Retrofitting Home for Disabilities
Most of us think of our homes as our sanctuary, a place to really enjoy the simple things in life. However, when you can no longer go about independently in your own home, and as it becomes difficult to do basic tasks, it’s much harder to enjoy life at home. If you or someone you love is having a tough time at home, you might consider making some changes and retrofitting your home to make things easier. There are resources available to help, and many things you can do to make your home more accessible—and more of a home—for those with disabilities.
Find Local Resources and Experts
Before deciding to upgrade or retrofit your home, talk to the experts for recommendations specifically tailored to your needs. There are some government programs available, so check out the Americans with Disabilities (ADA) Website , or call the ADA Information line at (800) 514-0301 (voice), or (800) 514-0383 (TTY). Check with your local government as well, because some communities also have assistance programs.
Occupational therapists can be extraordinarily helpful, and aim to improve daily life for those having to deal with disabilities. They assess individual skills and do home and job site evaluations. They can make recommendations for improving safety, finding and arranging resources, and making environmental modifications. To consult with an occupational therapist, ask your doctor for a recommendation, or talk to someone at a local hospital, community clinic, or medical center to point you in the right direction.
If simply getting to and through the front door is becoming difficult, there are a number of ways you can improve access. The simplest solution for your home might be installing handrails along sloped surfaces and steps. Steps can be challenging for those with disabilities, so make it as easy as possible to navigate them by using non-slip tapes, secured non-slip runners, or non-slip paint on stairways. Non-slip paints and tapes are available at most hardware stores.
If there are steps to the front door, consider removing them and replacing them with a graded pathway. Another option is to install a modular ramp that fits over existing steps; there are some modular ramp systems commercially available. If you decide to grade the pathway or install a ramp, be sure to install secure safety railings, and work with your city or county building department to ensure compliance with local rules and regulations that help keep you and your loved ones safe.
Doors and Hallways
To accommodate people in wheelchairs or with canes, doorways and hallways should be at least 32 in. wide. Secure carpet and rug edges completely. Make sure that thresholds are even with the floor, to prevent tripping or stubbed toes. If the thresholds are uneven, you can often fix the problem with a wedge or threshold ramp. However, you might need to call in a professional contractor to make custom changes.
While you might never think of it, doors themselves can be very difficult for disabled people to operate. Some simple solutions include changing out round knobs that are difficult to turn for lever-style door handles and installing separate deadbolts, which make it easier for one-handed operation. If handling small keys is difficult, have door keys made with large plastic handles, which make it easier to put keys in the lock and provide additional leverage for turning the key.
Sometimes, re-hanging doors to swing in the opposite direction can be of immeasurable help.
Basic Bathroom Upgrades
Bathrooms are such an important staple of independence, that it’s imperative to make necessary changes right away. There are several things you can do to improve safety and accessibility in the bathroom.
One of the easiest and most important safety upgrades to make in your bathroom is to add self-adhesive non-slip decals and install grab bars on the bathtub or shower walls. Be sure that grab bars are securely attached to the framing—not merely mounted to wall-surface materials. Also in the tub and shower, consider installing a hand-held shower head and bath seat. For those with weak grips, consider installing a lever-controlled faucet. There are several options for lever controls, which are available for many types of faucets that you can find to fit your own needs and personal style.
Accessing the toilet can be somewhat difficult for those with impaired mobility. One easy fix is to mount grab bars on the wall or purchase a frame to surround the toilet for support. Completely replacing the toilet with a longer-seated or taller model will help those who have wheelchairs or hip trouble. If replacing the entire toilet is out of your budget or ability, consider a height-adjustable over-toilet frame that can raise seat height, provide arm rest support, and help the user with balance.
Lowering sinks and countertops helps wheelchair-bound people immensely. This is an expensive option, but for those with mobility impairments and an independent lifestyle, it can be a real blessing.
If the oven is difficult to access because it’s too low, you might consider using other smaller and portable appliances to take its place, such as a microwave or a toaster oven. These appliances can be placed on the counter top or bench, which is usually much more easily accessible.
Keep items that are used often in easy to reach places; don’t let them get lost in the back of the refrigerator. Storage tricks like installing sliding wire shelf baskets or lazy susans can be very helpful. If it’s difficult to move around open cupboard doors, replace the hinges with 180° hinges, or take the doors off entirely and replace them with curtains.
When gathering ingredients or supplies together, you might use a tray on wheels to help transport heavy kitchen items from station to station.
Shed a Little Light on It
Upping the lighting level is very helpful, so consider replacing current light bulbs with higher output bulbs. Keep in mind that fluorescent bulbs last a very long time and have to be replaced much less often than ordinary incandescent bulbs. Place automatic nightlights around your home, especially in areas that are dark or particularly difficult to navigate.
One handy tip: Instead of using table lamps with a switch, consider changing to a touch-sensitive or remote-control operated lamp. These lamps are great for those with limited dexterity, as well as for those who have a difficult time with mobility.
Declare Your Independence
There are lots of resources out there for those with disabilities, which is a relief to know. But, while you should always ask for help when you need it, it’s always nice to know you can get along just fine in your day-to-day life. Your home is, after all, your sanctuary.
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