American Housing Survey and Disability

Disability is a regular part of the human experience that is created by the environments in which we live.  The mission of the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research (NIDRR) is to:

  1. improve the abilities of individuals with disabilities to participate in community activities of their choice and
  2.  enhance society's capacity to provide opportunities and accommodations for these individuals.

Housing accessibility is essential to community living and likely impacts people’s needs for personal assistant services, access to transportation, employment and healthcare services.  NIDRR, the Administration on Community Living (ACL) and HUD should work together to use the American Housing Survey to report on the needs and policy implications of housing access for people with disabilities.  Recent NIDRR grantees from the Research and Training Center on Community Living (The University of Kansas) and the Research and Training Center on Disability in Rural Communities (The University of Montana) reported results from the 2009 American Housing Survey about the basic housing accessibility needs of people with disabilities.  Their findings included:

  • Over 50% of households with someone who has “serious difficulty walking or climbing stairs” have steps at the entrance to the home.
  • Of these, 24% live in a multistory apartment building and over 45% climb a flight of stairs to get home (over 1 million people).
  • 12% of people who report “serious difficulty walking or climbing stairs” have no access to transportation with rural people vastly over represented.

We commend HUD for including the disability screening items that allow reporting of these data.  Results like these are of considerable value for estimating the magnitude of the housing access problem faced by people with disabilities that adversely affect their ability to participate in their communities.  We also commend HUD for developing and implementing the Home Accessibility module implemented in the 2011 AHS.  These initial efforts are essential steps to provide preliminary evidence to shape future housing policy that supports the national agenda on disability and community living. 

In the future, NIDRR could work with HUD to continue building on this important knowledge base by funding ongoing research on housing access using the AHS data, developing joint research projects with HUD and by providing technical assistance with item development related to cognitive testing and other conceptual issues.  For example, the AHS currently has one item for both scooters and power wheelchairs (ECHAIR).  With regard to home access, people who use power wheelchairs typically have greater accessibility needs because they cannot transfer independently.  These two groups should be distinguished from each other by querying power wheelchair and scooter separately.

The importance of housing access to people with disabilities can hardly be overstated as evidenced by the Fair Housing Act, Amended (1991).  As disability policy continues to address community participation as an essential outcome, the importance of housing will be imminent in these discussion and we encourage HUD to continue its development of access and disability data sources.