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Children and adults with cerebral palsy live with disabilities their entire lives, but these do not have to limit them. It starts in the home, where families can make modifications that help a disabled child do anything that any other child would typically do, from being able to get to any part of the house to washing their own hands or brushing their teeth.
Today, most advocates for people with disabilities describe a concept of the home, as well as other environments, having barrier-free accessibility. This means that a person is only disabled to the extent that there are barriers to their functioning.
If the barriers are eliminated, such as providing a ramp instead of stairs for someone who uses a wheelchair, then the disability disappears. All parents want their children to have opportunities, and for those with cerebral palsy, that means living barrier-free. While parents cannot control all environments, they can control the home and eliminate its obstacles by implementing modifications.
What Are Home Modifications?
Home modifications are any changes made to the home that are done to remove the environmental barriers limiting someone with disabilities. When there are barriers in the home, it keeps a child from being independent and promotes isolation and a lack of participation. Any modifications that can accomplish the removal of these barriers improve a child’s life in all of these ways.
Examples of these modifications may include adding a ramp to the front of a home to allow accessibility with a wheelchair or walker, a lift for interior stairs, a lowered sink in the bathroom, or even just spacing furniture in such a way that someone with a mobility device can get around easily.
Physical Modifications for Homes
For a child with cerebral palsy, physical modifications inside the home are crucial to eliminating obstacles. Most children with this condition experience some degree of physical disability, from being unable to walk at all to needing assistance with walking and other movements.
A home needs to be as accessible to this child as any other person living in the home, and that means some physical modifications may need to be constructed.
Some of these modifications may be simple, like using rugs on hard floors with no-slip backings to prevent slips and falls. They may also be more complicated, such as installing a lighting system that signals when the doorbell or phone has rung for a child with hearing limitations. Here are some of the important considerations you need to make when modifying the interior of your home for a disabled child:
- Access into and out of the home
- Access throughout the entire home, which may mean eliminating steps or providing devices to go up and down steps
- Hallways and doorways that are sufficiently wide
- Easy access to at least one bathroom and the ability to use all parts of the bathroom
- Hard floors or low-pile carpeting
- Access to outlets and light switches
- The ability to open and close doors and windows
- Grab bars with reinforced walls
- Lever handles on doors or automatic openers
- Appropriate counter height in the bathroom and kitchen
Modifications and Legal Housing Rights
The Civil Rights Act of 1968 was amended in 1988 to include language that would prohibit discrimination in housing against people with disabilities. This meant that, after 1991, it became illegal to construct a multifamily dwelling, like an apartment building, that was inaccessible to someone with a disability. 
In 1991, the Fair Housing Act Guidelines were issued by the Department of Housing and Urban Development. These outlined the adaptations required for all buildings to be considered accessible , including:
- Access to common areas.
- Kitchens and bathrooms usable for someone with a disability
- Access into the building from the outside
- Access into a unit
- Doors wide enough for wheelchairs
- Outlets, light switches, and other controls placed at accessible locations
- Walls reinforced to hold grab bars
Because of these federal laws and guidelines, parents of children with disabilities like cerebral palsy also have been given a right to fair housing. You have a right not to be discriminated against when renting a home, which means you can’t be turned down because of your child’s disability, charged more because of it, or be offered a unit that does not meet the Fair Housing Act Guidelines.
Universal design is the concept that buildings and other environments, and even products, should be constructed with universal access in mind. This means designing products and spaces to be accessible by anyone with any disability or age-related limitations.
The term was coined, and the idea promoted by architect Ronald L. Mace. In addition to making everything accessible, the concept of universal design is to plan and construct spaces and products that also consider aesthetics. In other words, they are usable and accessible but also aesthetically pleasing.
Universal design is based on several principles that families can use to help guide the modifications they make to their homes for universal access:
- Equitable use, which means that the design of a space can be safely and effectively utilized by all people, disabled or not.
