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The Most Disability-Friendly Cities in the U.S. (and the Ones to Avoid)

Written by
Jackie Jakab, Disability Attorney
Jackie Jakab
Lead Attorney
December 5, 2022  ·  5 min read

According to the CDC, 61 million adults in the United States are living with a disability—so it’s to our advantage to design our cities inclusively. Although some locations still lag when it comes to accessibility, some cities in America are doing things right for people with disabilities. 

We’ve uncovered the most disability-friendly cities in the U.S. and the places with room for improvement.

What makes a city disability-friendly?

A truly disability-friendly city needs more than just good infrastructure. There are many pieces to the puzzle, including equitable employment opportunities, a low cost of living, access to affordable healthcare, and a high walkability score.

A solid social, economic, and built environment are all things to consider when judging a city’s overall accessibility. The link between disability and poverty means we must address the financial and physical barriers people with disabilities face in each city.

The most disability-friendly cities in the U.S. 

So, which U.S. cities come out on top across the key metrics? Based on a comprehensive study by Wallethub, the following ten cities have the highest aggregate score when judged on factors including a strong economy, higher quality of life, and healthcare accessibility.

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

With high rankings across healthcare and quality of life, Pittsburgh provides people with a disability access to plenty of social, educational, and entertainment opportunities. Despite an aging infrastructure that can be tricky to get around, the city is committed to improving access for people with disabilities. Pittsburgh also boasts the second-highest rate of family physicians per capita on the list, meaning help is never too far away. 

Overland Park, Kansas

In the economy and healthcare access sectors, Overland Park ranks within the top 10 on the list. The city boasts the highest employment rate for people with disabilities and the lowest percentage of people with disabilities living  in poverty. Overland Park also offers many wheelchair-accessible restaurants and buildings.

Denver, Colorado

Quality of life and accessible healthcare put Denver at the top of the list. Some reasons Denver is such a disability-friendly city include a fully accessible metro system for getting around and access to medicinal marijuana for chronic pain relief. The city also strongly advocates for people with disabilities, boasting strong ADA compliance and a proactive Commission for People With Disabilities

Minneapolis, Minnesota

Minneapolis is the top city for healthcare accessibility out of the 182 cities surveyed. If you have a disability that requires a fair bit of medical attention but don’t want to be restricted to a quiet town, this capital city is a fantastic choice. Minneapolis also ranked within the top 10 for the quality of life metric, not to mention it has some helpful online resources for residents living with disabilities

Huntington Beach, California

Despite its proximity to the costly city of Los Angeles, Huntington Beach scored well across all criteria to crack the top 10 most disability-friendly places. A mixture of accessible beachside living, a stable economy, and decently priced healthcare options make this a great place for folks with disabilities to lay down roots. As a bonus, Huntington Beach is amongst the top 10 most accessible beaches in the U.S

St. Louis, Missouri

St. Louis is a top three disability-friendly city with great scores across quality of life and healthcare access. The city has the fifth-highest rate of family physicians per capita and high access to walkable parks. The Office of the Disabled has also compiled resources to help people with disabilities seek out accessibility information for popular destinations

Scottsdale, Arizona

A high ranking in the economy and fair rankings in healthcare and quality of life bump Scottsdale into the top 10 most disability-friendly cities. The City of Scottsdale is committed to inclusion on a council level, offering comprehensive Adaptive Services for people with disabilities. The scheme helps residents access support for participation in mainstreamed parks and recreation, human services, leisure education, and community services programs.

Columbia, Maryland

Columbia scored ninth in the economy and healthcare rankings. For those dependent solely on disability benefits and requiring extra care, your dollars will go further in Maryland — and you won’t be left struggling to find an excellent doctor. Howard County officials are proud to report their progressive, accessible city planning, with recent strides made across employment, recreational, health, and wellness opportunities.

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Much like Minneapolis, Philly earned its spot in the rankings by having excellent healthcare options combined with a high quality of life score. Like Pittsburgh, Philadelphia also struggles structurally, being an older city. However, one of its major benefits is its local government, which offers a robust range of support services to people with disabilities.

