According to the 2000 U.S. census, almost 50 million Americans live with some degree of disability, with 6.8 million needing assistance with daily living. Additionally, the number of people over age 65 is expected to reach 71.5 million people by 2030.
Couple these statistics with the rising cost of assisted living facilities, and it’s likely many people will find themselves providing in-home care of elderly parents or grandparents with disabilities. Then, of course, there are children and spouses with disabilities.
The average American home isn’t exactly handicapped accessible, so you’ll probably need to renovate if you live with someone with a disability.
Halls and Doorways
The regulations for public access set out in the Americans with Disabilities Act provide a handy guideline for retrofitting homes for handicapped access. Some changes are quite minor, while others, such as increasing the width of halls and doors, require a skilled contractor.
If a person is wheelchair bound, maneuvering through the average home is difficult. Most wheelchairs have a width of about 32 inches. The average width of doors and hallways is less than 32 inches. The ADA requires all public doors to be 34 inches wide, and this is a good guideline for your own doors and hallways.
Even if the person isn’t in a wheelchair, widening doors makes it easier to maneuver with walkers or canes. Replace doorknobs with easy-to-grasp L-handles.
A ramp makes getting in and out of the house easier and is essential for wheelchairs. The ramp should have handgrips on both sides and be on a gentle incline.
You can widen garden paths to improve accessibility. If you have a pool, ask a professional for some fencing information. A disabled person may not be able to save herself if she falls into the water.
Most household accidents take place in the bathroom. At the same time, the bathroom and bedroom are places where we want privacy and independence, so take the time to make the washroom as safe as possible.
A walk-in shower is much more accessible than a step-in bathtub, and less likely to result in falls or injuries. Chose a shower unit with a seat if possible, as many people with disabilities find it easier to sit and shower rather than stand. Handheld showerheads are preferable to fixed heads. Push-button or electronic faucets are easier to use than traditional taps.
Grasp bars should be positioned by the toilet, in the shower and — if necessary — by the washbasin. The bars should be positioned 34 to 36 inches high. People with disabilities often find pedestal sinks more accessible than sinks sunk into cabinetry.
The disabled and elderly find lower cabinets and countertops easier to use, but dropping the height of your kitchen countertops to 34 inches, the ADA public requirement — is an expensive proposition.
As an alternative, consider installing an ADA-compliant kitchen island with its own sink and faucets. Items the disabled person often uses, such as microwaves, kettles and toasters, can be placed on the island.
Stairs and Elevators
Indoor stairs pose a significant obstacle to the disabled. If the person is in a wheelchair, you have two choices. Either install a stair elevator or have everything the person needs (including his or her bedroom) on the ground floor.
If the individual isn’t in a wheelchair, make sure you have hand rails on both sides of the stairwell. The ADA recommends stair treads be at least 11 inches wide with rounded edges to make climbing easier and reducing damage from falls.
A Room of One’s Own
Make the bedroom as accessible as possible, so the individual can live with some degree of independence. Have an electrician raise electric outlets 15 inches up the wall, so the room’s occupant doesn’t have to struggle to reach them.
Large button light switches are easier to operate than smaller switches, while nightlights help people negotiate the room in the dark. Lower all cabinets and closet shelves to increase accessibility.
This is just a basic guide to making your home more generally handicapped-friendly – you will need to choose renovations to make based on the handicapped individual’s unique needs and your budget. Sometimes temporary solutions are possible, such as portable ramps, but these are not ideal for a long-term solution.
Adrienne is a freelance writer and blogger who has always been interested in interior design and now has an opportunity to write about it full time.