How to Create a Wheelchair Accessible Home

Creating a wheelchair accessible home
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Whether you are a wheelchair user moving into a new property or someone who has recently found themselves in need of a wheelchair, improving your home to make it more accessible is a must.

Most homes have not been designed to be wheelchair accessible. This can make life challenging for anyone living with a disability or mobility impairment. In this guide, we will show you how to make your home handicap accessible. These tips and tricks will help to improve your quality of life and allow you to live safely and independently.

Contents

Bathroom

Creating an accessible bathroom for wheelchair users

It is incredibly easy for an injury to occur in the bathroom, even for able-bodied people. Add in physical disabilities or mobility issues, and that risk increases even further. For this reason alone, it is essential to ensure that you have an accessible bathroom that is as safe as possible to use.

Install Grab Bars to Reduce the Risk of Slips & Falls

Grab bars provide a secure point for you to hold onto when moving around the bathroom. Whether this is transferring from your wheelchair to the toilet or into the shower, or simply for steadying yourself as you get dry after bathing. Having these offers you better stability and may reduce the risk of slips and falls.

But one of the most important factors is that the grab bars are able to take the weight of the user. Depending on the type of grab bar, they may be able to withstand more or less weight but the minimum expectation would be that it would support 250 lbs.

Angled grab rails are usually placed at a 45º angle from the user and are ideal for when you need to hold onto something as you raise or lower yourself. Horizontal grab rails are also ideal for moving from sitting to standing and are particularly useful around the bath and shower. They have greater resistance and provide less of a slipping hazard than an angled rail. You might also opt for vertical grab rails, which are excellent for steadying yourself as you shower. In any case, the rails should have a non-slip surface for optimum safe use.

You should ensure that any grab rails are placed at the correct height in accordance with the user so that the person does not need to overextend themselves.

Replace a Tub with a Walk-In Shower or Wet Room

If you have limited mobility, it can be challenging to lift your leg to get into the bathtub. In this case, it can be a good idea to replace this with a walk-in shower. You might even consider converting the entire bathroom to create a wet room which removes the hassle of even small steps into the shower area.

If you are installing a walk-in shower, you should be mindful that the entrance must be wide enough to accommodate a wheelchair comfortably; 60 inches would be the minimum width. You should avoid installing a walk-in shower that has a lip or step at the entrance, as this can make it difficult to get the wheelchair in and out.

If You Prefer Taking Baths Fit a Walk-In Bathtub

Some people like to relax in the bath, but just because you find it difficult to get into a regular bathtub, that doesn’t mean you cannot enjoy a bath. There are many walk-in bathtubs that feature a door. The user gets into the bath through this door before filling it with water.

Once you are done, you release the water down the drain before opening the door and getting out again. The only downside is having to wait for the bath to fill and empty.

Fit a Shower Chair or Stool

It can be difficult for some people to stand for prolonged periods of time, such as when they are washing themselves in the shower. Even with grab bars, this can still be challenging so installing a shower chair or stool is a viable solution.

These chairs are lightweight and waterproof. Some can be permanently fitted into the shower, whereas others are portable and ideal for travel or when you are visiting family. You will also notice that there are foldable shower chairs that can be removed and stored if space is limited. These chairs allow the user to sit comfortably in the shower for as long as they need to.

Fit the Toilet at the Correct Height

A low toilet can be problematic for people with physical disabilities or mobility issues. For this reason, the ADA recommends that an accessible toilet must be between 17 and 19 inches in height.

For homes with both disabled and able-bodied residents, there are toilet seat attachments that can be added and removed as necessary. Some of these seats have armrests and safety guards for users with balance or stability problems.

It can be helpful to install L-shaped grab bars around the toilet to allow the user to lower and raise themselves safely.

Replace Cabinet Sinks with Pedestal or Roll-Under Sink

It can be difficult for a wheelchair user to access the bathroom sink, so it is important to use a pedestal sink where possible, as this provides the easiest access. If this is not possible, you may choose to remove the doors on under-sink cabinets to provide more space for the wheelchair.

However, one should keep in mind that freestanding sinks do not offer as much support and maybe weaker if the user needs to lean heavily on them. In this case, a bracket or grab bar should be fitted.

Lower Mirrors

When seated in a wheelchair, the user will be unable to comfortably use a high mirror without straining themselves. To avoid having to stand unnecessarily, it is essential to lower the position of wall mirrors so that the wheelchair user can easily see what they are doing when applying make-up or grooming themselves.

