Making Your Home Wheelchair Accessible in Four Easy Steps

elder man pushing a wheelchair

One of the most difficult life changes that I personally dealt with when I was in a wheelchair was traversing my own home. Cabinets are too high to reach, doors are barely wide enough, you can’t just get into the shower, and forget about sitting at a countertop.

The world isn’t designed with wheelchair accessibility in mind.

However, you can easily make your home wheelchair accessible through simple home improvement projects.

Making Your Home Wheelchair Accessible One Step at a Time

Improvements, such as lowering countertops or cabinetry, are costly, and these are more intense improvement projects. You’ll want to start slowly, making the improvements that will have the biggest impact on a person’s quality of life first.

A general rule of thumb is to tackle the following tasks to make your home wheelchair accessible.

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1. Tackle Steps and Stairs First

A person needs to be able to enter their home before anything else is done. You’ll need to incorporate ramps to allow a person to enter the home on their own. If steps exist, ramps need to be put in place.

Outdoor entry may require:

  • Modular ramps that are designed to meet the immediate needs of the users. Customizable, these ramps are made with aluminum and help a person go up multiple steps without issue.
  • Custom ramps are able to accomplish the same goal as a modular ramp, but these ramps are specifically designed for the user. Rails may or may not be in place, and the ramp may be made with concrete or wood.

Once the person is able to enter the home, it’s time to look for any thresholds, stairs or steps that may them from going through the home.

Small thresholds are easy to overcome with threshold ramps. These small ramps will be placed near very small thresholds that may be 0.5 inch or 6 inches. Aluminum threshold ramps are ideal on the higher end, but rubber ramps are also good because they’re heavy and durable. Weight doesn’t matter as much with these ramps.

Large sets of stairs will require a different approach.

Ramps will not be suited for indoor staircases because the gradient will be too drastic. Stair lifts will be the ideal solution for indoor staircases. These lifts can be costly, but they’re easy to install. All that’s required is a few bolts and an electrical outlet for most modern stairlifts.

But this is a job that’s best suited for a handyman or a professional installer.

2. Doorways Come Next

Now that a person can traverse the home, it’s important that the doorways are wide enough for a wheelchair. A person that has some mobility, and can use a walker, cane or crutches, will often be able to wheel up to the door and proceed through it with their mobility device.

But a person that is wheelchair-bound and cannot use a mobility aid will want to have the doorways expanded.

A few things to consider are:

  • Width should be a minimum of 32 inches
  • Doors should be easy to open with easy-to-use doorknobs
  • Space to maneuver should be provided near the doorway

A person may be able to swing the door open, but they will need to position their wheelchair to do so. You’ll want to make sure that there’s room for the wheelchair on the left or right side of the door so that the individual can confidently open and close the doors in the home.

3. Moving to the Bathroom

A wheelchair-friendly home means having a bathroom that is able to easily be entered and traversed. This may be difficult when the bathroom is narrow, and significant work may be needed to allow for enough space for a wheelchair.

This means expanding the door’s width and also making sure that the space to the toilet and shower is wide enough.

A few additional projects to undertake are:

  • Install grab bars near the toilet and in the shower as needed.
  • Add a toilet riser to make transfers off and on to the toilet easier.
  • Install a shower chair for users who cannot stand up.

If you want to go the extra mile, you may want to allow the wheelchair to enter under the sink. This will allow the person to easily wash their hands, but this can be a significant investment.

A person that can stand or will put their feet on the floor during a transfer will also appreciate a non-slip surface. Flooring that provides traction offers the utmost safety and will prevent accidental slips and falls.

4. Bedroom Accommodations

You should have at least once bedroom in the home that is truly wheelchair accessible. This bedroom will be the place where the person lays their head down at night and can be confident in their ability to reach their clothes, alarm clock and any other items they need.

A few things to consider are:

  • Nightstands where the person can keep all of their essentials in easy-to-reach places.
  • Closet spaces and shelves need to be lowered to allow for easy reaching.
  • Dressers need to be the appropriate height with enough space for a person to open and close them while seated.

As a person settles into their room, make sure that you ask them if there are any changes that would make life easier. Something as simple as lowering a light switch can make a world of difference for someone in a wheelchair.

