Everyone wants their home to be reliable and secure; there's no exception for people with disabilities. Creating a truly accessible home requires understanding the needs of each person who lives there, which can change over time. However, with a proper assessment and a proactive approach toward modification, individuals of all abilities can enjoy many happy and safe years in their homes.
What Makes a Home Accessible?
An accessible home is one that both reduces accidents or injuries and empowers those living in the house with as much independence as possible. The goal is to give residents the freedom to live and thrive in the home. This may require modifications that prevent accidents or make daily activities easier.
Accessible homes may have structural improvements, minor enhancements, or accessories and appliances that help the resident do more than could be done without these changes. They should work for the person with disabilities and each family member.
Disability and Accessibility Home Assessment
While you may assume that some general changes to the home will make living there better, a personalized home assessment is the best way to make meaningful improvements. It's nearly impossible to know what an individual needs without seeing them move around in the home, using each room as intended, and seeing the gaps they experience in what they want to do versus what they can do.
Not every gap can be filled with a modification, but a personalized approach is best for those that can. What may benefit one resident may be a waste of space or money for another. A professional assessment done by a local nonprofit organization can help you understand what's needed. Financial assistance could be available to make recommended improvements.
Commercial builders and installers may also offer these services, but they may not be unbiased while offering ideas outside of their products or services. So if you use them, be prepared to get a sales pitch.
Some DIY Modifications To Consider
One of the more common categories of modification includes making areas of the home more wheelchair or walker friendly. Even for those without these types of durable medical equipment, homes can be improved to be more accessible and adaptable. These modifications offer some of the best returns on investment for those taking a DIY approach.
Carpets and area rugs tend to bunch up and be difficult to move around on, creating a fall hazard. Look for ways to reduce trip and fall hazards in each room and make it easier for wheelchairs or scooters to maneuver.
Changing the flooring takes a lot of time and energy, so don't feel you must do it all at once. Unlike other home modifications, which can be updated or changed every few years or so, flooring tends to be a long-term decision. Research surfaces that are both durable and accessible, such as laminate flooring.
Of all the DIY modification ideas, lighting may be the easiest to do on your own. Lighting should be sufficient for safe maneuverability in each room in the home, including those areas not often used. For example, closets and any extra space where the resident may go should have a light with switches that are easy to reach and use.
Lighting is one aspect of the home that may benefit from technology. “Smart” tech, which uses Bluetooth or wireless connections so you can control them from a smartphone or thermostat panel, makes it easy to turn a light on or off from anywhere else in the home. Lighting levels can be preset to ensure no one has to stumble into a dark room to get to the light switch.
Lighting can be both functional and beautiful. In fact, welding your own light fixture is one way to solve visibility issues and help elevate the home’s décor at the same time.
For those with limited mobility, accessing the upper level of a home is a lot of work. However, it's not always necessary to replace all stairs with wheelchair ramps, but if it makes sense in an area, consider how you can make your own ramp. Both wooden ramps and steel ramps can work, although they should fit into the home's existing structure in a seamless way for the resident to use. Consider portable ramps if in a rental.
If a ramp isn't needed, railings can make a difference. These iron handrails are welded at home and can be used indoors and outdoors.
In rare cases, more than ramps and railings will be required, and assistive technology, such as a stair lift, may be the only option. Having a wide enough stairway to accommodate these appliances is essential for them to be used safely.
If you keep stairs in the home, one good idea is to mark each step with a lighted strip or other visible markings; this helps residents in the house clearly see each step, even in the dark.
Don't forget the stairs to the front door or back porch. Being able to get in and out of the home shouldn't be a chore or a safety risk, and friends with disabilities should feel welcome too. Use materials designed for all-weather applications and the wear and tear of the elements.
The bathroom is one of the most critical places in the home to prioritize safety and accessibility, since it's used so often. Wet, slippery surfaces can make activities like bathing or using the toilet more hazardous for persons with disabilities.
Recommended modifications include grab bars in the shower or tub, and rail supports next to the toilet. These accessories may be affordable and easy to install on your own. Ensure the materials have a brushed or textured finish so they can be gripped even when wet.
