • Carolyn B

    Glad I ran across this site. I too love the tiny house movement but also use a wheelchair 24/7. Would love to keep updated on any builders, designers etc who are working with accessibility and small house movement practices.

    Reply
  • Kathy L

    While retirement is not imminent, my DH and I have decided that our next house should be our last house. We will move from it to the funeral home or the nursing home. Hoping to stave off the latter we have recently added ADA features into our wish list in the interest of aging in place. The thoughtful posts here are a good reference for what we may need.

    Reply
  • Roger Wright

    What an interesting concept. It’s great to see an increasingly larger number of people bringing to light different ways for handicapped and/or seniors to live safely, yet independently in their own (tiny!) homes.

    Reply
  • Jean

    Great to see some ADA solutions.

    In planning space it would be smart to include the possibility of needing:
    a hospital bed
    a sling lift to move a person between bed to wheelchair (portable or reinforcement in ceiling?)
    a shower chair

    Reply
    • Comet

      Having to “pull” yourself thru a doorway with a too-small opening while using a wheel chair is NO fun. And that is with full upper body useage—someone with limited useage could not do this at all. I had to do this thru the bathroom and bedroom door ways—with the SHARP turns to even approach the doorways—after a leg amputation. And I could “sort of” stand and manipulate the manual chair.

      Using the kitchen was–fun! Nothing was reachable. Getting things from the fridge or the cabinets to the sink and stove—if I could reach the stuff—meant I had to find some way to carry them–in a bag or something. OK for things like—an apple- Not so much for an open milk carton or eggs! And using the sink was almost impossible. I had to use an old ice cream parlor stool we had and perch to get close enough. Could not drain things like pasta.

      Things you never think about! And I had been living using a Knee Walker for a YEAR before this–but that at least allowed me to get to some things better as you are standing. Insurance co’s will generally NOT build you a ramp either–or at least they would not do this for me and others I know—as their thought is–”Others will BENEFIT from this” so it is not “Just for the handicapped person’s use”. Um—I guess you could argue that giving you a wheelchair in some ways BENEFITS others as if you did NOT have one maybe that family member would have to CARRY you from one room to the next and to the car etc.

      For bathrooms—it is not that easy to “Just” build a shower open to the room and slant the floor to the drain. I wish it was! The “wet room” concept is great but–it has it’s flaws. Using the then wet floor can be a slip and fall hazard not only for the handicapped but for able bodied as well. Mold and water damage are always a concern but more so with this system. And they can cost a LOT. Most DIY’ers will not have the skills to take this on. And showering while sitting on a toilet–um—slippery as heck and really–no one wants to do this! Bath seats are great but they too have their limits—I remove the backs from them to be able to have more movement. The legs however can “splay” and unless re-inforced can splay enough to break. Ask me HOW I know this! And this is not just a concern for larger people. The design is just not that good.

      For a built in you need to consider all the people likely to use the shower and how they can function with a seat in there. IT should not be too far away from the controls or the person will not be able to reach them and adjust the temp etc—this is a serious issue and can lead to burns. Too far from the spray and it can be uncomfortably cold and the pressure can be weak and not enough to rinse with. If the edge hangs over the shower or tub/shower combo—like some “slide” ones–the water just runs OFF the edge and onto the floor–causing slippery conditions and water damage! Size of the seat, construction; placement; materials used; how to get the water to the user; comfort–no one wants to sit on a COLD hard wet seat! I warm mine up with hot tap water from the shower hose but not everyone has the luxury of water like we in the North Eastern US do.

      For flooring–carpet sounds yummy but—it drags your wheels and slows you down and can be a static breeder. Not to mention a chair or walker will wear it out or make “pathways”. Tile is sometimes a huge problem as the little gaps where the grout is can be enough to STOP me dead in MY tracks using a walker or the Knee Walker. And it can catch crutch tips! Shiney floors scare the you-know outta me—I fear slipping and falling. What the “answer” is on flooring I am still trying to puzzle out. But it is a consideration!

      Getting in and out—ramps can be a bargain with the devil. Too steep and it is almost impossible to get up and scary to get down. Too shallow and it just means extra work. Some angles will not work with a prosthetic foot–the ankle joints just won’t accomodate. And you also need to think about how climate will affect this—will the materials and hand rails get too hot? What happens in snow and ice? I can tell you–you might end up staying home more than you would like!

      So many things to think about.

      And as far as the ADA rules–some of which are absurd–I don’t THINK that a local town or county can say you CAN’T comply with these–I would get in touch with the ADA directly and find out. Pretty sure that this US Federal Law cannot be excluded.

      Reply
      • Carolyn B

        Hi, Comet. I wanted to say how much I enjoyed your comments above. Thanks for the humor so much. And I never realized that tile was a problem for crutches and walkers. Thanks for pointing that out. I’ve been in a wheelchair exclusively too long, I guess.

        Reply
        • Comet

          @CAROLYN B.–

          I am sorry to hear that you need to use a chair more than it sounds like you would like—

          Yes tile is –or can be!—very slippery esp when wet. Which can be sneaky! Some tiles don’t LOOK wet and then you hit them and have weight on a crutch or cane or even a walker and BOOM you are on your butt! Not fun!

          I hate to admit it but carpet is actually the “best” for getting a “grip” on surfaces–much as for other reasons it is a PITA. Grabs at your feet—which if you have a faux leg has a tendency to hang a bit lower than your “regular” foot—causes “drag” when using a walker–or a chair as you surely know!—but it is the best “No Slip”. Also the first to show dirt and wear sadly and costs a bunch.

          My MIL has a vast expanse of super shiny vinyl flooring that scares the crap outta me. We will inherit this and I am not looking forward to that esp as it is almost new—hard to justify ripping–and it is in the huge KITCHEN! What else would you out in there! LOL! They actually had some sort of indoor/outdoor carpet in there and that was old and wrinkled—I am just never happy huh!

          I wish there was some sort of flooring that met all needs but so far haven’t found it!

          Reply
  • Kami

    This is a wonderful conversation. My husband is dependent on a wheelchair and we have a toddler. So accessibility for him as well as the ability to care for our daughter is a must (i.e. her bed can’t be in a loft, either). I’m currently talking him into a 720 sq. ft. home on half an acre. It may not technically fit the tiny house movement, but it’s half the size of our currant house and half the expense. My heart is in tiny houses, but our life and true needs don’t make it possible at the moment. The person who mentioned “accessible” not being one-size-fits-all is absolutely correct. Each disability for each person can be totally different. A bed on large castors can be moved to reach the other side, or even a sliding mechanism with room at the head and the foot for the wheelchair to sit, so the mattress slides out on a platform. Usually bathrooms are the most challenging for us. My husband has to use a commode shower chair. We’re thinking a wet bathroom is the way to go in the new space. That way, the whole room is basically the shower space (like a large shower stall with wall sink and toilet in it). I would love to be involved in developing plans for accessible tiny houses. Thanks for talking about it!

    Reply

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