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Adaptive Home Solutions for People with Disabilities

Updated on October 16, 2014
Wheelchair ramp on house
Wheelchair ramp on house | Source

Are you a home owner, first time home buyer or renter with a disability? Or perhaps you are looking to make your living space adapt to your needs and work better for you? Just because you have a disability does not mean you need to settle on features that your home currently offers nor does it mean you can’t have all the bells and whistles non-disabled residents enjoy. Investing a little time and creativity you can adapt your home to you. Check out the ideas below to start dreaming up your own adaptive home solutions.

Flooring Options

Flooring can be one of the most important features of the home for residents with disabilities. Perhaps you need a flooring option that’s easy to maneuver across, but not slippery or maybe even surface and longevity are your biggest concerns.

Important characteristics to consider when choosing your adaptive flooring include:

  • Durability

Will your flooring option stand the test of time including the ability to withstand heavy wheelchair traffic day after day?

If durability is your main concern, consider going with commercial grade flooring over residential.

  • Ease of Movement

How easy is it to push or maneuver your wheelchair over the flooring? Keep in mind that some types of carpets can be very difficult to maneuver your wheels across.

If ease of movement is number one on your flooring wish list, consider going with hardwood, a deep surface wood laminate, or hard stone tiles.

  • Finish

What type of surface finish will work best for your home? Shiny surfaces may show wheelchair tracks more easily than matte finishes while darker colors may be harder to keep clean of dust and debris.

If finish is an important consideration for your comfort at home, you may want to go with a non-slip vs. standard finish to help prevents trips, slips, and falls. Look for tiles or even hardwoods with a gritty surface which will help create more friction and less slip.

Cabinet and Storage Solutions

Install accessible kitchen cabinets
Install accessible kitchen cabinets | Source

During the home buying process, make sure to keep cabinet storage in mind when looking for your new home. Cabinet height, location, and size can make the difference between easy storage during all kinds of daily interactions. Good closet and cabinet accessibility can affect every part of your daily life at home from choosing clothes in the morning, to using toiletries in the bathroom, to cooking, cleaning, and doing laundry.

Some creative cabinet solutions to help increase accessibility:

  • Pull-out cabinets

Look for pull-out shelving that can be installed inside your cabinets in the kitchen, bathroom, or laundry room. Many styles come on wheels or gliders allowing you to simply open your cabinet door and pull the entire shelf close to you to easily reach what you need.

  • Soft close drawers

Soft close drawers are usually a feature seen in most high end homes, however they are a great option to consider to help make your home more disability friendly. These drawers take little strength to open and close and close themselves at the touch of a single finger.

  • Reachers

Keep a reach in each closet or even room of the house. Most reacher styles come with a long pole with a handle at the end when squeezed will open and close grips at the other end of the reacher, allowing you to easily grab what you need from higher shelves and maximize your storage space if it’s not practical to move all of your shelving to the lower areas of your rooms.

Wheelchair accessible countertops
Wheelchair accessible countertops | Source

Countertop Solutions

In both your kitchen and bath you can get creative with various countertop solutions to increase independence in the bathroom and give you more freedom in the kitchen to prepare meals and spend time with your family.

  • Vary countertops at different heights.

Installing countertops at different heights throughout your kitchen can allow different members of the family, adults, kids, and a wheelchair user work in the kitchen all together. The average wheelchair armrest sits at 29” in height. Take that measurement into consideration to estimate where you want the lower portions of your countertops to start and end.

  • Roll Under Countertops.

Roll under countertops are a great option for the bathroom or for the countertop that holds the kitchen sink. Typically bottom cabinets are removed, allowing wheelchair users to roll the front end of their wheelchair under the cabinet to easily reach the sink without stretching or straining.

  • ADA Standards for Countertops

Under the 2010 Americans with Disabilities (ADA) Design Standards for Accessible Design, countertops should follow the below standards:

  • The kitchen work surface must be 34 inches maximum above the finish floor or ground

  • Likewise, lavatories or sinks must be installed with the front of the rim or counter surface (whichever is higher) 34 inches maximum above the finish floor or ground.

Accessible shower
Accessible shower | Source

Shower Solutions

The bathroom is perhaps the most important room to ensure safety and accessibility.

  • Wheel-in showers

Most convenient for the user who needs space in order to wheel up to the shower bench and transfer from the seat of your chair to the seat in the shower. These styles allow you to transfer in and out without stepping over a ridge and you can keep your wheelchair close by so it’s ready for you to get back in when you are finished.

  • Walk-in tubs

If you prefer a bath over a shower, walk-in tubs are the option for you. Many of these tubs are created with a deep design, allowing you to sit up on a bench, rather than sitting or laying down in a traditional tub. This design allows users to avoid having to crouch up and down yet still enjoy the warmth of a full bath.

  • Shower Stools

Portable, wall mounted, bench styles, and many different options are available to fit your style bathroom and provide you the most convenience during showering. Pay attention to the weight limit and size when out shopping.

