Disability and Accessibility

From My Wiki

Disabled people are one of a number of groups who find it difficult to access suitable housing. By setting up a co-op, you have the opportunity to shift this trend and not only create a house which is more accessible, but also allows a wider variety of folk to participate in co-operative living. Creating accessible spaces can seem daunting or overwhelming, but it is worth the effort of doing some research and implementing modifications to allow more people to get involved with co-ops.

When considering accessibility, remember that no single place will be accessible for all disabled people. Sometimes something which is good for one kind of disabled person actually makes things harder for someone with a different disability. For example, one person may rely on a service dog, while another person has a fur allergy and cannot live in the same house as a dog. This is known as competing access needs. In situations like these, it’s best to either try to find a compromise which involves alternating the priorities of different folks, or if that is impossible, to attempt to meet the needs of as many people as possible, especially those of folk who are already involved in your co-op.

Here are some suggestions to make housing co-ops more accessible. Again, it would be impossible to implement them all, and the suggestions themselves do not cover every single eventuality for every type of disability. When thinking about accessibility, it is always a good idea to consult the people directly affected. If you have a disabled co-op member, or potential member, ask them about their access needs – they may tell you about things you had never even considered. At the same time recognise that it is not the sole responsibility of disabled people to make spaces accessible – think about all the things you do know and can offer to others. Making places accessible should be a collaborative effort between disabled folk and their allies; making disabled people’s lives easier and widening access should be a priority for anyone seeking ways to live differently, in a co-op or otherwise!

Before buying or building a property


  • General structure of the co-op and how the living spaces are laid out. Although many housing co-ops resemble house-shares on a surface level, this might not be the most accessible way to live for some disabled people. Cohousing, where individuals have their own self-contained living quarters, may be better for some.
  • What kind of property you plan on buying, and whether structural adjustments can be made to make it more accessible. If you are self building, it is much easier to build a property that is accessible from the start, as opposed to later having to retrofit accommodations.
  • Location of the property or the land that you are planning on purchasing. Does it have good public transport links, and is there a parking space, or the possibility for one? Is it on the side of a very steep hill? Where are the nearest food shops, doctors surgeries, and other amenities? All of these factors can make a place more or less accessible to its inhabitants.
  • When setting your rent level, we recommend choosing an amount which can be fully covered by housing benefit.  As disabled people are more likely to be unemployed, finding affordable rent can often be tricky.
  • Can you allow disabled members to pay their rent on a different day of the month to account for their benefits schedule?

Physical considerations

There are many physical adaptations and modifications which can be made to a building to increase accessibility and to ensure that disabled members can fully participate in using the space.

Modifications for wheelchair users include:

  • widening doorways
  • installing grab bars
  • installing a lift
  • level access across the ground floor, including a bathroom and bedroom
  • adapted bathroom with walk-in bath
  • lowered work surfaces in the kitchen
  • step-free access into the house and garden
  • installing ceiling hoists
  • smart-controlled gas and electric systems
  • off-street parking space
  • installing an intercom with video and/or remote door opening
  • lowering the height of switches/ outlets
  • low-level windows and window handles

There are some good guides online about making houses wheelchair accessible, such as the Lifetime Homes Design Guide and the Wheelchair Housing Design Guide by Habinteg

There are many other ways to make a space physically accessible for non-wheelchair users.

Chemical sensitivity can be triggered by cleaning products, paint, perfume, carpets, furniture and more – can some of these items be removed from the house or swapped for less offensive versions? Is there mould present? If so, can it be permanently removed and the building damp-proofed? Which known allergens are present and can any of them also be removed?

Lever door handles are better for those with reduced grip.

A light-up doorbell is useful for D/deaf and hard-of-hearing folk.

Can you offer the quietest bedroom in the house to your autistic member, or anyone else with noise sensitivity?

Could you provide written information about the co-op in large-text font, Braille, or a dyslexia-friendly font ? OpenDyslexic is a good open source choice for this.

Other things to think about include: can the co-op provide room for an overnight or live-in carer? How would this carer fit in with the daily life of the co-op? Does the co-op allow animals? Some disabled people may need service or support animals to live with them.

Member recruitment

State in all adverts for new members that you particularly welcome disabled applicants and folk in receipt of benefits. In fact, it’s good general practice to encourage applications from all groups of people who are disadvantaged in finding housing, whether due to immigration status, race, gender and sexuality, having children or pets, and so on.

At all stages of the application process try to make things as accessible as possible.

Though it is unlikely that you can meet everyone’s needs all the time, making the effort greatly improve the experiences for disabled folks.

Adverts for potential co-op members should provide a summary of the accessibility topics covered in this guide, including:

  • Proximity to amenities
  • Physical layout of the building and possibilities for modifications
  • Any known allergens in the house (including pets
  • How food and cooking is organised
  • How many hours members are expected to work on co-op activity each month: include meetings, work days, and any scheduled social activities
  • Your commitment to prioritising disabled folk and working with them on these issues.

Be clear about what kind of information people should write about themselves in their introductory email. This helps everyone start their applications on an equal footing.

When offering visits to the co-op, try to organise a few different dates and times – weekdays, evenings, weekends – so that as many people as possible can attend. How much flexibility can you offer for these visits? Consider doing one-on-one visits for disabled applicants as this may make things easier for them. Can you provide BSL interpretation for open days?

During interviews, make sure to discuss the general vibe of the co-op: is it a quiet house or more social? Are there parties and do you have guests staying? If so, how often? When is it ok to veto these events? Are drugs and alcohol used in the space? The busy-ness of a house and the presence or absence of substances are both accessibility issues for a variety of disabled people.