Favor Single-Lever Faucets

For users whose dexterity is affected, faucets that require twisting can be problematic. However, there are many faucets that benefit from a single lever for operation, which is much easier for a disabled resident. This also means that the user can operate the tap using only one hand.

Ensure There is a Sufficient Turning Radius

While the wheelchair may be able to enter the bathroom through the door, it can be difficult to get it back out again if there is not sufficient space within the room to perform a full turn. When installing an accessible bathroom, it is vital that you allow a turning radius of at least 60 inches.

Use Slip-Resistant Flooring

Slippery floors and water patches are among some of the most common reasons that people experience accidents and falls in the bathroom. To avoid this, it is essential to use a non-slip flooring surface.

It is possible to purchase slip-resistant tiles whose integrity is not affected when they become wet. Moreover, choosing textured tiles will provide greater traction even when water is present. However, if these options are not available, it can be helpful to lay down a temporary slip-resistant covering or mat.

Kitchen

Creating a wheelchair accessible kitchen

Being able to retain your independence by preparing meals in your home is essential for your mental wellbeing. However, this will mean that you will need to make some modifications to your kitchen so that it is safer and easier to use.

Lower Countertops

Kitchen countertops should be installed at a level that allows the wheelchair user to access them whilst seated. This makes completing kitchen tasks like food prep much easier and will give the user better access to their utensils.

If lower countertops are not installed, this can increase the risk of falling, as the user will likely have to overreach to complete the task at hand. A typical standing countertop sits at 36 inches, whereas one for wheelchair users should be as low as 28 inches. However, this can vary, and it is also possible to install an adjustable base that allows you to move the countertop into the most accessible position. It is also important to have at least 8-10 inches of clearance under the countertop to allow for wheelchair wheels.

Use a Roll-Under Sink

In much the same way that a bathroom sink can be modified, it is also possible to fit a roll-under sink in the kitchen. This will allow the user to get close enough to the sink to be able to wash vegetables, do the dishes and clean their hands.

Cabinets Should be Installed at Eye-Height

The wheelchair user should also be able to access cabinets and drawers without having to stand. If there are wall cabinets installed, it is recommended to lower these so that the bottom shelf sits no higher than 48 inches.

The cabinets and drawers should be able to be easily opened and closed but installing features such as pull-out cabinets, lazy Susans, and storage racks is also a good idea.

Bedroom

Fortunately, making your bedroom accessible is one of the easier parts of adapting your home to be wheelchair-friendly. While it is the best idea to choose a property with a larger bedroom that allows for wheelchair turns and space to move around, there are also other things that are important in this room.

Fit a Profiling Bed

A profiling bed is one whose mattress comes in various sections; typically two, three, or four. These sections can move independently, allowing you to be raised or lowered as necessary. The bed is operated using a push-button, making it simple for users with limited dexterity to use on their own.

This type of furniture can make getting into and out of bed much easier as well as giving the user the opportunity to adjust their position. This is especially important for people who are bed-bound and at risk of pressure sores.

Use an Alternating Air Mattress

An alternating air mattress adjusts pressure points using air and this is essential for those who are at risk of pressure sores. For users who suffer from paralysis, a loss of sensation may mean that sores are not detected as quickly but using an alternating air mattress will aid in their prevention.

Fit a Cordless Phone

If you spend a lot of time in bed due to a medical condition, it can be difficult to access the telephone in times of emergency or when you need assistance. By fitting a cordless phone in the bedroom, you have the advantage of being able to call for help without struggling to access another part of the house.

Stairs

Making stairs accessible with a stairlift

If your home has stairs, this can be a particularly dangerous area. For this reason, modifications should be taken seriously.

Install a Stair Lift or Wheelchair Platform Lift

A wheelchair lift or a stairlift provides you with a safe and easy way to ascend the stairs without the risk of falling.

Stairlifts are ideal for people who have some mobility but cannot be used with a wheelchair. If you find it painful or difficult to get up and down the stairs, this is a very sensible option.

Depending on the type of staircase you have, there are different options. Some stairlifts are designed to be fitted to a straight staircase, whereas others will work if your stairs are curved or angled.

