Modern Era Accessibility Features Reports


 Debbi Conrad  |    January 10, 2022
Modern Era Accessibility

The number of people in Wisconsin and in the United States with a temporary or permanent special need or disability is growing. Due to advances in medical technology, people are living longer and there are increasing numbers of persons with disabilities.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 993,009 adults in Wisconsin have a disability. This is equal to 21%, or one in five adults, in Wisconsin. In terms of distinct types of disability, the CDC breakdown with regard to different types of disability is shown below.

Percentage of Wisconsin adults with select functional disability types

  • Mobility: Serious difficulty walking or climbing stairs: 10%
  • Cognition: Serious difficulty concentrating, remembering, or making decisions: 10%
  • Independent living: Serious difficulty doing errands alone, such as visiting a doctor’s office: 5%
  • Hearing: Deafness or serious difficulty hearing: 5%
  • Vision: Blind or serious difficulty seeing, even when wearing glasses: 3%
  • Self-care: Difficulty dressing or bathing: 3% 

Source: www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/disabilityandhealth/impacts/wisconsin.html

Many people with disabilities are the elderly and service members returning from Iraq, Afghanistan and other engagements who are suffering from disabilities. Their survival rate is greater than with any other war or conflict in United States history due to the advances in medical technology, evacuation procedures, on-site medical personnel, and advances in both body and vehicle armor.

But by no means are disabilities the exclusive domain of the elderly and service members. People across all ages, cultures and socioeconomic backgrounds may have disabilities resulting from illness or injury. Technological and medical innovations also mean many people with disabilities successfully live in the community, rather than in a care facility such as a nursing home, hospital or assisted living, and are active homebuyers.

Finding homes for persons with disabilities is typically a challenging endeavor. Many homes often are not very accommodating to a person with a physical or mobility impairment. Obviously, accessibility is important to all persons with disabilities when it comes to the homes they purchase and rent. It also is a consideration for people who have family members or friends with disabilities who will frequently visit and for consumers who want to have a home where everybody can visit in the years to come, regardless of whatever special need they might have.

What is accessible?

Whether or not a home is accessible depends upon the nature and extent of one’s disability. In general, disabilities may include a physical or mental disability such as hearing, mobility, speech and visual impairments; cerebral palsy; autism; epilepsy; muscular dystrophy; mental or emotional illness; HIV; mental retardation; cancer; heart disease and many more.

As a practical matter, an accessible home is one that enables an individual to do what he or she needs and desires to do as independently as possible. For some, access may be as simple as adding grab bars and a tub seat in the bathroom. For wheelchair users, access may require ramping entrances, widening doorways, lowering counters, adding lever or loop-style hardware to doors and drawers, and modifying storage areas. Individuals with hearing disabilities may require visual adaptations for the telephone ringer, the doorbell and smoke alarms. People who are blind may require tactile markings of changes in floor levels and stair edges as well as Braille markings on appliances and controls. People with low vision may be accommodated with large print markings and displays, contrasting colors to distinguish changes in level or transition from one area to another, proper lighting, and reduced glare from lighting and windows.

Too often the terms “accessible” or “accessibility” are tossed about without any underlying common understanding of what they exactly mean. Because there are no clear and concise definitions, the terms may be used inconsistently and indiscriminately. What one person says is accessible may be rejected by another as having too many barriers. The listing firm might advertise a property as accessible and when the selling agent and buyer go there, they discover it simply will never work because the doorways are too narrow for the buyer’s wheelchair and the buyer will never be able to open and close all of the double-hung windows, which would be too expensive for the buyer to replace. The parties and the agents could avoid getting their hopes up and wasting their time if they had more detailed information in advance. 

New accessibility features report options

An Accessibility Features Report (AFR) is a property condition report designed to identify features that may be desirable to a homebuyer with disabilities. AFRs don’t represent that a property is accessible. 