Finally, it’s time to take an assessment of the rest of the home. Pots, pans, and dishware should be, when possible, within easy reach. You’ll want to move furniture or remove furniture to allow the person to move around the home easily.

If possible, keep the person’s bedroom on the first floor to eliminate the need of going up and down the stairs.

Over time, assess the home and make any additional improvements that will make life in a wheelchair more accommodating. Making your home wheelchair accessible is a process that will take time, and when in doubt, you can ask a physical or occupational therapist to assess the home to determine what other changes may be necessary.

Best Wheelchair Cushions For Pressure Relief

man at the beach in a wheelchair

A wheelchair cushion provides support and allows for even weight distribution to prevent pressure sores and maximize comfort.

There are many different types of wheelchair cushions on the market. Each has its own advantages and disadvantages. The most common types are:

  • Foam
  • Gel memory foam
  • Hybrid
  • Air
  • Alternating pressure

Air, hybrid and alternating pressure cushions are ideal for those who are unable to carry out pressure relieving movements throughout the day. While more expensive, these cushions are the best at preventing pressure sores in those who with very limited movement.

Foam and gel memory foam are the most popular types of cushion material. They offer excellent support and comfort, and they’re budget-friendly. We’ll share six of our favorites to help you find the right pressure relief cushion for your wheelchair.

1. VIVE Wheelchair Cushion Xtra-Comfort Series

VIVE Wheelchair Cushion Xtra-ComfortVIVE offers a range of different wheelchair cushions, but the Xtra-Comfort series is designed to be more comfortable than supportive.

The cushion features four layers of supportive comfort:

  • Non-slip base and water-resistant cover that’s machine washable.
  • Waterproof seal to prevent fluids from entering the foam.
  • Resilient foam that holds its shape to provide supportive comfort all day.
  • Liquid gel interior for extra comfort and even pressure distribution.

This wheelchair seat cushion has a liquid gel core that offers superior pressure distribution compared to regular foam. With two waterproof layers, you don’t have to worry about spills or moisture wearing down and warping the foam.

VIVE’s Xtra-Comfort cushion is designed to fit standard wheelchairs and office chairs. The non-slip base keeps the cushion in place, so you don’t have to worry about it slipping if you have to adjust your sitting position.

The cushion is large enough to cover the entire seat, but it’s still small and lightweight enough to be portable.

The cushion’s dimensions are:

  • 75” x 15” and 2” thick

VIVE offers a 60-day money-back guarantee, so you can buy this cushion with peace of mind in knowing that if it doesn’t work for you, you can get your money back.

Click here to view the VIVE Xtra-Comfort cushion on Amazon.

2. VIVE Cushion Gel Seat

Another cushion from VIVE, this model is designed for back support, tailbone, sciatica and coccyx pain relief. Like the previous model, this cushion has four layers of comfort:

  • Water-resistant cover that’s soft to the touch and machine washable.
  • Waterproof seal to prevent fluid from entering the foam cushion.
  • Comfortable and supportive foam that holds its shape.
  • Liquid gel interior for even pressure distribution.

The cushion’s liquid gel core allows for superior weight distribution to prevent and alleviate pressure sores. It also has two waterproof layers to keep fluid and moisture away from the foam layer.

VIVE’s pressure relief cushion is just the right size to fit standard wheelchairs, and office chairs. It covers the entire seat, but is still small and light for easy portability.

This cushion is a little smaller than the previous model from VIVE, with dimensions of:

  • 18” x 16” and 2.5” thick

Like other VIVE products, this model has a 60-day money-back guarantee.

Click here to view the VIVE gel seat cushion on Amazon.

3. Xtreme Comforts Large Cushion

Xtreme Comforts Large Seat CushionXtreme Comforts offers a large seat cushion with a carry handle and anti-slip bottom. This cushion is larger than the previous two, with dimensions of:

  • 19” x 17.5” and 3.5” thick

Like the other cushions on our list, this one has a removable cover that’s machine washable for easy care. The cover features a breathable material, so you don’t have to worry about overheating when sitting on the cushion.