Virginia Beach, Virginia

Looking to make your money go further? Virginia Beach topped the list in the economy category, making it the most livable city for those on disability income. Its quality of life and healthcare rankings also came in below the halfway mark—it boasts a lot of beautiful nature and accessible parks to explore.

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How the cities stack up for people with disabilities

While no one city got top marks across the board, some localities scored better than others in key metrics. Let’s break down the best and worst performers for each criterion. 

Cost of living

A host of factors impact the cost of living in the U.S., with major metropolises generally being more expensive. Housing, gas and transportation, childcare, utilities, and taxes all play a part in the equation, as well as supply and demand. 

Most expensive: 

Unsurprisingly, cities in New York and California clocked the highest cost of living. 

  1. New York City (New York)

  2. San Francisco (California) 

Most affordable: 

Texas and Arizona have some of the most affordable cities in the country. 

  1. Brownsville (Texas)

  2. Laredo (Texas)

  3. Amarillo (Texas)

  4. Jackson (Mississippi)

  5. Fort Smith (Arizona) 

Employment rate for people with disabilities

Access to equal employment opportunities makes a city a great place to live for people with disabilities wanting to remain in the workforce. 

Best employment rate 

These are the top five U.S. cities with the highest employment rate for people living with disabilities. 

  1. Overland Park (Kansas)

  2. Fargo (North Dakota)

  3. Plano (Texas)

  4. Virginia Beach (Virginia)

  5. Little Rock (Arkansas) 

Worst employment rate

Locations that were severely lacking include:

  1. Cleveland (Ohio)

  2. Detroit (Michigan)

  3. Connecticut 

  4. Vermont

Percentage of people with disabilities living in poverty

Unfortunately, many people with disabilities are living below the poverty line, but some cities rank more poorly than others on this metric. 

Cities with the most people with disabilities living in poverty 

This statistic is tied to the cost of living, so it makes sense that the New York cities of Buffalo and Rochester have the highest percentage of disabled folk living below the poverty line. Other large metropolitan cities like Detroit and Cleveland also rank highly. 

  1. Buffalo (New York) 

  2. Rochester (New York) 

  3. Detroit (Michigan) 

  4. Cleveland (Ohio) 

Cities with the least people with disabilities living in poverty 

On the flip side, there a number of cities boasting the lowest poverty rates for disabled folks. These cities each cracked the top 50 for the economy category in WalletHub’s survey.

  1. Overland Park (Kansas)

  2. Gilbert (Arizona)

  3. Juneau (Alaska)

Cost of doctor’s visits and in-home services

When you consider that affordable healthcare is inaccessible for most people in the U.S., it makes sense that this is compounded amongst the disabled community. Depending on their individual circumstances, many disabled folks need increased access to doctors, with some requiring in-home support.

  • Texas cities appeared five times when calculating the spots with the most affordable medical care.

  • Remote areas like Alaska and North Dakota were more expensive. 

Walkable park access

This is one category where the bigger cities perform better, largely due to increased funding for public infrastructure. These cities have the most walkable park access. 

  1. San Francisco (California)

  2. Boston (Massachusetts)

  3. New York City (New York)

  4. Seattle (Washington)

Interestingly, the states with the worst walkable park access all share borders. 

  1. Indianapolis

  2. Kentucky

  3. North Carolina

Getting the help you need anywhere in the U.S.

People living with a disability deserve equality with their non-disabled peers. Atticus is committed to providing free legal assistance and advice to disabled folks trying to maximize their quality of life. We help by cutting through the bureaucratic talk — applying for disability benefits, finding answers to common questions, accessing quality legal counsel — keeping the process simple and free. No matter where you live in the U.S., we can help you.

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Jackie Jakab, Disability Attorney

Jackie Jakab

Lead Attorney

Jackie Jakab is Atticus’s Legal Director. She’s a licensed attorney, a graduate of the University of Chicago Law School, and has counseled thousands of people seeking disability benefits.
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