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Creating a Special Bedroom for a Special Needs Child

Ginger Rodriguez and son Sean in his bedroom

Ginger Rodriguez is an interior designer from Alexandria, Virginia who found a new mission in life after fostering an infant living with disabling medical conditions. Four years later, Sean is now her adopted son, and Ginger has a new focus to her design business: helping other parents create rooms that are both attractive and functional for kids with special needs.

According to Ginger, the aim of this type of redecorating is to make the child’s room look like a bedroom, not a hospital room. The advice she provides includes some simple ideas that can go a long way in making caring easier, and they may make a big difference for a child who is often confined to a bedroom due to health issues.

colorful bedroom for special needs child

    • Remove carpet from the bedroom and other areas of the home to which the child has access. This allows wheelchairs and IV poles to be moved around more freely. If the child utilizes a wheelchair, keep in mind the average wheelchair requires five feet of space to turn, and accommodate this space in your design planning.
    • Think about height. Move light switches, bookshelves, door handles, closet shelves, and access to music or other entertainment within reach of the child by lowering their position on the wall.
    • Keeping a child’s mind occupied during treatments or periods they will spend in bed goes a long way towards having a happy child. Make sure the TV, radio, books and other activities are within reach of the bed. Ginger suggests using Velcro to attach the television’s remote control to the headboard so that it doesn’t get lost or fall out of reach.
    • Find dual purpose ways to use furniture. Try using bedside tables that include a mini-fridge for medicine and juice, or that can be locked to house medical supplies.
    • Consider switching the bedroom door for a pocket door, as this frees up much of the room’s floor space normally taken up by a traditional door.
    • Let your child help pick out paint colors. Especially for a child with health issues, it can be confidence-boosting to have some control over their surroundings. Consider swapping traditional art and decor for murals which help avoid the safety risks that framed or 3-D art may pose if it is knocked off a wall.
  • Battery-operated door alarms can be a huge asset, and allow you to get more rest as they will sound if the child opens the bedroom or front door.

special needs childs room design

And don’t forget these other possibilities:

    • A desktop sized water fountain or trickling water sound effect may help with pain management.
    • If smells do not bother your child, a vanilla or lavender scent can be calming.
  • Focus on pleasant tactile elements like squishy toys or silky fabrics.

bedside table for special needs child


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Make Your Home More Wheelchair Accessible with 10 Low Cost DIY Projects

Make your Home More Wheelchair Accessible with 10 Low Cost DIY Projects

While you are saving to make more extensive renovations, here are some inexpensive things that you can do yourself to improve wheelchair accessibility in your home.

Top Ten Low Cost DIY Wheelchair Accessible Home Tips

1. Replace door knobs with levers. Levers can easily be pushed down, making it easier to get in and out of rooms.

2. Install mini ramps on high door thresholds by gluing down tiny wedges of wood or metal.

3. Rearrange furniture to allow ease of movement by wheelchair. Allow a 32 inch path, and leave enough room for a turning radius of 5 feet.

4. The wheelchair user generally finds that transferring to a bed, couch or chair is easier and safer if they are the same height as the seat of the wheelchair. Comfortably sitting at a standard kitchen table is not possible in a wheelchair. Blocks of wood securely attached to the legs of furniture can raise existing objects to the desired heights.

5. Install grab bars in the bathroom, around the bathtub, shower and toilet.

6. Most clothes rods in closets are too high to be reached easily by anyone in a seated position. Lowering the bar to a maximum height of 54 inches or installing an adjustable bar is recommended. Many pre-fabricated closet accessories are now available that can be combined in various configurations to meet one’s own storage needs.

7. Rugs can make it very difficult to move a wheelchair, especially in the bathroom, kitchen and entry way. Remove them whenever possible. If you must have a rug in the living area, make sure that it has a non-slip backing, is of a low pile, and has no tassels.

8. Get a cordless phone that comes with additional units. You won’t have to hurry to another room to answer when it rings.

9. Gravel walkways can be very difficult to manage in a wheelchair. Replace gravel with paving stones.

10. Build your own wheelchair ramp for your house! There are tutorials online that give you the plans to build your own wheelchair ramp out of wood or concrete. Have a friend or loved one help you for a great birthday present or holiday gift project!

There are many do-it-yourself projects that can be accomplished with little time and money. Even though these modifications aren’t expensive, they can still make a huge difference in your day to day life by making your home much easier to maneuver around in your wheelchair.

How to Find a House that is Already Wheelchair Accessible

Looking for an apartment or house is a major undertaking and requires attention to details such as location, price range, floor space, number of bedrooms and more. For those with disabilities the same considerations are important, but are overshadowed by the need for a house that is wheelchair accessible. For some it may be as simple as grab bars in the bathrooms, for others more extensive needs must be met such as: wheelchair ramping, wider doorways, lower countertops, braille markings on appliances etc. Local Ads may be a good source for accessible apartments, but approach them cautiously.