The durable foam in this cushion won’t lose its shape even after extensive use. The size is a little larger than the VIVE cushions, but it still fits standard wheelchairs. And because of its easy portability, this cushion can also be used on office chairs, cars, trains, planes and even at sporting events.

Click here to view the Xtreme Comforts cushion on Amazon.

4. Essential Medical Supply Fleece Covered Cushion

Essential Medical Supply’s cushion is actually designed for use with wheelchairs. The fleece cover adds to the comfort level, and the thick layer of foam adds support. The cover is also machine washable and breathable.

This cushion’s dimensions are:

  • 18” x 16” and 3” thick

Although this wheelchair pad does not have a gel layer, the thick foam does make it comfortable and supportive. The breathable cushion helps eliminate some of the circulation issues that come with regular foam.

Essential Medical Supply also offers another cushion size: 16” x 16,” so if you have a narrower wheelchair, you can opt for a smaller size.

The only complaint with this cushion is that it doesn’t have a non-slip bottom. This can make it a little difficult to keep the cushion in place when it’s in use. Otherwise, it’s a soft and comfortable option for wheelchairs of virtually every size.

Click here to view the Essential Medical Supply cushion on Amazon.

5. Kieba Coccyx Seat Cushion

Kieba Coccyx Seat CushionKieba’s seat cushion is designed for maximum comfort and pain relief. There’s a premium memory foam layer that features soothing gel technology for support and comfort. This model is a little larger, which provides more gel coverage other gel cushions.

The U-shaped design alleviates pain and tension from the lower back, hip, tailbone, sciatic areas and spine. And it has a removable cover that’s machine washable for easy care.

Kieba’s coccyx seat cushion has the following dimensions:

  • 14” x 18” and 3” thick

This model weighs just three pounds, so it’s easily portable. It can also be used in cars, planes, trains and even office chairs.

The premium therapeutic foam will not flatten out even after prolonged use, and the non-slip bottom ensures that the cushion stays in place. If you have to shift positions, you don’t to worry about the cushion slipping off the seat or moving into an uncomfortable position.

Click here to view the Kieba coccyx seat cushion on Amazon.

6. Tektrum Thick Orthopedic Gel Seat Cushion

Tektrum’s thick gel seat cushion provides lower back pain and sciatica relief to alleviate pressure on the tailbone and promote proper posture.

This cushion is the ideal size for a wheelchair, although it’s not as thick as other models. Tektrum’s cushion has the following dimensions:

  • 18” x 16” and 1.8” thick

A pressure-relieving soft gel is layered over high density foam to redistribute pressure and offer relief. The foam holds its shape even after prolonged use, so you don’t have to worry about it flattening over time.

The non-slip bottom keeps the cushion in place during use, and the neoprene cover material is breathable for added comfort. The cushion also has built-in cooling vents to keep you cool even when using the cushion for a long period of time.

The cover isn’t removable, so you won’t be able to wash it in the washing machine. But it’s anti-microbial and water resistant. It can also be spot cleaned with a damp rag.

Portable and lightweight, this cushion is easy to take with you on the go. While not as thick as other options, Tektrum’s cushion still offers excellent support and pressure relief.

Click here to view the Tektrum thick orthopedic gel cushion on Amazon.

Coccyx Cushions

You can also use a coccyx seat cushion if you are having issues with tailbone pain. You will most likely feel this pain at the bony spot at the bottom of your spine. If you are experiencing this type pain, there are specially designed cushions that can provide relief. You can find one that we recommend here:

Hip Fractures and Seniors: Why This is One of the Biggest Injury Concerns

seniors walking in nature

Hip fractures and seniors can be very serious. When a person has a fractured hip at a young age, they’re likely to recover without much of a concern. But seniors are an entirely different scenario. Common and painful, a broken or fractured hip can be a sign of:

  • Osteoporosis
  • Loss of muscle control
  • Nerve issues
  • Other conditions

When a senior’s mobility is lessened, this can also be a cause for concern because the senior will be at a higher risk of falling. A senior that is at a higher risk of falls will be at a higher risk of breaking a hip, and a broken hip can lead to:

  • Further mobility loss
  • Loss of confidence

Mortality rates are also impacted as a result of a hip fracture. Studies show that the majority of hip fractures occur in seniors aged 65 or older (87% to 96% of all fractures).  Mortality rate in hip fractures are three-fold higher than a person in the general population.