Instead, the WRA AFRs include a listing of different features that may be important for a person with special needs. These specific features or property attributes are included in a grid where the seller may check corresponding boxes for “Yes” if the feature is present, “No” if the feature is not present or “Not Sure.” If a seller is not familiar with a feature or has doubt about whether it accurately describes their home, they need not stress or undergo an investigation and may instead just indicate they are not sure. Some of the items include measurements, generally in regard to whether a person using a wheelchair can comfortably enter the home and the first-floor rooms, navigate the hallways, and be able to successfully maneuver and turn around in key areas such as the bathroom and kitchen. Most of these items might be fairly easily measured, but sellers are not required to undertake a dimensional survey.

The AFRs strive for a balance between the detailed information that is most useful to a buyer with special needs and the comfort of sellers who are gracious enough to complete an additional form and help real estate licensees better serve buyers and renters with disabilities.

The WRA Cultural Diversity in Housing Committee has worked to create two new versions of the AFR that take into account smart technology features and look to address features desired by persons with vision and hearing impairments in addition to those with mobility concerns.

Basic sellers’ accessibility features report

The WRA Basic Sellers’ Accessibility Features Report is two pages long and focuses on physical features or attributes of the seller’s home that would tend to be of the greatest interest to a buyer with mobility concerns, although the items regarding motions sensors, good illumination and strobe light alerts will appeal to a broader spectrum. The check box items run through the middle of the second page where the seller will see a box where they may enter additional accessibility features and comments.

The prompt suggests they might enter information regarding “smart home technology features; motion detectors; rocker light switches; anti-scald valves; non-glare windows, flooring and work surfaces; compact fluorescent and/or LED lighting; detachable hand-held showerhead; chair lift or elevator; carbon monoxide detector(s) on every floor and in the basement, 5 feet above the floor or on the ceiling, within 10 feet of sleeping areas; smoke and fire detector(s) on every level; webcam surveillance of the exterior and/or of the interior; emergency egress windows with minimum opening area of 5.7 square feet and 44-inch maximum sill height above floor (per International Building Code) and other features making this home accessible for specific needs.”

Seller's accessibility features report

The WRA Sellers’ Accessibility Features Report is five pages long, is in slightly larger font, and includes more property features that persons with vision and hearing disabilities may desire, as well as those with mobility challenges. Reading through the report is sure to educate everyone about all the various features that potentially may be incorporated in a home to make it more comfortable for persons with different special needs. It is sure to open the eyes of parties and licensees alike to all of the technological advancements that have been made over the years and all of the miraculous features a buyer may wish to install in a property if they were interested in remodeling or retrofitting a home that has basic features but that can be adapted to further accommodate additional needs.

Each WRA AFR concludes with spaces for the sellers’ signatures and a place for buyers to initial to indicate they have received and read the report should the parties include the AFR in their transaction.

Keep in mind that the AFRs are tools and a seller or listing agent may select whatever report form they believe will be best in the situation and that will most closely encompass the attributes, dimensions and physical features of the particular home listed for sale.

The two new AFR forms may be found in zipForm and on the WRA Customers with Disabilities resource webpage at www.wra.org/Disabilities.

Using AFRs in the MLS

A licensee who lists a property with potential for a person with disabilities may request that the seller complete an AFR and then mention the completed AFR in the MLS listing. Many of the MLSs serving Wisconsin have a check box item in their residential property profile sheets for an accessibility features report. In addition, using the AFR as an associated document in the MLS allows easy access for those who are interested in learning more. The cooperating broker can review the AFR and get a better idea of the special needs features the listed property might have. Any person considering a property based upon an AFR should most definitely follow up to inspect and evaluate the property for him or herself. 

Being able to direct a buyer with disabilities to properties with special features desired by that person exhibits a high level of professional real estate services.

For more information about providing services to persons with special needs, review Legal Update 01.03, “Providing Good Customer Service to Persons with Special Needs” at www.wra.org/LU0103.

Debbi Conrad is Senior Attorney and Director of Legal Affairs for the WRA.

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