For users who need to remain in their wheelchair, you could consider installing a wheelchair platform lift that allows you to transport your wheelchair without the need to get out. What’s great about these devices is that they do not need to interfere with the structure of the home and can be installed as a temporary fixture.

There are two main types of wheelchair platform lift; the vertical and the incline. As their names may suggest, the main difference is the direction in which they travel. The vertical platform lift can be used both indoors and outdoors so makes a good choice for people with exterior staircases.

In any case, it is recommended that handrails are always installed along any set of stairs.

Consider Fitting a Home Elevator

A home elevator is ideal for those who intend to remain in their property for a lengthy period of time. While they are more expensive to fit and many require structural changes to the house, they do provide a safe and reliable way to move between floors.

In some homes, there may not be enough space to install a wheelchair platform lift, but there are space-saving elevators that are ideal for narrow stairs and compact spaces. Moreover, the modern solutions offer a quiet and energy-efficient method of transport and do not require lengthy installation periods.

Home elevators are also much quicker than wheelchair lifts and so save time in your day-to-day life. The elevator can be customized to your needs, including gates as well as being made from various materials and featuring different interiors.

Doorways & Corridors

When you are using a wheelchair, it can be markedly more difficult to navigate corridors and doors, especially if they are not wide enough. This is an important consideration when creating an accessible home.

Ensure Doorways are at the Correct Width

According to the ADA, doorways should be 32 inches in width to ensure that a standard wheelchair can move comfortably through. However, in a residential setting, doorways can be extended up to 48 inches for maximum accessibility. This is particularly important for users of heavy-duty wheelchairs that can measure up to 40 inches across.

As well as considering whether the wheelchair will fit through the doorway, you must also ensure that there is enough room to turn or maneuver. 

Corridors Should Be Wide Enough

In much the same way as a doorway should allow a wheelchair comfortable access, any corridors should also be wide enough. There should be enough clearance on either side of the chair for the user to be able to perform a complete turn.

Hallways and corridors should range between 36 and 48 inches, but this will largely depend on the width of the wheelchair.

Fit Automated Door Openers & Use Lever Handle Door Knobs

The easiest solution for opening doors would be to install an automated door opener. These are usually operated by pressing a large button which is excellent for those with dexterity issues. There are also some door openers that will pair with a smartphone or remote control for on-the-go access.

Alternatively, you might consider fitting new handles. Levers are typically far easier to operate than round doorknobs and can be opened with the elbow or by using only one hand.

Fit on Expandable Offset Door Hinges on Any Narrow Doorways

In some cases, it may not be possible to extend a doorway. However, in this case, you might consider installing an offset door hinge which will open up a little extra room, not to mention being far more cost-effective.

This method typically works for doors that are only a little less than 32 inches in width, so it is important to take measurements to determine the best solution.

Clear Any Obstacles that May Block Access

While moving a wheelchair through a suitable wider corridor or doorway is easy when the way is clear, obstructions can be an issue. When moving through corridors and doorways, you should ensure that there are as few obstacles as possible. If you have large pieces of furniture, it is a good idea to relocate these so that your wheelchair can easily pass by.

Eliminate Any Thresholds

Moving a wheelchair across a doorway that has a raised threshold is not only difficult, it can also be dangerous and may cause the wheelchair to tip. For this reason, it is essential to remove any raised thresholds so that the user can pass through unobstructed.

It is also a good idea to fit handrails along corridors and in doorways to allow users to steady themselves.

Fit Switches at Eye-Height

Light switches and power switches should be located 40 inches from the ground. This allows the user to easily access them and places them at eye height for easy visual access too. It is advisable to use rocker switches as these are far easier to operate and can be used with a closed fist.

Ensure Power Outlets are at Wheelchair Height

In much the same way as switches, you should ensure that your power sockets are located 40 inches from the ground for easier access. This will ensure that the wheelchair user is easily able to plug and unplug devices.

Floorings

Safe and reliable flooring is one of the best ways to reduce the risk of slips and falls.

Replace Carpeted Surfaces with Hard Flooring

Using a wheelchair on a carpet can be challenging, and the wheels will not glide as smoothly as they would when used on hard flooring. For this reason, we would suggest installing wooden, laminate, or vinyl floors. What’s more, you won’t be left with wheel imprints or marks.

This type of flooring is also easier to clean and will last far longer thanks to improved durability when compared to carpet.

It is not a wise idea to have rugs or loose carpets as these can pose a safety hazard as the wheelchair passes over them. They should be removed.