  • Hand-Held Shower Heads

Hand held shower heads give you the freedom and flexilbity to move freely in the shower and position the water where it’s most convenient for you. Flexible shower heads are most convenient if you use a shower stool or sit in a tub but still want the option to rinse off. Look for a wall mount to hang the hand-held shower head within easy reach.

  • Grab Bars

Grab bars come in different lengths, allowing you to mount them anywhere you need them in your bathroom; around the sink, inside and outside of the shower, and near the toilet to give you extra support.

  • Roll-under Sinks

Look for sink models that can be mounted without a vanity or bulky underneath plumbing so you may roll right up to the sink from the seat of your wheelchair.

  • Lowered Mirrors

Many bathroom mirrors are mounted at the standing height of an average height person. Install mirrors lower on the wall if you will be primarily grooming in the bathroom from your wheelchair or look for tilted mirrors that pivot on side pedestals mounted to the wall so you can tilt the mirror up and down as much as you need.

  • Tall Toilets

Standard toilets require users to crouch down which can put a lot of stress on legs, knees, and backs. Consider installing a tall toilet to make it easier to transfer in and out of your wheelchair without having to go up and down.

  • Non-Slip Rugs

Stay safe transferring in and out of the tub or shower and in front of the toilet with non-slip rugs. Look for rugs with rubber backing or purchase rug backs that can be laid down underneath rugs for added no-slip protection.

  • Levers vs. Knobs

For all of your bathroom faucets, consider installing levers rather than knobs. Easy turn levers not only make it easier to use for people with grip issues or limited hand mobility but make it easier to reach and turn water on and off with the touch of a finger rather than a tight grip across a knob.

Knobs, Switches, and Handles

Consider relocating light switches, peep holes in doors, and electrical outlets for easier access. Take the following recommendations into consideration if thinking about relocating switches to a lower height. The 2010 Americans with Disabilities (ADA) Design Standards for Accessible Design recommends:

  • Switches and thermostats should be installed no higher than 48" off the floor.

  • Place electrical outlets no lower than 15" off the floor.

    Look for flat panel light switches which can easily be switched on or off with a gentle press or can be reached from afar with a reacher or long object, requiring less movement by the wheelchair user.

    Long handle doorknob styles will be much easier to open than traditional knob styles, especially for a wheelchair user who requires using their hands to maneuver their chair for entering and exiting.

Kitchen Modifications

Ovens with front knobs and controls
Ovens with front knobs and controls | Source

The kitchen is the heart of the home so if you are like most people on a budget, this is a good room to spend a little extra in order to get the most bang for your buck to make the room as accessible as possible.

Apart from the countertop and storage considerations, mentioned above, below are more ways to ensure your kitchen provides the greatest functionality and accessibility:

  • Look for stove top ranges that offer front burner controls. This is a must if you will be cooking and using your stove often from the seat of your wheelchair. Sitting lower can increase the chance of you getting burned if you reach across the top of your stove top to control the burners.

  • Oven options have also expanded in recent years, offering models that open like a cupboard door from the side instead of from the top – down to allow a wheelchair user to roll up close.

  • Install pull-out cutting boards. These easily install underneath your countertop so they camouflage right into your kitchen design. When you need to chop up ingredients for dinner, simply pull out the cutting board right to your level.

  • Single-level faucet handles and touch technology faucets offer wheelchair users the ability to turn water on and off easily without having to reach to the back of the sink for small knobs. Install spray nozzles with long hoses to make for easy reaching and rinsing large pots and pans.

  • Install large cabinet pulls 4” or larger which will allow people with limited mobility to easily slide their hand under the opening and pull cupboards open or shut.

Portable wheelchair ramp
Portable wheelchair ramp | Source

Entering and Exiting

Making sure your entrance and exit is accessible will save you hassel and time as you try to get out the door in the morning. Finding doorways and hallways that are wide enough to accommodate your wheelchair is of primary concern for many homeowners. Installing or adjusting door jams to 36” wide will make your rooms accessible to someone who uses a wheelchair or walker.

Rambler and Ranch style homes typically provide the most convenient ground level access for wheelchair users. If you fall in love with a home that is not ground level, however, there are numerous ramp options to create easy entry.

  • Custom built ramps to go from your driveway into your home.

  • Industrial ramps with railings and stairways, providing access for both wheelchair and non-wheelchair user alike.

  • Plate ramps that attach to a tall door jam to allow your wheels to swiftly roll over.

In addition to ramps and accommodating your door jams, installing metal or durable plastic kick plates on the bottoms of your doors is also not a bad idea to protect your doors from the wear and tear they are likely to take from your wheelchair coming in and out.

Raised Gardening

Raised gardens for accessibility
Raised gardens for accessibility | Source

Don’t let your chair stop you from getting your green thumb on. Raised flower beds and gardens are a great residential option, especially if you live in a small home or apartment without a lot of yard space.

Simply hang a flower pot or flower holder outside your window or on your patio, fill with dirt, and plant your favorite veggies or flowers. Raised pots and gardens allow you to experience the joy of tending your own garden at home without worrying about having to transfer in and out of your chair to reach the ground.

What other home improvement ideas do you have for people with disabilities? Share in the comments!


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