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How to Make your Home Wheelchair Accessible

Modify your Home for Wheelchair Users with Stairlifts, Non-Slip Surfaces and Bathroom Fixtures

© 2011 by Daniel Frank; all rights reserved; content may not be copied, rewritten, or republished without author’s written permission.

A chairlift moves wheelchair users up or downstairs

Age and disability come to us all in time, and while making your home wheelchair accessible may not necessary, if you’d like to age in place or regularly have elderly or disabled guests then it can be incredibly useful.

By making your house wheelchair accessible you are not only making it easier for people with wheelchairs, but also for people with a range of other disabilities and issues.

Steps and Stairs

I’m going to take a wild guess and assume that your house has a few stairs. I’m also pretty sure you can see why that can be problematic and not just for people with wheelchairs.

Even the fittest and most athletic have stubbed a toe, and falling down stairs can cause a serious injury or even death. Stairlifts are the safest way to get elderly people and people with disabilities up and down stairs.

If you are worried about the cost, most companies offer reconditioned stairlifts which are cheaper and safer. Stairs should always be well lit and any carpeting should be fitted so as to avoid loose edges which can trip someone up.

Steps are somewhat simpler to deal with. You can use temporary and portable ramps if you are only occasionally visited by a wheelchair user, but it is also possible to build permanent ramps to match the landscaping. Ramps should be built in a ratio of 12:1 so that for every inch that it rises 12 are added to the length of the ramp.

Keep Hallway Floors Safe

Like stairs, hallways always need to be well lit and wide (ideally at least 48” to allow a wheelchair to turn round, but 36’ is workable). If you live in the US, both ADA Accessibility Guidelines for Buildings and Facilities (ADAAG) requirements and Specially Adapted Housing Minimum Property Requirements specify a minimum hallway width of 48”.

Hallways also need be free of rugs and any other tripping hazards which can catch wheels and feet. Laminated wood flooring with an anti-slip coating or a well-fitted wall to wall carpet are perfect for providing a safe but stylish hallway.

Having said that, shag pile is a nightmare for people using wheelchairs or walkers. Tile or flat, smooth natural stone floors are also good choices.

Bathroom Accessibility

If any room requires care then the bathroom is it. Non-slip surfaces such as textured tiling or vinyl are essential for preventing slips and falls. Grab bars will also make sure that if someone does slip, they have something to break their fall.

As a bonus, they also make it easier for wheel chair users to move around the bathroom. While cheaper options can create an institutional look, there are a variety of steel and chrome options which will blend in better and make the bathroom fell less like a hospital.

Vanity countertop heights may also pose a problem and may need to be adjusted. Again, the ADA says, ”Sinks shall be mounted with the counter or rim no higher than 34 in. (865 mm) above the finish floor. A clear floor space at least 30 in by 48 in. (760 mm by 1220 mm) that allows either a forward or parallel approach by a person using a wheelchair.”

Kitchen Recommendations for Accessibility

The main issue with kitchens is the height of worktops. For wheelchair users or anyone who needs to sit to alleviate tiredness, the standard height of work surfaces is dangerously high.

Hot objects such as kettles, pots, and pans will often be at head height or even above the user meaning that there is a much higher risk of spills. The simplest solution is to install lower work surfaces with space for a chair to fit underneath allowing someone who is sitting to get the most and safest use possible.

The majority of kitchens can be modified to make them more accessible, though you should make sure you find a good contractor. Items that you may need include drawers and cabinets with pull out options so that users can simply pull them out and reach down. Faucet taps with lever handles also make life easier.

There is no need to change your house to include all of these recommendations at once, or possibly even at all. But if you want to stay in the same house as you get older then they may worth adding as you go.

These modifications are also worth looking out for in new houses if you are looking to downsize in your old age. Do you have any handy tips for making live easier for the mobility impaired? Share with our readers in the comment section below.

Daniel Frank is writing on behalf of Stannah who provide a range of stairlifts and lifts including reconditioned stairlifts.


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