Entryways

Accessible residential entryway for wheelchair users

Being able to easily access and exit your property is something that a lot of people take for granted. However, when you are using a wheelchair, there are a lot of things that you need to consider.

Ensure Your Home Entrance is Wheelchair Accessible

As we have already discussed, a raised threshold is problematic for wheelchair users. Those at the entrance to the home should be as low as possible. Ideally, the doorway lip should be no more than half an inch in height. In addition, the doorway should measure at least 36 inches to allow the wheelchair to move freely through.

Wheelchair ramps are a good alternative to outdoor steps, and there are options to install a permanent one or purchase a portable ramp for single steps. Many ramps come with the option to install a side rail which will allow the user to access them without assistance.

Install Threshold Ramps

A threshold ramp allows a wheelchair user to move over the threshold safely and easily. However, there are limits, and these should not exceed an incline of more than 1:12. Anything more than this will be too steep to safely navigate. If your threshold is particularly small, there are portable, rubber ramps that can be removed as necessary.

When installing a ramp, it is essential to adhere to width recommendations with the minimum being 36 inches. You should also make sure that handrails are installed for optimal safety.

If your entranceway has a large set of steps, it might be worth considering a wheelchair platform lift like the ones we discussed earlier. Do ensure that the lift you choose is suitable for outdoor use, although for the most part, this will be the case.

Install a Video Doorbell

Video doorbells are a modern way to see who is at your door without actually having to open it. They provide additional security for vulnerable homeowners and allow you to speak to the person via a two-way communication system.

These devices are easy to install and can be operated via a smart device such as a cell phone or tablet.

Use Adequate Lighting

Coming and going from your home in the dark is risky, even when you are not in a wheelchair. Obstacles may not be as easily seen, and there is a greater risk of an accident. For this reason, it is advisable to install sufficient lighting around the entrance to your property to allow you to navigate safely.

Exteriors

Being able to live comfortably inside your home is one thing, but it is also important that your home exterior is as accessible as possible. Fortunately, modern technology means that this is easier than ever!

Fit an Automatic Garage Door Opener

If you arrive home in your car, it can be incredibly challenging to get out to open the garage door, but by using an automatic garage door opener, this is no longer a concern. These door openers are controlled remotely meaning that you can stay in the vehicle.

There are various operation options, but many involve using an app that you can download onto your smartphone. A lot of garage door openers also link up with your smart home device, meaning that you can control them with your voice.

A lot of people become concerned when they learn that the majority of garage door openers run on mains electricity. But thankfully, most models come with backup batteries, so you will never be left without power.

Use a Smart Lock for Keyless Entry

If you find it difficult to use a key then a smart lock might be a viable solution. These locks can be controlled using either a remote or an app which can be installed on your smart device. You will find that many are also compatible with a smart home setup and so can be controlled using your voice.

Moreover, this type of lock offers much greater safety and can be activated using an access code. This is great if you want to allow friends and family or your caregivers to access your home without having to leave the door unlocked. There is also an option to set the lock to release at a certain time if you are expecting a visitor.

Use Motion Activated Lighting in Key Areas

Without the hassle of having to turn on light switches, you will be much more easily able to navigate your home exterior. Motion sensors send a signal to the light at your approach which will then illuminate. These can be placed in key areas outside the home such as near doorways, at the entrance to the garage and on decked areas or patios.

Most modern motion sensor lights make use of LED bulbs which offer more brightness and will last longer than a traditional halogen bulb.

Install Pool/Spa Lift

Just because you have a disability, this does not mean that you cannot enjoy using a spa or swimming pool. However, you may need to alter the way you access these facilities, and installing a spa or pool lift is one of the best ways.

There are various types of pool lifts, and they generally differ in terms of how they are powered. Manual lifts are the most affordable but require an assistant to operate them. However, battery or hydro-powered options allow a more convenient way to enter the water.

If you are traveling, there are a variety of portable pool lifts which will collapse and can be transported in your vehicle. However, at home, you might consider a fitted option that also offers greater stability.

Jackie Benardout

Jackie Benardout

Jackie is a passionate advocate for keeping people with all types of mobility problems active. After suffering complications after a knee replacement she knew that she wanted to remain as active as before her numerous operations. Her passion is to advise others on how to be able to lead a fulfilling and independent life no matter what disability they may have.

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