This month marks 26 years of the ground-breaking Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) taking effect. That legislation's mandates in employment, transportation, public accommodation, and communication didn't just make it easier for people with disabilities to receive an education and get a job. It also has created an ever-growing group of people with disabilities--combined with the ever-aging cohort of baby boomers--who will want to live in homes that provide assistance to overcome their own limitations.
The ADA not only has an impact on people it was set out to help, but also brings huge changes across the board. Builders, architects, and other professionals in many, if not all, fields of the construction world have been more or less influenced by this act. What we have now taken for granted-- including those tactile warning systems on sidewalks, wheelchair-friendly ramps at an entrance, and larger accessible-restrooms in almost every public building--never existed before the ADA. And these days, builders are starting to adopt new concepts such as universal design and are building more with accessibility in mind.
People with disabilities are still underserved in the construction industry however, especially in the residential segment. Homes with accessibility that meet the needs of people with disabilities are still deemed as a niche product by some builders, but this market can be more valuable and profitable than first thought. According to a report by the Census Bureau, 56.7 million people with a disability lived in the U.S. as of 2010, accounting for 19% of the total population. That figure, which increased by 2.2 million between 2005 and 2010, is expected to continue to grow in the future, creating a huge demand for accessible homes and opening up an incredible market for builders.
Thanks to the ADA, people with disabilities are empowered to be employed and grow a fortune of their own, although a wealth gap is still present. According to a 2014 American Community Survey, 64.5% of people with disabilities are living above 150% of the poverty level, compared to the 77.2% for total civilian non-institutionalized population. More than 30% of people with disabilities are making more than $35,000 a year, beating the median yearly earnings of $31,425 for people with no disability. With the help of historically low interest rates and above-median annual incomes, many people with disabilities can afford a home at some point of their life.
In the map shown above, we've highlighted the top 25 metropolitan statistical areas (MSAs) in the U.S. where the largest share of the disabled population (within each MSA) live at least 150% above the poverty line. Indeed, living above the poverty line does not necessarily mean everyone is ready to buy or remodel a home, but it could give construction professionals an indication of where to target potential clients for accessible dwellings.
As displayed in the interactive map, many of the top 25 markets displayed above are large metropolitan areas with better work opportunities, richer medical resources, and more disability-friendly public facilities, all leading to a friendlier environment for people with disabilities to work and live.