Independent Living for People With Disabilities

  • March 12th, 2024

Young man who uses wheelchair cooking spaghetti in his kitchen.

People with disabilities, regardless of age, often face barriers to living on their own. However, a variety of community-based options present an alternative to long-term care facilities, helping individuals with disabilities maintain autonomy.

Barriers to Independent Living

Certain disabilities can make it difficult for an individual to remain in their home or community. This, in turn, may put them at risk of living in an institution or facing homelessness.

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The United States lacks safe, affordable, and accessible housing for many across the disability community. For example, less than 1 percent of housing in the U.S. is wheelchair-accessible. According to The Arc, about 4.8 million people with disabilities have extremely low incomes, often further limiting their options.

People with disabilities may need assistance with activities of daily living (ADLs), such as dressing, bathing, or performing household chores. They may also need support managing their condition, requiring assistance with medication and treatment.

Some disabilities can progress, posing another level of complexity for individuals who wish to remain in their homes. According to AARP, a quarter of older disabled adults need more help with ADLs than they receive. If no family member is available to provide care, living alone safely may prove near impossible.

Under federal law, persons with disabilities have the right to live in their community, rather than an institutional setting. Even though many deeply value their independence, they remain likely to confront numerous obstacles to living on their own.

Adults with disabilities who are 50 and older are no different. AARP found that many of them would rather live at home than in nursing or assisted living facilities. They desire control over their long-term supportive services. Likewise, they prefer to handle their own payments and follow schedules that suit their individual needs.

Types of Independent Living Options

Various independent living services can help people with disabilities maintain autonomy and quality of life. Securing certain supportive services and modifying one’s living space to make it more accessible are among the options. For many individuals with disabilities, this can give them what they need to live on their own in their homes.

In-home caregivers and home health aides can provide needed services. In select states, Medicaid covers such long-term care services and support in homes or communities. These supports may be available through state Home and Community-Based Services (HCBS) waivers. However, people in many states face lengthy waiting lists.

Modifying one’s home to make it more accessible also can allow them to stay in their community. Adaptations may include adding a wheelchair ramp or support bars in the bathroom.

Living near family members is an option for those who cannot live alone. For example, accessory dwelling units (ADU) provide the individual with the disability proximity to family while offering independence.

An ADU is a small unit located in a freestanding home. A garage apartment, tiny house in the backyard, or mother-in-law suite can allow a disabled person to enjoy independence. At the same time, their family members living on-site check in on them and provide care. Supplemental Security Income (SSI) recipients may be able to use their benefits to pay rent to the homeowner, helping to offset caregiving costs.

Remaining at home or living adjacent to family may not be feasible for everyone. Additional alternatives to long-term care facilities can offer affordable and accessible housing:

  • The Department of Housing and Urban Development operates the Section 811 Supportive Housing for Persons with Disabilities Program. Section 811 subsidizes housing for low-income adults with serious disabilities. It must be accessible to people who use wheelchairs or have mobility problems.
  • Some states have programs in place that “cluster” apartments for people with certain disabilities or health conditions. In supported living within a cluster, individuals reside in apartment settings with shared common areas. Typically, they have a private room, a bathroom, and a kitchenette; they share a larger cooking area and living room.
  • Scattered-site housing developments for people with disabilities disperse affordable, accessible housing throughout communities. Scattering the units throughout a community prevents one area of public housing from becoming stigmatized.
  • Through host homes, also known as adult foster care, families open their homes to individuals with developmental disabilities. The host family provides a supportive, nurturing environment for the individual, offering meals, help with ADLs, and companionship.

Other Resources

  • Innovative smart home initiatives are empowering people with disabilities to reside in their own space without live-in support. One nonprofit in Ohio piloting these kinds of supports have safely decreased staffing by 65 percent. Pennsylvania is another state that has a similar project underway.
  • The Centers for Independent Living promote community living and independence for people with disabilities, advancing equal opportunities and self-determination. These programs supply tools, resources, and assistance for fully involving people with disabilities in their communities. Education on legal rights, relocation from institutions, and assistance in finding housing area among the available services. View a list of Centers for Independent Living by state.
  • A special needs planner can assist people with disabilities and their loved ones with securing housing. Contact a local, qualified special needs attorney near you today.

Created date: 03/12/2024


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