WheelPad: Making Accessible Housing Easier than Ever

By Mark Ogilbee posted 02-02-2023 08:51 PM


AgeTech Collaborative™ startup participant WheelPad makes personal accessible dwellings that can rapidly make any property a safe and cozy universally accessible place. Their goal is to give people more housing choice when seeking to stay in their home as they age, or any time they want to quickly add more square footage for a growing or changing family. 

Director of growth R.J. Adler spent time telling us about WheelPad, its products and his vision for the accessory dwelling unit industry as a whole.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length. 


Please tell us about WheelPad. 

WheelPad is a modular accessible housing company based in Wilmington, Vermont. Our products can be installed rapidly on any property in the country to make that property accessible. 


Can you describe one of your WheelPad models for us? 

Our smallest product is a bedroom-and-bathroom attachment that we call SuitePAD. The bathroom is a full wet room, with plenty of space for an aide if the person needs assistance, and there’s a track in the ceiling to help with transitions from one side of the room to another. There are oodles of other universal design techniques and practices inside. 


What need are you meeting with Wheelpad? 

We want to help families that are looking to make their home more accessible for any number of reasons: Maybe you want an aging parent to live with you and not in a nursing home. Maybe someone has had a traumatic accident, but their own home isn’t accessible. Or maybe an aging adult just wants to age in place. 


What are some other details that make WheelPad units accessible? 

We look at the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) as a baseline — but for us, accessibility means more than having wide doors or a ramp. The inside of a WheelPad has been designed and redesigned. We’ve worked with customers, occupational and physical therapists, architects and doctors to really understand what universal design is. 

For example, the ADA says electrical outlets need to be 18 inches off the ground. But we actually have a wheelchair in our design studio, and we know it’s difficult to unplug something from a seated position when the outlets are at 18 inches. So all our outlets are 30 inches off the ground.  

The ADA says that a shower stall can be no smaller than 30” by 60”. That's not a lot of room if you need to have a shower chair or an aide to help you. So we build a full wet room: The entire bathroom is a place where you can shower and have plenty of space, then you can hose the whole thing down to clean it. 


What’s your mission as WheelPad’s director of growth? 

I spend more of my time educating people and building the industry rather than on WheelPad sales. We’re part of two industries: the accessibility industry, and the accessory dwelling unit (ADU) industry, which is a growing industry that makes it easy for people to put in a secondary living unit on their property for family or others to live in. 

What makes WheelPad different than other ADU companies is that we focus on people with mobility disabilities, so we’re marketing to the 8 million Americans who need this kind of housing. But at the end of the day, my goal is to help make more homes universally accessible, even if people don’t buy a WheelPad, because promoting accessible ADUs is going to build the industry as a whole. 


In what direction is the ADU industry growing? 

It's very similar to where the solar industry was in 2005, just before the federal income tax credit became available for putting in solar. Back then, if you wanted to put solar on your house, you had to do it yourself or seek out the right people to do it for you. And you had to have the money, because no bank was going to give you a loan for solar. But then some companies came along and said, “We’re going to make going solar easy.” 

That’s were the ADU industry is today. Banks are now offering special financing for ADUs; insurers are getting on board; contractors are saying, “We can do this.” So building an ADU is becoming much easier. 


Other than buying a WheelPad, are there things people can do to support your mission? 

If anyone wants to move to southern Vermont and build WheelPads, that would be great! We’re expanding our production facility here because it’s an area that needs more good jobs. Eventually, we’ll have a training facility where local folks can learn the building trades, which will support all of northern New England. 

When it comes to ADUs, there are a lot of regulations that are based on old fears about renters because they don’t have enough wealth to own a home. Renters aren’t bad people — they might be a teacher or a health care provider who can’t find housing elsewhere in the community. So another way people can help is to think outside the box and talk to their towns about those regulations and what sort of housing they should be allowing in their communities. 


Visit WheelPad’s website to learn more.