Could wheelchair-friendly tiny houses be a “big” option for people with disabilities?
A look at wheelchair accessible tiny houses.
If you’ve spent much time on social media, chances are you’ve seen a tiny house pop up in your feed. They’re a growing phenomenon, and for good reason. Tiny houses pack the amenities of a full-size house into a remarkably small footprint, and with considerably more style than the average house on the block. Tiny houses are often built on trailers, and have tons of custom features to suit the personality and needs of their inhabitants. They’re affordable, too; videos abound of people constructing their own tiny houses on wheels for less than $20,000, though most models built by a tiny house company range from $30,000-$80,000.
Although most tiny houses are still built by young couples looking to pursue an environmentally friendly lifestyle, their affordability and customization make them a natural candidate to consider for solving our affordable housing crisis. People with disabilities are particularly harmed by the lack of affordable housing, as the lack of affordable and wheelchair accessible housing is even more scarce. But disability and tiny don’t seem like they go together at all… Or do they?
Tiny Houses for People With Disabilities
When considering the benefits and drawbacks of tiny houses for people with disabilities, we must first look at the overall picture — the full community of people with disabilities. Not all disabilities are physical, and the needs of people with physical disabilities vary considerably. Typical tiny houses can already meet the needs of a significant range of people with disabilities, including many who may struggle with other forms of housing. For example, a person with autism may find it difficult to live in a noisy apartment complex. However, a detached tiny house gives space between neighbors, and can be designed with sound-dampening walls and other features to reduce sensory overload. It can use materials the person finds comforting, such as specific flooring or wall textures, and be themed to the person’s special interests, creating a safe haven in which they can thrive.
Privacy is an important consideration for many people with disabilities. Due to the lack of affordable housing and difficulties in obtaining services such as state funding for in-home care, many people with disabilities live with family members. This can be frustrating to an adult with disabilities who would like to have more independence and freedom to make choices about their environment. A tiny house can be placed in the backyard of the family home, giving a person their own space while still having support nearby to assist with personal care, medication management, and other tasks. If the tiny house is on wheels, it could be relocated if the family moves or if the person is able to live separately on another property.
Tiny houses can also provide outdoor living space that is typically not available to apartment dwellers. There may be room to set up a small garden, helpful to those who wish to eat healthy on a budget and/or have serious food allergies. Many people with a variety of disabilities benefit from a service or emotional support animal; a tiny house with a small yard can provide a safe space for animals and remove the hassle of getting accommodations from a landlord who may not understand the law.
In addition to sensory and mental health conditions, some people with physical disabilities can negotiate the space in a typical tiny house, perhaps with a few modifications. People who are blind or have low vision could benefit from a smaller space that provides easily identifiable paths and tactile guidance via surfaces, handles, etc. People with mild mobility disabilities or whose challenges include fatigue may benefit from a reduced need to walk in the house, and handrails and other supports can be provided for added safety. Instead of putting the bedroom in a loft as is common in tiny houses, it can be on the first floor, with the loft space eliminated or used for storage or a guest room.