Importance of Elevators for Universal Housing

Patricia Silva, PhD avatar

by Patricia Silva, PhD |

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elevators in housing

Make Change Happen
You might think that the Fair Housing Act required multifamily buildings to have elevators, but no, it doesn’t. A multifamily dwelling of four units that does not have an elevator is not required to have one. However, the ground floor units must be fully accessible (no steps). Policies like this cut the available housing stock for disabled people in half. How is that FAIR?

For equal access to housing, all housing would have to be accessible, designed to universal design standards. This would benefit everyone, just as the “curb cut effect” helped many people at street crossings.

Would you take an elevator or stairs?

Cost is the primary argument against mandating all multistory residences, including single-family dwellings, to have elevators. However, the cost would decrease with mandatory requirements, vastly enlarging the demand.

Truly fair housing requires all homes that are multistory, and all multifamily multistory dwellings, no exceptions, to have elevators.

Hear me out

Able-bodied people can choose from all available housing, even housing with elevators and universal design features. They can visit any family or friends living in any kind of home. People with multiple sclerosis (MS) often do not have that luxury.

Another feature that able-bodied people can manage, like basement laundry rooms accessible only by stairs, are usually assets for them. Actually, having no in-home laundry facilities has a disproportionate negative impact on people with disabilities and other vulnerable groups.

“Aging in place” would be much more possible with residential elevators. Mandating elevators for future housing would mean everyone could age in place.

Residential elevators cost too much now because the demand is artificially low. This creates a negative feedback loop: People don’t put in residential elevators because they are too expensive, and residential elevators are expensive because there is no demand.

The following quote is from a report by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Accessibility of America’s Housing Stock: An Analysis of the 2011 American Housing Survey (AHS).”

“A quarter century later, our analysis of United States (U.S.) housing data suggests that although around a third of housing in the U.S. is potentially modifiable for a person with a mobility disability, currently less than five percent is accessible for individuals with moderate mobility difficulties and less than one percent of housing is accessible for wheelchair users.

The availability of accessible housing is critical to enable people with disabilities to live independent lives with a minimal amount of support. It is also essential to enable people with disabilities to participate in society by visiting the homes of friends and family. Housing that meets the needs of people with disabilities is increasingly important for the U.S. as the population ages.”

Less than 1 percent of housing stock is accessible for wheelchair users.

ADA is not a building code

The ADA responds to civil rights needs. With rugged individualism the pride of the nation, and the sacrosanct nature of private property, some would resist mandatory elevators. Bathrooms are expensive too, but that won’t be a feature eliminated from building requirements any time soon.

We could change that by bringing attention to the advantages of universal design housing at every level of government and pitching it to developers. Maybe even talking to elevator companies about increasing options for residential housing elevators.

Click and see the possibilities

Here’s a video of  a clear tube for one person to stand up in, though that wouldn’t meet our needs with wheelchairs without enlarging it. Visilift, a home elevator manufacturer, has a video of a woman with severe knee problems that made stairs in her home impossible. Their octagonal version at 48 inches square might fit a wheelchair. Being able to fit in a tube with a toddler would be good, too!

Ah-ha, a company called Pneumatic Vacuum Elevators has an elevator that will fit a wheelchair! No surprise that they are located in Florida. Elevator Ready also has elevators for outside access.

It’s not all or nothing

Changing home requirements to at least mandating the space for a potential elevator to be added (used for closets otherwise) would help, but would probably double the cost burden for a buyer with disabilities to install after purchasing.

People with disabilities and others will never have a chance for fair housing unless we persuade municipalities and developers that it will pay off on the primary sale and resale value.

But first, we need to start the discussion!


Note: Multiple Sclerosis News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Multiple Sclerosis News Today or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to multiple sclerosis.


Brian Thompson, Programs Manager avatar

Brian Thompson, Programs Manager

Hi Paula, Thank you for this great article. Can Do Multiple Sclerosis is a non-profit that provides resources to people living with MS. We received a question from a program participant about elevators. I wanted to get your permission to provide this article. Thank you!

Goutam kundusa avatar

Goutam kundusa

This article is great. It was so informative and keep sharing this type of articles.


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