Finding Apartments For Paraplegics

What I’ve done

When it comes to finding an apartment for yourself (if in a wheelchair) or anyone else in a wheelchair, there’s a lot to consider and it’s not easy.

Let’s set the context: I was in Michigan and looking for apartments in the Denver, CO area. This is already a good bit easier since the city and the surrounding area (Boulder, Broomfield, etc.) has a large population and thus a good economy for options. The second thing is that I was doing this remotely and I would NOT be doing any apartment tours. Why? Because I was in Michigan and it wasn’t worth it for me to go to Colorado and spend multiple days doing tours of apartments, also I was in university and once I was done, I went to Europe.

THE very first thing you need to do is assess what’s the bare minimum you NEED in terms of accessibility. For me, since I’m fortunate to be on the lower side of needing accessibility, this is just that I need to be able to get around the apartment (this is a big one for everyone) and be able to have a shower.

Here’s what we’re looking for in terms of accessibility:

  • Sizes (large enough to spin around, etc. with the wheelchair that, for me, that’s a 3ft x 2ft rectangle, and to spin around I’ll need a 3ft diameter circular area minimum)
    • Bathroom
    • Bedroom + Closet
    • Kitchen
    • Entrance
  • Shower type – bath, walk-in, etc.
  • Kitchen layout
    • Sink
    • Fridge
    • Counter space
    • General style
    • Microwave (if one comes with the apartment, and is it high above the stove?)
  • Elevator?
  • The building entrance is accessible?

Now we shall elaborate and discuss how I searched for apartments

To start, I used apartments.com. I found the most filters here and it works well. The first thing I did was go to the general location and look at all the apartments in the area as a whole. The next few filters are for the price, move-in date, and room count (2bd 2ba for me) if this doesn’t matter then skip it. After that I filtered for “wheelchair accessible” and this will show you the apartments worth calling for one important reason: if they care enough to put it in their end of the system, they’ll care enough to treat you well and the rest of the apartment campus is likely to be accessible-friendly. For me, this reduced the number of apartments by about 70-80%. Ouch.

When you filter by “wheelchair accessible,” what you see are the apartment complexes that OFFER wheelchair accessible rooms, not that they have them available.

Here’s the important stuff:

  • I look at every apartment left after my filters (I also added an in-unit washer/dryer, a stricter location (<10miles from work), and the desired move-in date. )
  • I look at every apartment and look through the pictures, here’s what I look for:
    • Stairs in the apartment (some have lofts and I don’t want that)
    • What the apartment campus looks like (stairs?)
    • What type of showers are there? walk-in or tub?
    • Is the kitchen open or closed (closed looks like a hallway with stove and sinks along the sides)
  • I save the apartments that look nice and spacious because remember that even if they have wheelchair accessible rooms, they might not be available. (in my case, I couldn’t find any that fit my basic (price, date, bedrooms) filters and were wheelchair accessible).
  • I call/email each apartment and here’s what I ask:
    1. Do you have any wheelchair accessible rooms (just in general)?
      • If yes: are any of them 2 bed?
      • Will any of them be available around X date?
      • What are the changes made to make it accessible?
      • Do you have an elevator? (maybe I want to visit the other floors and see friends)
    2. If no, then they lied on their page because we filtered for wheelchair accessible rooms

One place I called had an accessible apartment but there were stairs leading into it. Shame.

As an aside, you can see most of this from the website (apartments.com or the apartment’s). But I always ask about rooms available, wheelchair access, etc. because the websites aren’t always updated each day. You should be able to see which apartments are available and the layout.

What I did was look at the floor plans of every apartment that was 2bd 2ba, available at my move-in date, within my price range, near my work office, had wheelchair accessible rooms, and had an in-unit washer/dryer. This sounds like a lot of filters, but honestly, there were a lot of options and adding these reduced the amount of apartments to about 20, which is plenty to call.

  • If the apartment has wheelchair accessible rooms but none are available, the next thing is to ask what IS available (within the given filters of 2bd 2ba, etc.) (we can usually see this online).
  • Once I know that they have 2bd 2ba rooms, though not wheelchair accessible, I then ask for floor plans with measurements.
  • If they don’t have measurements, take a look at the floor plan and then ask for measurements
    • Here’s what I look for in a floorplan:
    • Can I turn around in the bathroom(s)? For the wheelchair I use, this requires about 3-4ft between the closest walls (minimum).
    • Can I turn around in the kitchen? Some of the thin hallway-style kitchens would be a 1 way in, 1 way out.
    • Are the doors wide enough? 32 inches is the standard ADA width, ask them to measure this for every door unless they know
    • What type of showers are there? A tub or walk-in and does the walk-in have glass doors, or is it a curtain?
    • Where is the toilet location? This is a big one, the best thing is to have a toilet you can approach from the side and with sufficient room around it.

Basically, what I’m doing in my head and what you could do on paper, is having a scale layout of the apartment, and then place the “square,” that is the wheelchair, everywhere possible and see if it gets stuck or can’t turn around.

I know this is a lot, and I repeated myself to make sure the important points were driven home. It starts with knowing what you need and then being smart about finding it and ensuring all the details are covered. If you can visit, that’s good, but still calling and asking these questions will help find the places worth visiting.

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