Disability housing can be a minefield to say the least. If you’re ready to rent or buy a property of your very own it can be tricky knowing where to start, whether you’re living with disability or not. If you are, there are any number of additional requirements you’ll want (and need) in your property.  

You’ll have several parameters to consider as you narrow your choices.

For example, you might need to stick to neighbourhoods that are close to all the places you visit in any given week. If you use a wheelchair or mobility scooter, you’ll need accessible housing in the true sense of the word. There’s the usual bedroom/bathroom/living/garaging/outdoor space equation to consider. And of course, these needs will have to be accommodated within your budget.

Let’s take a deeper look into how to make sure you’re covering your requirements from the outset.

Disability housing: Always view in person

Whether you’re renting or buying, committing to a property is always a big step. These days we usually start by researching a property online, however, be sure to see it in person – preferably more than once.

First impressions of a house or apartment are often different to those in a second viewing, where you are more likely to look beyond general appearance. It’s easy to get caught up in seeing the strengths of a property the first time around. Keep your enthusiasm but use your subsequent viewing/s to consider its weaknesses.

You may even want to have a checklist on hand, to note down what it does and doesn’t have that meets your needs. See more on this further down the article.

It’s also a good idea to take photos as you move around the property. The online photos often only show the positives.

Consider supply vs demand

If a property agent or landlord/homeowner is willing to take the time to let you inspect and explore a property over several visits, this is a good indication of their confidence in the property. Though if it’s an in-demand property don’t take too long! There might be plenty of competition biting at your heels.

During your online research check out the auction rates and days on market (if you’re buying) and/or rental vacancy rates (if you’re looking to rent). When you’re checking out the residence, ask about the market interest in it. Always take the response with a grain of salt but usually it will be close to the truth.

Weight up your need to consider the property carefully with the need to act quickly to secure it.

If you’re planning to rent, remember your initial contact with the property agent or landlord can help to build trust between you. It’s helpful to have a good relationship, which encourages them to keep it well maintained for you.  

This women's disability housing meets the needs of wheelchair accessibility both outside and in.

Make a list of your needs

Make a list of your personal requirements and distinguish the must-haves from the nice-to-haves. This involves everything from the number of bedrooms and bathrooms through to access (driveway, garage, ramps, stairs, railings, ground surface and gradients, etc) then on to fixtures and fittings.

This list should help you rule out properties that won’t work from a functionality perspective, which will save you wasting time. And prevent you from making a decision ruled by your heart rather than your head.

Examples of questions around your disability housing

If you use mobility equipment or live with invisible disability or another disability that causes chronic pain, thoroughly traversing the property helps test how accessible and user friendly it is. Take your time to explore every nook and cranny, picturing yourself maneuvering it daily.

For example, is it on the ground floor or is there an elevator? Where are the steps and how many are there? If there’s a shared laundry, is it easy to access? Are there railings, ramps and connecting pathways between street access and the home? Is the driveway wide enough to park a WAV and/or exit the car with a wheelchair? What’s the parking like for anyone who visits your home, such as friends, family, support workers and other service providers?

If you’re planning to make modifications, a list of these will guide you through questions for the seller/agent. Or the questions may be more suited to a specialist like a carpenter, plumber or builder. Perhaps use these helpful ideas for an accessible home.

It’s also a good idea, if you can, to view the property at different times of day. You could try for a quiet time and a peak traffic time, or maybe a weekday compared to a Saturday or Sunday. You’ll get to see what the neighbourhood traffic is like and how it is to access at different times.

You’ll also get a better idea of who your neighbours are and how they like to share the space.

Accessing the community

An accessible home is about the home itself, and its usability. Broaden that perspective and consider the home’s accessibility to the community outside it. It needs to cater to your health and social needs too.

When making your list of needs, location is a top consideration. For example, does the property tick what you need on this list:   

  • Is it an accessible location (the streets leading into it, the street itself and the driveway)
  • Can you easily access the street by foot or wheelchair/mobility scooter and manoeuvre down it
  • Is there a nearby hospital or ambulance station
  • Are your routine appointments at a nearby location (therapists, doctors, support worker etc)
  • Can you do your grocery shopping close by
  • Is there a pharmacy in the vicinity
  • Do friends and family live nearby
  • If you need access to a library or educational facility, is it close enough

Knowing what you want before you start viewing properties will save you energy and time and help keep you focussed.

Do you already have your accommodation and are just looking for somewhere accessible to holiday? Read about these pet friendly accessible accommodation spots around Australia.

Make sure your location is close to the amenities you need to access regularly.

Specialist disability accommodation via NDIS funding

In some cases, the NDIS provides funding toward Specialist Disability Accommodation (SDA). This is designed to cover the cost of accommodation for NDIS participants with high support needs.

To apply for accommodation funding, complete and submit the Home and Living Supports Request Form. This lets the NDIA know about your needs so it can assess your eligibility. Once your form is received, the NDIA contacts you. A team member will let you know if they need more information, what the outcome is and what the next steps are.

If you’re already working with an LAC, then discuss your housing goal with them so they can guide you through the best steps. If you have the funding for one, a support coordinator will also be able to assist you. Here’s how to find a good NDIS support coordinator.

These are the types of accommodation costs which the NDIS provides funding toward:

  • Support to explore available types of housing options
  • Modifications toward an accessible home
  • Specialised accommodation for people living with complex needs

Here’s another helpful resource, a free webinar on disability accommodation and the NDIS.

Accessible housing listings

Once you’ve established your budget and you know what needs you want your new home to fulfil then you can start researching properties. When you have a shortlist, set up meetings to view them or turn up to the open home inspections.

Viewing properties in person takes a lot of time and scheduling, so research and narrow down properties so you only visit those that work with your needs. Several online resources beyond Domain.com.au and Realestate.com.au provide rental and sale listings, or support toward finding the right accommodation.

Don’t be too picky with your online research choices; you don’t really know what they’re like until you’re in them. Having said that, remember that online photographs may not show what accommodation really looks like. You or someone you trust should always see the place in person before making a commitment.

Here are some resources for finding accessible property:

If you’re looking to build your own disability housing, you might be interested in finding out about universal design in housing.

Disability housing and your mobility equipment

Always tell your insurer when you move, so your WAV, converted car and/or mobility equipment can continue to be properly insured. If you’ve moved, then where you park will also.

Changing your living circumstances is an important milestone that your insurer needs to know about. It may increase your premium, but there’s also a real chance that you can make a saving and pay less.

Either way, if you have wheelchair insurance, or mobility scooter insurance or disability car insurance you must update your details when you move so that your insurance is effective.

Disability housing – over to you

Have you found accommodation that suits your disability requirements? How did you go about it? Share your story in the comments to help others find the right place.