Renovating your home to be more wheelchair accessible can be a difficult and overwhelming task. Whether doing a small renovation to accommodate a disabled friend that visits, to a complete renovation of the disabled parties home it is best to begin by evaluating the amount of time a disabled person would be in the home and what tasks he or she would perform independently and with assistance in the home.
By mapping this out, you will then be able to focus specifically on the areas the disabled person most needs accessible accommodations. Listed below are possible accessible conversions that begins with entrance into the home and then room by room to give some idea of the possibilities of renovating a home to be accessible.
- Plan Ahead – Even if the disabled person in the home may only use a cane or walker now, evaluate the possibility of him or her using a wheelchair in the future. Factoring in this possibility will prevent you from having to renovate your home twice.
- Entrance and Exit – If your home has stairs to climb to get in and out of the main access door, consider installing a wheelchair ramp with handrails. Wheelchair ramps can be purchased from any number of manufacturers or they can be built with a few measurements and easy to follow do it yourself instructions found online.
- Doorbells, Door Knobs, and Door Jams – Most wheelchairs are 22 to 33 inches in width. Measure the wheelchair to the width of your main access door and interior doors in the home. Wheelchair users can comfortably fit through a doorway with about an 1 ½ to 2 inches wider than the chair itself. If the wheelchair user has limited upper body muscle control or limited dexterity, changing your door knobs to a handle style knob will allow them greater independence in entering and exiting the home. Finally, make sure your doorbell and locks are within reach from a wheelchair height.
- Furniture Placement – This is a matter of making sure the furniture is arranged in such a way that the wheelchair user can easily navigate the chair from room to room. Be mindful of the turning radius as well. Wheelchair users that use extended leg rests etc. will need additional space to change directions.
- Hallways – While many newer homes have hallways and open floor plans that can accommodate a standard wheelchair width, older homes have much more narrow hallways and smaller rooms. This can be one of the more costly accessible renovations as it would take removing most non-weight bearing walls to create an open floor plan with wider hallways
- Multiple Floors – If your home is not a ranch (one floor) style, transferring from one floor to the next is very time consuming and extremely dangerous. One option is to move the disabled person’s bedroom to the first floor and create a full bathroom if one doesn’t already exist. The other option is to install a power stair lift. The lift is a swing out chair for easy lateral transfers connected to a chain and pulley system controlled by a joystick on the chair that moves the person from one floor to the next.
- Kitchen – The kitchen is the busiest room in the house. A number of renovations can be done in the kitchen. In order for a wheelchair user to cook meals and reach the cabinets, accessible kitchen suites are available. These packages include lowered counter tops and cabinets. For items stored high, some wheelchairs have a seat that raises or some use a extended “arm” that can reach objects that would otherwise be out of reach that has a claw at the end that grasps by a trigger style lever on the other end. Appliances such as side by side refrigerators as opposed to those with the freezer on the top allow a wheelchair user to open both sides, ovens with the controls on the front of the stove rather than behind all the burners, and microwave ovens on lowered stands rather than mounted under the cabinets or pushed back on the counter. Knee spaces at the sink allow a wheelchair user to be closer to the sink. Installing a faucet that when pulled, turns into a sprayer are easier to grasp rather than having a standard sprayer mounted at the back of the stove. A switch to operate the garbage disposal can be mounted on the face of the lower cabinets instead of the back splash is another convenient consideration. If the disabled person does not use a wheelchair, looking into a non-slip floor system is critical to prevent any further injuries resulting from a fall.
- Bathroom – Wheelchair users face many challenges in the bathroom. First and foremost, a durable non-slip floor is a must as the risk of a fall is increased in a bathroom setting. Lowered vanities, sinks, motion activated faucets, and mirrors are a few renovations to allow a wheelchair user to independently get ready in the morning or complete a nightly hygiene routine. Toilets that are raised to accommodate lateral transfers from a wheelchair to the toilet a snap. Support bars mounted on the wall much like those seen in the handicap stalls in restaurants are a good safety idea. Walk in bathtubs or barrier free showers are wonderful alternatives to a standard bathtub. It is also possible to purchase a sling system that is mounted to the ceiling with a track that goes from the point of transfer to the tub and lowers. This option works best for disabled people that are bed ridden and have a bathroom attached to his or her bedroom.
- Garage – If you have a wheelchair accessible van then plan for being able to raise and lower the ramp or lift on the van inside in case of bad weather.
The possibilities are endless when renovating your home to be accessible. Taking your time to factor in the disabled parties current level of mobility while factoring in the possibilities in the future will allow the disabled person to maintain as much independence and highest quality of life as possible without sacrificing safety.