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.
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.
Tim is a professional caregiver who has helped hundreds of seniors gain back their freedom and independence. He has been actively helping the senior community for 20+ years.