More than 56 million Americans have a disability of some sort. While the American Disabilities Act makes no specific provision for the building of personal residences, building a home with accessibility in mind will enable residents to retain independence and remain in their own homes for longer. And whether you were born with a disability or are experiencing inevitable mobility challenges due to aging, making your home accessible can become challenging. Thankfully recent advantages in home technology and innovations have been made, specifically designed for individuals with mobility issues, meaning that modeling your home for accessibility is easier than ever, and you don’t need to break your budget to do it.
No one knows what the future holds, and rather than waiting until it becomes difficult to remain in the home that we are familiar with, it is wise to make some small and cost efficient changes to our homes in preparation for the future. Ensuring your doorways, hallways and spaces within each room are big enough for a wheelchair, walker or mobility scooter access is one way to do this. Doors should be a minimum of 32 inches, halls 36 inches and the minimum clear space for hallway intersections must be 36 inches to allow a 180° turn of a wheelchair.
It’s not just getting through doorways that should be considered either. Turning a round door knob can become difficult if we lose muscle tone and strength in our hands due to age or a disability. Consider fitting lever door handles to interior and front doors to avoid this issue, or upgrading existing doors with automatic door openers. If you have narrow doorways in your home, these can be made wider without the need for renovation work and the installation of offset door hinges.
Ramps instead of steps to the front door can enhance entry into the home. If you are building a two story residence, it is worth considering access to the second story. While it may not be necessary to install a stair lift or elevator straight away, adding an elevator shaft and fitting it out as a pantry or closet is a clever way to prepare for future eventualities.
A larger bathroom is important for people with limited mobility and wheelchair users. Zero threshold shower spaces that are slightly larger than standard enable wheelchair access and won’t decrease the value of the home. Room for the installation of grab rails, extra space around the toilet and floating vanity units will enhance accessibility without compromising on design.
Kitchens can seem like one of the biggest obstacles when designing your home for accessibility, as there are many gadgets and appliances that you need to take into consideration during the design process. However, a kitchen can be made accessible with just a few minor adjustments and additions and can be designed in a way that won’t decrease their value, style, or desirability.
First, ensure there is enough floor space in the kitchen for wheelchair, walker or scooter users and countertops are of varied heights ensures that everyone can reach them. Wall units and cupboard spaces that incorporate slide out baskets and compartments make it easy to keep things organized and within reach for everyone in the home. In addition, make sure that appliances like microwaves are not in hard to reach places, and are at countertop level.
Food preparation and chopping boards specifically designed for people with limited mobility can provide stability or reduce accidents with features such as knife guides, anchors that attached to worktops and raised corners that enable one-handed spreading.
Building bedrooms for accessibility means much more than simply making sure the door way is wide enough to enter. Closet storage space should be within reach, space for adjustable beds and power sources for additional equipment should be included. If the intended residents of the home already have disabilities, grab rails to aid getting in and out of bed, their wheelchair or adjusting position when in bed should be installed. Additionally, be aware that electrically adjustable beds often don’t come in standard bed sizes and will need more room, plus you’ll need to be relatively close to a power point so you can provide power to the mechanisms.
Tonya Bruin, CEO of To Do-Done, a business specializing in renovations including accessible design, states, “It’s important to keep the width of the doorway or entrance of rooms in mind for accessible design. A 36-inch door frame or entrance is enough for wheelchairs and walkers to fit through easily, but for more seamless entry, consider going as wide as 42 inches.”
Moving your bedroom to a larger room on the first floor of your home may also be the answer, making bedtime easier, less stressful and provide enough room for bedroom furniture and wheelchair access if required.
You may also want to consider adding technology to enhance sleep and comfort in the bedroom can include voice activated lights, blinds and heating/cooling systems. Smart technology has come a long way in recent years and there are multiple devices available that not only enhances convenience but also independence for people with disabilities throughout the entire home.
Minimize Injury Risks
Designing your home for accessibility is not just about change appliances or the structure of your home but preventing injury and lowering risk. We recommend having a spot for everything – ensuring that clothes, personal items, and loose accessories are out of the way and/or in your path. Any cords or medical equipment should also be stowed away properly.
Be aware of loose carpet or slippery tiles as well, because they prevent accidents or serious falls. If hardwood floors present a challenge for your feet to grip the floor, consider laying down a non-slip rug or having proper carpets installed.
There may be other traps around the home which could potentially be the cause of injury. Excess bedding at the foot of your bed or hanging bed skirts could be dangerous when climbing out of bed. When it comes to your safety, don’t risk leaving any stone unturned.
Smart Home Technology
The boom in smart home technology has made staying in your own home as you age a much more realistic option. Smart sensors for lights, heating, security and even identifying water and leaks can increase you comfortable and convenience as well as your home security. Other smart tech that can enhance independence includes smart pill dispensers that remind you to take your medication and home hubs that can remind you of important appointments and social dates.