FOR RENT: 2-bedroom wheelchair-accessible apartment with ramped entry way and wide door; central location; no pets.

This particular apartment may have a ramp or elevator for easy access to the front door, but it’s worthless if wheelchair users can’t navigate bathrooms or hallways. Also, the location may be great – close to schools, jobs or friends. However, if curb cuts are missing or public buses lack wheelchair lifts, a good location may turn into a “landlocked” situation.

The hunt for housing has been simplified by the National Accessible Apartment Clearinghouse. NAAC is a free service that maintains a data base of 10,000 apartments in 40 states. “Callers can also list their requirements so that the apartments will match their needs.” says NAAC spokesperson Ruth Seyler. NAAC will also provide information about low-income properties, and assistance programs.

The ADA, Fair Housing Amendments Act of 1988, and the Department of Housing and Urban Development Act of 1989 have made the search for accessible living easier.

Housing Built Before 1991

  • People with disabilities have a right, sometimes at their own expense, to make reasonable modifications to existing premises that will provide them full enjoyment of the residence. (In some cases, landlords may require that the tenant restore the property to its original state before moving.)
  • Landlords must make reasonable accommodations for all people to use common areas such as lobbies, laundry facilities, clubhouses and other recreational areas, unless doing so results in undue financial hardship.

Housing Built After March 1991
Multifamily buildings of four or more units must follow these FHAA provisions concerning construction:

  • Common areas like laundry rooms must be accessible.
  • All doorways within housing units, including entry doors, must be wide enough to allow wheelchair passage.
  • All electrical outlets, power switches, thermostats and other environmental controls must be in accessible locations.
  • Kitchens and bathrooms must be designed to allow individuals in wheelchairs to comfortably maneuver in them. Technical guidelines follow the standards set by the American National Standard Institute (ANSI).
  • All units must be adaptable. For instance, grab bars aren’t required in all bathrooms, but the walls must be reinforced to allow for future installation of adaptive equipment.

Barrier Free Homes touts itself as being a “one-stop-shop” for barrier-free homes and apartments, their site is devoted to the wheelchair-accessible, Universal Design, ADA or barrier-free home and apartment market. An extensive data base makes finding a wheelchair-accessible home much easier.

Easy Living Home is the nations first voluntary certification program that encourages inclusion of features that make a home more cost effective, and accessible, regardless of age, or physical ability. By providing a few criteria in construction, homebuilders and remodelers are able to add functionality and convenience.

The best tip for finding an accessible apartment or home is to start early, give yourself plenty of time. It may take many months to find the right place.

Wheelchair Accessible Homes are New Focus of Extreme Home Makeover

Wheelchair Accessible Home Makeover: Clara Ward

Overwhelmed by the attention, Clara Ward is still a bit taken aback by all the attention ABC’s Extreme Makeover, Home edition has brought into her life. This 70 year-old woman suffers from myasthenia gravis, a degenerative muscular disease, and uses a wheelchair as a necessary part of her daily living. Clara’s unstoppable spirit and dedication to the community made her an ideal candidate for ABC’s award winning, Extreme Makeover, Home Edition.

Determined to make a difference her life for the next generation, Clara founded the “Youth Development & Family Center” in Erie, PA. Never thinking of her own needs, she spent her days clothing, feeding, tutoring and arranging field trips for the children in her community. There is no obstacle to great for this amazing woman. Skilled at organizing charitable events to help raise money and even providing cooking lessons, her hope for the future is second to none.

Her decades of dedication to her community had taken a toll on her home and threatened the very foundation of the life she’s built for her and her family. Plagued by a leaky roof, peeling walls, faulty sewage, a sagging porch and cracked foundation, her home was definitely not handicap accessible!

Wheelchair Accessible Home Makeover: James Terpenning

James Terpenning, wheelchair athlete in Beaver Creek, OH also recently received a wheelchair accessible home makeover for ABC’s Extreme Makeover, Home Edition. Born to an American soldier and Vietnamese woman during the war, James was brought to the United States and placed up for adoption after as the government feared for his safety.

Contracting Polio as an infant, James lost the use of his legs. Adopted by a wonderful family, James integrated and thrived as a wheelchair athlete, winning a bronze and gold metal in the wheelchair Olympics in Seoul, Korea some 20 years ago.
His life is now spent mentoring and giving back to the community that embraced him as a child. His experience coaching others through difficult times is a benchmark of hope throughout the community and Iraq Vets alike.

Married with four children, James and his wife recently took James’s stepbrother who suffers from cerebral palsy into their modest 3-bedroom non-handicap accessible home. This made for two wheelchair users in a home that was not accessible. Home Makeover stepped in and lowered sinks, moved the laundry room so it wasn’t downstairs, widened the walls, and even added a plush playground for everyone to play in.

Both Clara Ward and the Terpenning family feel incredibly lucky to have amazing wheelchair accessible homes from Extreme Home Makeover. Both of the homes are safe, functional, accessible, and above all, help these incredible people live the independent lives that they deserve.