Filling the construction needs of the elderly and disabled


  • The elderly and disabled have similar accessibility needs.
  • Get to know accessibility requirements so you can serve as a valued resource to these population segments.
  • To really help the elderly and disabled it’s wise to stay informed on government programs designed to help them with the costs of accessibility needs.

There are over 52 million people in the U.S. older than 65, and their numbers will advance to over 70 million by 2030. The country’s total senior population is greater than the population of 25 states combined. That’s 16 percent of the entire U.S. population, and a larger share than those between 25-34 years of age. Many contractors are missing business and community opportunities by not looking into serving the elderly and disabled populations.

It’s no small market

While the elderly are more likely to be disabled, disabilities span all ages. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, almost 20 percent of the population reports having disabilities, and half of those have severe disabilities. About 31 million find it hard to walk or climb stairs, or they use mobility aids like wheelchairs, walkers and crutches. For 21 million it’s difficult to lift or grasp, and about 15 million have trouble doing necessary daily tasks like housework and preparing meals.

People with disabilities make up a $200 billion market in discretionary spending. About 20 million people who are 65 and older have disabilities, and 29 million aged 21-64 are disabled.

There is a huge demand for solutions to the challenges the disabled and elderly face everyday. Many want to stay in their homes and need help getting and keeping their homes livable. They often need exterior improvements like painting, siding, roofing, upgraded windows, landscaping and general maintenance.

Inside, the elderly and disabled need a wide range of improvements and accessible features. Better insulation, task lighting, moveable countertops, ramps, lower work surfaces, bathroom grab bars, accessible light switches, thermostats set at lower heights, lever style locksets, stair lifts, walk-in tubs, curbless showers, wider hallways, wider doorways, stepless entries and single-level living are just some of the features they are looking for (or find themselves needing unexpectedly).

Become the expert

One way to approach entering the market is to become an expert. Once you learn Americans with Disabilities Act requirements for public places you will see that businesses need creative contractors who can address the access needs of the elderly and disabled. It’s not cut and dried, because every location has unique elements. You have to customize ramps, doorways and bathrooms based on what’s already there.

To work directly with the elderly and disabled, the same applies. As the expert you can design solutions that deliver what they need by using what they already have.

Know financing options

There is also the challenging of financing and you can become an expert source for financing solutions, too. Tapping into government programs brings up many options.

Starting at age 62, people who own homes can tap into their equity using a Home Equity Conversion Mortgage (HECM). Sometimes called a reverse mortgage, this plan provides a lump sum or monthly payments to people who want to stay in their homes as they age while tapping into their home equity to cover living expenses, pay down debt, and perform home improvements.

One method of breaking into this renovation market is through lenders who create these types of mortgages. You might also let your services be known to HECM counselors in your area. People considering a HECM must meet with a counselor before applying for these types of mortgages.

Another little-known approach to financing home improvements that can help the elderly and disabled is the FHA’s Limited 203(k) program allowing homeowners to finance up to $35,000 to repair, improve, or upgrade their home. Included in the list of items that can be financed this way are accessibility upgrades. Improvements must be for at least $5,000 and the homeowner gets the mortgage through an approved FHA lender. Again, getting your name in front of lenders is one approach to the market.

Know improvement and repair options

There are also Title I Property Improvement Loans insured by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Interested parties apply at any financial institution that’s an approved lender. People can also use these loans in conjunction with Limited 203(k) financing. The Department of Veterans Affairs also has special programs for people who have served in the armed forces.

One way to assist the elderly and disabled in getting financing for their home improvements through the HECM, Limited 203(k) and Title I Property Improvement programs is to provide the information and contacts they need to begin qualifying for these financing options. By becoming a resource you position yourself as a helpful agent. Even if the homeowners don’t use financing from any of these programs, you’ve made an acquaintance who might someday need your services, or who might refer you to someone who does.

The Very Low-income Housing Repair Loans and Grants (Section 504) program provides help to people over 65 who have health and safety problems in their homes. Besides federally managed programs, states and municipalities also offer a range of programs to help people make their homes more energy efficient.

Get your name out there

Put your company in the forefront by listing it with organizations like Age In Place. Cultivate relationships with architects, and if you’re a subcontractor, let your contractor customers know you are up to speed on ADA-compliance requirements.

This is a very specialized market, and you have to become the expert to really excel in it. Once you do, though, it has great potential, if not as a primary market then as one to help fill in your down cycles.

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