If you’ve got someone who lives with you who has mobility impairment and needs a wheelchair to move around, there are a lot of different things you can do in order to make your home more wheelchair-friendly and accessible. Giving a mobility-impaired person the ability to get around your home can be one of the best things you do for them, as it will give them the sense of independence, which in turn can improve their quality of life and confidence. Regardless of whether the impairment is temporary or permanent, there are many different things that you can do to make your home easier to maneuver.
The first thing to do when creating a more wheelchair-friendly home is making the daily necessities more easily accessible and removing barriers. This can involve modifications in a couple of rooms only, or in the entire home. Some of these modifications are simple DIY projects, but there are also some modifications that require more extensive renovations. For example, one of the simplest things that can make a huge difference in how wheelchair accessible your home is are the doors. The width of the door, the room it opens to, the door itself and the threshold in the doorway can all be barriers if they aren’t designed to accommodate passage of wheelchairs.
Ideally, the doorway should be at least 80cm wide to accommodate a wheelchair passage. Comfortable wheelchair passage is usually realised at 90cm. Unfortunately, most residential doors range from 60cm to 75cm. The door itself and its trim can also block the passage through the doorway. And while the task of changing all your doors may seem daunting to address, homeowners are presented with a number of practical options, such as installing offset hinges and completely removing the doors or the trim. Installing offset hinges allows the doors to swing clear of the doorway, which can add a few centimetres of extra clearance. Offset, or Z-hinges are easy to install and are relatively inexpensive to buy.
On the other hand, one of the bigger modifications you can make is install wheelchair lifts for house use. Wheelchair lifts allow people to get to different storeys without assistance. Even a single step can present a huge challenge for a wheelchair user, which makes these lifts amazing solutions for your home. When looking at wheelchair lifts for house applications, you can pick between 3 types of lifts. Step lifts, passenger lifts and platform lifts. Platform lifts are the most common type, as they don’t take up as much space as passenger lifts, and are more general-application than step lifts.
Contrary to popular belief, wheelchair lifts for house applications are compact and far more appealing than ramps. They can be installed in a corner or on your stairs, depending on your home’s features and preferences, which also makes them flexible. Further, they’re easy to install, and the vendor that sells them is generally the one doing the installation. Although they might be costly to get, wheelchair lifts are a cost-effective, long-term solution that provides mobility-impaired people with accessibility and improved quality of life without investing in major home renovations or refurbishments.
Then, there are things you can do to specific rooms like the bedroom or kitchen which can make them more readily accessible. For instance, you want your bed’s height to not be too much above floor level so that the wheelchair user will have an easier time getting in and out of bed without having to “climb” onto the bed’s surface. The bed should be accessible from both sides, and at least one side should have enough room to accommodate the wheelchair, plus some room to maneuver it.
Clothing storage is a more complicated matter of the design process, and it may require some remodeling, especially the closet. Some of the things you can do are get the rods for hanging clothes lowered, and using off the floor shelving for folded clothing storage and shoes. The chest of dressers and drawers should also be at an appropriate height, and the clothes inside them should be organised appropriately. For instance, clothes that are commonly worn should be at the most easily accessible drawers, whereas clothes rarely worn should be at the bottom.
When it comes to making your kitchen wheelchair-friendly, there are many different things you can do in order to accomplish that. However, the extent to which you want to go will depend on how often the person in a wheelchair will use it. Besides making sure there’s enough space to move with the wheelchair between obstacles, there are 4 other important aspects to take into account, including sinks, cabinetry, countertops and appliances.
The height of the countertops is the most important factor when making changes to a conventional kitchen. You’ll want to lower the countertops, but you’ll also have to keep in mind that people in wheelchair require extra leg, knee and toe space, which may require the removal of base cabinets. That being said, you can replace the base cabinets with portable, roll-out cabinets to maximise your storage capacity.
The sinks will also need extra space underneath to allow for the user’s legs and knees. The faucets should be single lever and you should consider a hose sprayer. Further, the faucet can also be side-mounted for extra accessibility, and a small cabinet or slide-out drawer near the sink can come in handy for storing cleaning supplies. Speaking of cabinets, all of the cabinets in the kitchen should be lowered to a usable height, and the lower cabinets should be eliminated to allow for leg and knee space.
And lastly, consider lowering all appliances to a maximum height of 75cm, except the dishwasher, which may have to be raised in order to become more accessible. Oven and stone heights and the stove’s top controls should be placed at the front of the stovetop to prevent wheelchair users from having to reach across hot burners to turn them off. As far as refrigerators go, consider getting a side by side refrigerator or a refrigerator with a bottom drawer freezer for more accessibility.