Complications led to higher mortality, such as infections, heart failure and pulmonary embolism.

Annually, over 300,000 people over the age of 65 enter the hospital because of a hip fracture. Falls are the leading cause of a fracture, with 95% of fractures due to a fall. Women are at a much higher risk of fracture due to higher rates of osteoporosis, or a condition that causes the bone to become brittle. Brittle bones fracture and break with greater ease, leading to a much higher risk of injury or breaks as a result.

Women also fall more often, leading to higher complications from falls.

Fractures in seniors have decreased in the last decade, but still, 25% of geriatric fractures will require hospital admission.

Risks of Falls and Fractures

Seniors have one main reason for hip fractures: falls. It becomes a necessity that seniors learn why falls happen and do their best to try and prevent falls in the future. Numerous personal risks for falls exist, and the most common reasons for falls occurring are:

  • Vision. As a person’s vision decreases, they will be at a higher risk of tripping and falling. Not being able to see as well as in the past is common as a person ages, and continual eye exams will be able to reduce the risk of vision problems leading to falls and increased injury.
  • Muscle loss. Muscle mass will decrease as a senior ages, and this will lead to gradual muscle loss that can lead to weak muscles. The legs are the most common area where muscle loss will lead to a fall.
  • Balance issues. A person that has balance issues may have a medical condition that is causing the issues, or weak muscles, especially in the hips and core, may be the culprit.
  • Dizziness. Age-related health issues or medical conditions can lead to dizziness and eventually falling over. Postural hypertension is one of the main reasons that a person will become dizzy and fall over.
  • Blood pressure. A common cause of dizziness. Blood pressure may drop as a person stands up, causing a person to feel faint and fall over in some circumstances.
  • Reflexes. A person’s reflexes will begin to slow as they get older, and this can make it more difficult to regain balance. If a person cannot regain balance, there may be a higher risk of falls as well as a higher risk of more serious injuries.

Environmental factors can also lead to falls, and these are easy to fix. A few of the environmental factors that can lead directly to falls include:

  • Poor lighting
  • Loose carpets that lead to trips
  • Clutter that leads to trips
  • Lack of access to grab bars or rails

A person that wants to reduce their risk of falling in their home can opt to:

  • Increase lighting so that the floor is visible
  • Replace or fix loose carpeting
  • Remove obstacles and tight areas that can lead to falls
  • Install grab bars in the bathroom
  • Install railing where steps are located

When bone loss or medical conditions are the cause of a fracture or fall, doctors can recommend a variety of treatments, such as bisphosphonates which reduce bone loss, or hormones which will help combat the risk of osteoporosis.

Calcitonin can also be used to promote calcium regulation.

Surgery and Hip Fractures

Hip fractures may require surgery, and this is necessary to repair a break. The type of surgery performed will depend on the fracture, and this may include:

  • Pinning if the fracture is at the femur’s neck
  • Plates and screws for fractures below the femur’s neck

In both cases, surgery will last hours and the doctor will try to correct the position of the hip. Full hip replacement may also be an option, but a patient must consider his or her options carefully because a full hip replacement is a serious surgical procedure.

Full hip replacement is required if the ball portion of the joint was damaged in the fall.

You’ll want to discuss your options with your doctor at this point to ensure you choose the right surgery.

After surgery, the patient will be at a risk of complications. It’s important to know that the patient will be confined to a wheelchair or bed for quite some time, and this will lead to further muscle loss.

Surgery will always come with risks, and these include the formation of blood clots, infections at the incision site and other fractures that may have occurred during the surgery. It’s important that pain be treated following surgery, and this may include:

  • Pain relievers

Proper treatment and care following surgery is a must, and this would include rehabilitation. Therapy will help a person rebuild the muscle lost after surgery and learn how to walk after the procedure has been performed.

Hip fractures are not something that an elderly person can ignore once they occur. Forgoing medical attention can lead to further complications and injuries that will have a lasting impact on the senior that has been involved in the incident.