Replace any slippery flooring with a textured tile or laminate surface. You may also consider grip strips on the floor which add more traction. If you see any damage or decay, schedule repairs immediately. Not only can it present a trip hazard, but mold growth in bathrooms happens quickly when left untreated and may cause health concerns.
Since bathrooms are traditionally more narrow than other rooms, some cupboards or cabinets may need to be removed to make room for wheelchairs or walkers. Switching out a vanity sink for one with space underneath is one example. You can even weld simple shelving units and countertop frames that take up less floor space for maximum mobility.
Your choice of bathtub and shower may make a big difference in the home, as well. “Zero entry” showers have no lip on the base, making them an excellent solution for wheelchair users, as they can roll in or use adaptive devices to bathe without having to get additional assistance. If there’s no need for a bathtub, consider the "roll-in shower" solution as an alternative to the walk-in tub, which uses a lot of water and can be more expensive to install. .
A kitchen presents many modification opportunities since they are generally not built for people with physical disabilities. For example, countertops should be at the appropriate level, with the underside of at least one workstation recessed enough for a wheelchair to sit under. Slide-out cutting boards are another option for creating a space that works.
Stove knobs and appliances need to be close enough to be reached easily but not so close to the edge of the counter that they pose a risk. Ensure kitchens have fire extinguishers, proper cooking ventilation, and alarm systems to alert homeowners to smoke and carbon monoxide threats.
Open cabinets are reasonable solutions for keeping kitchen tools handy and within reach; they meet many personal needs by just removing cabinet doors.
We spend a third of our lives sleeping or trying to, so putting extra time and care into bedroom design only makes sense. Bedrooms should be open enough to provide ample wheelchair or walker access, plus give fuss-free pathways to the bed and furniture.
Installing bed railings helps residents to both get into bed and stay there during the night. These don't have to be electric or even very complicated. You might also choose to weld your bed frame closer to the ground with raised sides. This is not only a sound way to support sleep, but it looks great, too!
Remember to follow the rules for lighting and flooring that you use in the other rooms of the home. Being able to see well is one of the easiest ways to create greater independence in older adults and those with specific needs.
Depending on the home design, doorways may be too narrow for a wheelchair or scooter, so start by widening doorways to allow movement in the home. Doors shouldn’t be too heavy to open by people with disabilities. In fact, you may consider sliding or "pocket" doors, which slide to the side into the wall and don't take up additional space when open.
Sliding barn doors are another modern and smart solution. Consider welding your own hardware to get a custom size for any area of the home. When installed, they provide easy access with just the slide of a fashionable wooden panel.
For those who can afford the cost, automatic doors provide the easiest entry for the home wheelchair user.
Other Cost-Effective Modifications
You don’t have to be a DIY pro to make impactful changes to the home. Creating an accessible environment for individuals with disabilities can include a few simple home improvements.
Doorknobs create difficulty for some with limited hand strength, grip, and coordination. For many with disabilities, they can more easily press lever handles than deal with the cumbersome round knobs.
Remove Rugs and Liners
Rugs and carpets can be a trip hazard, making it hard for wheelchairs and walkers to move freely. Get rid of rugs and floor mats completely. Even those with anti-slip backs wear out over time and can become entangled in the wheels of mobility equipment.
Smart Home Technology
As mentioned in the lighting section, technology has made it easier to do more, even with physical or mobility challenges. Voice assistants, such as that found on your phone or smart home devices, allow users to give commands for simple tasks that may otherwise require a trip across the house. Everything from turning off the sprinklers to shutting the garage door to printing out the grocery order can be done with a connected voice assistant.
Even home appliances, like your refrigerator, can be connected to a smart home ecosystem. For example, smart fridges can order more groceries when you run out; smart ovens cook meals to perfection with the touch of a button. For those who struggle with energy or coordination, these products can create additional flexibility and stability in the home.
Home Modifications: Bigger Isn’t Always Better
While making every area of the home accessible to someone with disabilities may require a major home remodel, some of the more meaningful changes can be done quickly and cheaply. For those with some welding or carpentry skills, however, even those larger projects and come in under budget. The key is to focus in the needs of the individual, taking into account how they prefer to move about the home. A personalized modification is the best modification.