Housing Usability

Home Characteristics of People with Disabilities


Participation has become one of the foremost goals of the independent living movement. While public spaces (e.g., transportation) have long been identified as major barriers to community involvement, there are still large gaps in our understanding of the environmental factors that influence participation in the community. For example, there is very little data about the built features and characteristics of people’s homes. We used data from a Health and Home Survey (N=173) to examine the home characteristics of people with disabilities.



The sample for this analysis includes participants who answered “yes” to at least one of the American Community Survey (ACS) questions related to impairment on the Home and Health Survey. Of the 173 respondents who returned a survey, 26 reported having no impairment and 3 did not answer. Thus, these 29 individuals were excluded from this analysis, leaving a sample size of 144 for this analysis.  More information about the larger sample can be found here.




Impairment %
Hearing 26
Vision 19
Cognitive 41
Mobility 81
Self-Care 44
Errands 53
Grasping 31


Note the sum of individuals reporting impairment will not match the total N as respondents could mark more than one impairment.


Sample Demographics

  • Average Age: 60
  • 65% White, 24% African American, 6% Asian, 3% American Indian, 2% Other
  • 65% Female, 35% Male
  • 26% Married, 26% Divorced, 21% Widowed
  • 35% Live Alone
  • 22% HS or GED, 36% Some College, 12% Bachelor’s Degree, 10% Master’s Degree or Higher
  • 84% Not Employed, 7% Employed Part-Time, 9% Employed Full-Time (30 hours/week or more)
  • 32% family income of $10k or less, 24% family income of $10k-$20k
  • 47% Own, 44% Rent



We worked with a team of researchers and advisors to develop a survey that gathers information about home characteristics, home usability experiences, demographics, community participation, health, and affect. More information about the Health and Home Survey can be found here.


Home Characteristics

The specific measure used for this analysis is the home characteristic measure. These questions were designed to gauge the usability of particular home characteristics. They should not be interpreted as objective measures, but rather as subjective perceptions people have of their homes. For example, one question asks respondents whether they have difficulty getting in and out of their home. In this case, “difficulty” may be estimated differently from person to person. What is difficult for one person may not necessarily be difficult for another person. In this way, these measures of home characteristics include not only the objective features of home (e.g., physical entrance), but the human interaction with these features as well (e.g., actually using the entrance), a notion that is consistent with the ecological model of disability and participation.




Over a quarter of people with disabilities report that the most problematic characteristics in their homes are the home entrance, kitchen faucet, kitchen cabinet, grab bars in the bathroom, storage spaces, windows, alternative alerts, and emergency assistance.  Table 1 lists the results for all characteristics queried.


Table 1

Percentage of valid yes/no responses for each home characteristic


Home Characteristic No (%) Yes (%)
Has difficulty getting in/out 70 30
Can enter kitchen 0 100
Enough space in kitchen 8 92
Can open fridge/freezer 2 98
Kitchen faucet has lever handles 36 64
Can reach most kitchen cabinets 29 71
Can reach kitchen counters 6 94
Can reach stove controls 7 93
Has other means of cooking 11 89
Can enter bathroom 2 98
Can open/close bathroom door 9 91
Can reach/use bathroom sink 4 96
Has toilet grab bars 73 27
Needs toilet grab bars 50 50
Can get in/out of shower/tub 19 81
Has shower/tub grab bars 62 38
Needs shower/tub grab bars 35 65
Living Room
Can enter living room 0 100
Can move freely in living room 1 99
Can access living room appliances 4 96
Can enter bedroom 1 99
Can move freely in bedroom 7 93
Difficulty with stairs/steps in home 82 18
Difficulty with flooring material 77 23
Can use storage spaces 29 71
Can open/close windows 43 57
Can control blinds/curtains 14 86
Can control thermostat 11 89
Can reach light switches 4 96
Can reach electrical outlets 17 83
Has adequate lighting 18 82
Need alternative alerts 75 25
Can exit in emergency 12 88
Can receive assistance in emergency 28 72




The above findings indicate that the people with disabilities in this study face problematic characteristics in their homes. These results have potentially significant implications for community participation for people with disabilities. Disability has been defined as an interaction between an individual and his/her environment. Disability researchers have begun to examine this human environment interaction and its implication for community participation. We hypothesize that the home environment has an effect on an individual’s abilities to fully participate in their community. As these results show the most problematic characteristics of people’s homes are in the bathroom (toilet and shower) and kitchen (faucet and cabinets). These spaces are where many daily household activities occur such as grooming, cooking, and generally preparing for your day.


Encountering barriers in the home may influence people’s ability and motivation to get out and into the community. For example, are individuals with disabilities exerting more energy in daily household tasks than they would if their homes were more usable?  Does greater energy expenditure in the home translate into less community participation?


Of course, physical characteristics of the home are only one aspect of the home that may influence community participation.  Other aspects may include whether or not people feel safe or satisfied in their homes.  For example, people’s experiences in their homes could impact their sense of confidence that could translate into greater or lesser community participation.    You can read more about our findings concerning home experiences here.