Justin smiling, Dad with vest and helmet, empty living room
Accessibility (#A11y), Advocacy

Apartment accessibility report

The quest

I’ve been on hold for the past 18 months in searching for my own place. My goal is to live in my own apartment with the supports I need to make that a reality. The first part of this is to actually find an apartment. I’m not off to a great start. Read all about how an “accessible” apartment was not at all accessible for me and probably a lot of others who are looking for wheelchair accessible or universal design in apartments. We were excited to find a new affordable apartment building opening in St. Paul that said they had “ADA accessible” units available. And even more excited to have the opportunity to go tour the units.

The tour

Pictures are worth a thousand words, right? Mom, dad, and I headed to the apartment building. Kind of cool to get to wear a vest and hard hat since it’s still under construction. These apartments are brand new! How exciting to think about living in my own apartment. I’m 23-years-old and love living at home with my parents, but really would love to live on my own.

So, what did we discover?

  • There are 99 units available, 2 of which are considered “ADA Accessible,” 1 studio and 1 one-bedroom apartment. I will need a one-bedroom apartment so I’m not tripping over my caregivers and have space for an overnight caregiver. So, of the 99 apartments in this building, one of them might work for me.
  • “ADA accessible” to the developer means something entirely different than what “wheelchair accessible” or “universal design” means to me.

What worked?

  • The apartment had a lovely view looking towards St. Paul. It has a restaurant next door and Mexican Market across the street. It’s very close to Gillette Lifetime Clinic and to downtown St. Paul.
  • The woman who arranged for the tour and helped answer questions was very helpful and responsive. She didn’t have the floor plans for the accessible units or information about whether there was a roll-in shower which is what would have been helpful. She did reach out and have us come and look at the apartments.
  • It’s all very new and modern.
  • It’s section 42 affordable housing.
  • Covered parking is available.
  • There is one elevator available.

What didn’t work? This is a longer list…

  • Entrance to the building
    • There was a push button but seemed to have the bare minimum width to meet ADA guidelines. A wider door would have been nice.
    • You may notice how I barely fit through the doorway in the picture. Yes, meets some ADA requirements, but could it be better and more user-friendly? Wider doors work better for me and my long arms.
Justin in his wheelchair and his dad exiting doorway, automatic door caution sticker on door
My power wheelchair barely fits through the automatic door opening
  • Bathroom
    • Not large enough for a wheelchair to turn around or to even get all the way in.
    • Absolutely no room in bathroom for my adaptive toilet/shower chair.
    • Didn’t have a roll-in shower and if they did, the sink would have been covering up half of the shower entrance making it difficult to access.
    • The shower bench didn’t fit properly in the tub. It appears that you’re supposed to dangle your legs outside the tub which means water is going all over.
    • Shower sprayer didn’t appear long enough.
    • Pocket door, although a nice space saving idea, has a lock on it, that takes away about 4 inches of clearance to get through the door
  • Hallway to shower
    • Why? This hallway and turn to the bathroom was difficult to navigate. Why waste valuable space in a small apartment (approx 700 square feet) with a hallway? It’s a huge waste of space! And not something you want to be navigating if you need to get to a bathroom in the middle of the night, or ever.
    • Laundry closet in the hallway. What’s wrong with this picture? The washer juts out making it impossible to close the closet door. Maybe the washer wasn’t pushed back all the way???
  • Bedroom
    • Have to turn into the hallway and then turn into bedroom rather than just driving straight in.
    • Space is smaller because of the addition of the hallway and then carving out a separate closet in the bedroom cutting down on square footage.
    • Difficult to place a bed in the room and transfer from a wheelchair to shower chair or lift.
  • Kitchen and living room were still under construction
    • We didn’t look that closely since I won’t be using the kitchen. My caregiver will.
    • The island in the kitchen seemed too large and made the entry into the apartment pretty tight. I would rather just have the open space without an island because there’d be more space for moving around.

What about a non-accessible apartment?

The floorplan we walked through for the non-accessible apartment would have been more accessible than the ADA apartment. With a roll-in shower and maybe another foot or two taken from the closet and added to the bathroom, this layout would have worked for me. And probably a lot cheaper to build than their “ADA accessible” apartment.

  • The doorway to get into the bedroom was easier to navigate because there was no hallway.
  • The bedroom space was larger and not chopped up with a bunch of corners and closet.
  • There was a walk-through closet directly to the bathroom with no hallway corners to navigate
  • There was a 2nd door out of the bathroom that made it easier to go in one way and out the other because without adding another couple feet to the bathroom there isn’t room to turn my power chair around.

What’s next

  • Keep looking. I have more requests in with some other apartments to see if they have any wheelchair accessible apartments with roll-in showers.
  • Start advocating for changes in building code requirements that outline what constitutes universal or barrier-free design that works for wheelchair users or anyone with mobility needs. Also, require a certain percentage of units to be universally accessible in new construction. More than the 2% in the apartment building we toured would be lovely.
  • Help spread the word – Design for accessibility from the start! If public funding and support is going towards building affordable housing or incentives for market-rate housing, make sure there are wheelchair accessible apartments that work for people who actually use wheelchairs!

3 thoughts on “Apartment accessibility report”

  1. Hi Justin,

    I found your post to be very interesting and informative. Actually- AWESOME and thank you for the pictures. I too, have faced issues and problems with finding affordable/accessible housing here in Colorado and am currently going through recertification to hopefully remain in the house I am currently renting and to remain in the community of my choice. Let me know if you would like assistance or would like to collaborate. I am available through Face Time and Zoom, and phone calls.

    Thank you for your continued advocacy for people with disabilities.

    Jennifer Keelan-Chaffins


    Liked by 1 person

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