- Spaces and products should be flexible and allow for varied us by different users.
- Designs should be as simple as possible and intuitive. Unneeded complexity should always be eliminated.
- Designs should contain built-in safety features to minimize harm by preventing accidents.
- Designs need to be easily understood by people of all ability levels.
- Environments should be designed with enough space and products of the appropriate size to allow anyone to reach and use them.
- Designs should require minimal effort to operate a product or use a space.
Financing Home Modifications
For many parents, having a child with cerebral palsy comes with costs that they never imagined. These include home modifications, and they can add up quickly. You can privately fund these specialized alterations with your own money or with loans, but there are also sources of funding, such as grants and government monies that can assist with these expenses.
There are property improvement loans funded through the government, which are low-cost loans used for home renovations to accommodate a disabled person. In addition, there may be tax deductions available for these types of home improvements.
Some examples of financial resources for disability-related home modifications include the Federal Housing Administration (see below for additional information), Access Home Modification Program, the Center for Accessible Housing, the United Cerebral Palsy Association, and Centers for Independent Living. You can also check with your local and state governments and community organizations to seek additional funding.
Making changes to your home means giving your child greater access and independence. These, in turn, will provide enhanced self-esteem and confidence, promote inclusiveness, and innumerable additional benefits. Making changes may seem like a lot of work, but the benefits make it worth the effort.
HUD Homes and Modifications
As mentioned earlier, finding housing that meets the unique needs of people with cerebral palsy can be expensive. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) exists to help people in financial need to live in affordable homes and provides accommodations and modification options for disabled people. One way this is done is through developmental vouchers.  The vouchers cover:
-New Section 8 residential construction
-Housing assisted under Section 202 of the Housing Act of 1959
-Section 8 “substantial rehabilitation projects”
– Section 221(d)(3) of the National Housing Act bearing an interest rate under Section 221(d)(5) for financed houses under loan or mortgage
-Section 236 of the National Housing Act housing
-Section 8 HUD-owned projects
Federal recognizes people with disabilities as “any person who has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, has a record of such impairment, or is regarded as having such an impairment.”
You’ll need to apply directly (see sources) for a voucher for your eligibility to be determined, as cerebral palsy covers a broad spectrum, from extremely mild to very severe.
In general, vouchers are made available to people with disabilities, as well as those who care for people with disabilities. These vouchers are only available for families with low income who meet the income guideline qualifications. It is the family’s responsibility to find housing themselves to meet the requirements for a voucher.
The vouchers cover “30 percent of family income and PHA (Public Housing Authority) -determined payment standard or gross rent, whichever is lower.” To apply and for additional requirements information, contact your local PHA.
Eligibility for People with Disabilities Buying HUD Homes
The following requirements must be met if you or a family member are looking to buy a HUD home for the first time:
-No family member can have present ownership “interest in a residence” during the last 3 years. Exceptions can be made for single parents or “displaced homemakers” who owned a home while they were still married.
-There must be a person with a qualified disability in the family with no exception.
Minimum requirements for disabled families:
-Monthly SSI benefits should be multiplied by 12 to get the minimum income requirement (Examples: individual income: $710/mo. x 12 = $8,520/Couples: $1,066 x 12 = $12,792).
-Eligibility is also based on HUD income limits or PHA minimum income standards. Other requirements may apply if families have not been prequalified or pre-approved for home financing that already meets PHA requirements.
- Fair Housing Act. (2015, August 6). The United States Department of Justice.
Retrieved from: https://www.justice.gov/crt/fair-housing-act-2
- Fair Housing Act accessibility guidelines. (n.d.). U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).
Retrieved from: https://www.hud.gov/sites/dfiles/FHEO/documents/1991FH%20Accessibility%20Guidelines.pdf
- Certain developments vouchers - Vouchers for persons with disabilities - HUD. (n.d.). U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Retrieved from: https://www.hud.gov/program_offices/public_indian_housing/programs/hcv/pwd/certain