Organisation of the co-op

Each co-op creates its own culture and it is often hard for new members to shift dynamics if they find aspects inaccessible. If issues are raised with ways things are done around co-op, try to be open-minded and flexible about potential changes, even if you did not consider it might be an issue.

Useful starting points to consider are:


  • Is the co-op vegan, vegetarian, or omnivorous?
  • Is all food shared communally? Some people cannot be vegan or vegetarian for health reasons, or have specific dietary needs which may not fit well with communal food. . How can you account for these differing needs within the structure of your co-op?
  • How is cooking organised? Some may need to eat at very specific times, which can cause issues if they are relying on other members of the household to cook
  • Do you have biases against prepared food and packaging? Prepackaged foods, ready meals, takeaways, online shopping, and using plastic straws can all assist disabled people in meeting their food needs. It is important to respect disabled folks' needs around food.


How are chores split up between members?

What are the shared expectations for the standard of chores? Is this sustainable?

Rotas can facilitate a more equal distribution of tasks, especially compared to "just do some cleaning when it looks dirty". It allows people to manage their energy and motivation, and reduces the need to mentally organise which cleaning to do.

However this does not work for all households, and it is good to have a back up plan or some flexibility - what happens when someone is unable to do their assigned chores?

Some disabled people will have carers and personal assistants who will do their share of the chores, and that this should count equally towards completion of house chores.

In some households, having a regular post in a shared group-chat about what chores need doing and have been done, or regular discussions over mealtimes, can help motivate others to get things done.

Commitment to the co-op

Consider more broadly how commitment to the co-op is measured.

Some kinds of work are often more valued in co-op life, such as DIY, cleaning, participating a lot in meetings, etc. Most of these tasks are easier for able-bodied and neurotypical people.

Think about how else folk can demonstrate passion and commitment to the co-op. This could be emotional labour-based things like not skipping work days or meetings, coming up with creative solutions to problems in the house, conflict resolution, organising events, checking in with others when they’ve had a bad day, remembering important dates and deadlines, and so on. It could also be the many computer, phone and paper based tasks which are now essential to running a co-op: doing accounts and financial planning, ordering communal food online, liaising with plumbers or electricians (and being at home to let them in), building relationships with other co-ops, preparing tenancy agreements, and so on. If it seems like someone is not contributing to the co-op, is there invisible labour that they are doing, unacknowledged? Or are they not aware of tasks which may be accessible to them?


How do you communicate with each other in the co-op? You might take particular ways of communicating for granted, eg. reading people via their body language or assuming that they are interested or listening because they are making eye contact. Remember that many folk communicate differently, particularly if they are neurodivergent. This includes people with ADHD, autistic folk and others. As much as possible, avoid making assumptions about peoples motivations or how much they care.

Consider using different ways to communicate amongst each other in the co-op. Some people find it easier to communicate by writing, such as instant messaging or email, rather than talking, particularly when discussing potentially stressful topics like interpersonal conflicts, accessibility needs, big changes in the co-op, and so on. Other people may struggle with reading and writing. Talk to your co-op members about their communication needs.

If verbal instructions or remembering important information are inaccessible for some, can you set up a system where reminders of rent payments and meeting dates/ times are sent out to everybody via text or email, and can this system include carers and personal assistants?

Social Inclusion

Integrating into a social group can be hard, especially for disabled folk. Consider how the co-op can make this process simpler. Consider having regular, scheduled social events for the co-op, with a clear start and finish time, either inside the house or at an accessible venue elsewhere.

Never plan a social event for the co-op at venues that are inaccessible for your members (or invited prospective members).

Consider having a buddy system for new members: not only should this help with the social side of things, it can also be useful to have a particular person to go to when you have questions about how the co-op runs. You could also have a rotating buddy system for things like work days, where co-op members with more knowledge of certain topics can share that information with newer members. If you do this, be clear about the buddy's responsibilities - having an assigned buddy who does not initiate contact can be more disheartening than not having one at all.


There is a lot that could be said on making meetings more accessible. Some key points are:

  • having a clear agenda with timings for each part of the discussion, and sticking to it
  • having a break if the meeting is longer than 90 minutes (or even if it is shorter, depending on participants’ needs)
  • ensuring everyone gets an equal chance to participate: use go-rounds or a talking object so that everyone gets a chance to speak, solicit input from quieter members of the group, recognise and modify accordingly your own behaviour if you have a tendency to dominate groups and/or take up lots of speaking time
  • providing opportunities to add and discuss written contributions
  • rotating responsibilities for minute-taking and facilitation
  • offering training in minute-taking and facilitation
  • Introduce yourself with pronouns where possible. It is no longer encouraged to make people to state their pronouns at the start of meetings, but normalising the statement of pronouns (even and especially if you are not trans) can make it easier for people to know that they can share theirs if they feel comfortable to.

Some flexibility around the timing of meetings might be required for people with different access needs. One member may need the chance to arrive late to some meetings because of disability. However, another disabled member may need to make sure that meetings always start on time to account for energy levels. There is no one right answer for this situation – it’s important that you find the method that works for your group.

Be clear and upfront also about unspoken agreements in the group, eg. if you have a regular work day that runs from 9am-3pm, but it is assumed that people will stick around until 5pm finishing tasks, state this explicitly. Not everyone can pick up on these unspoken social cues, and many people may not have the ability to stay longer than the agreed time.

As a new co-op member, and particularly if you are disabled or otherwise disadvantaged in society in general, it can be really difficult to participate in meetings, get your point across and ensure it is taken seriously. Whilst the above points can all help in increasing access and participation in meetings, it is crucial that existing co-op members are aware of this power dynamic and attempt to understand and work through it in their own time.