Home Modifications for Disabilities: Questions to Ask Before You Get Started
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Published on March 19, 2018
Home modifications make it possible for individuals with disabilities to turn a house into a comfortable home, but the specific modifications you make will depend on the specific needs of you or your loved one. Even if you already have some concrete ideas in mind, it’s a good idea to evaluate the specific needs of a loved one dealing with a disability. When you have a good idea of your loved one’s needs and limitations, then you need to begin asking some important questions before getting started to figure out which modifications should be done to best fit your family’s unique needs.
Questions to Ask Before Making Home Modifications
- Are Entries, Landscaping, and Doorways Easily Accessible?
- Does the Flooring Make Navigation and Mobility Easy?
- Are Lighting, Electrical, and Other Home Technology Controls Accessible?
- Is the Bathroom Accessible and Safe?
- Is the Kitchen Easy to Navigate, Safe, and Accessible?
- Are Living Areas and Bedrooms Accommodating to Disabilities?
Are Entries, Landscaping, and Doorways Easily Accessible?
The first question you’ll need to ask is: Is it easy to navigate into and out of your home? Even if the interior of your home is comfortable and accommodating, it won’t help if a loved one isn’t able to easily enter or leave the home.
For many people with mobility issues, stairs are not a good option. Two of the best options include lifts or ramps, although ramps are generally a more cost-effective option. Ramps also need fewer repairs and are more reliable than lifts. A portable ramp can even be an option if you only have a small rise to deal with. Just remember, you’ll need to have enough room available to have a ramp constructed, and if you don’t, a lift may end up being your only option.
Don’t forget to look at the landscaping around entries. Pay attention to cracks in the sidewalk or ground that’s not level that could be a problem to someone using a walker, wheelchair, or other assistive device. Leveling the ground around entries, installing paths that are wheelchair friendly, and eliminating potential hazards in your yard can ensure it’s easy to navigate to entries safely.
You’ll also need to look at the doorways of your home. If your loved one uses a wheelchair, doorways should be about 36 inches wide for easy maneuvering. While you’re considering the entry doorways, consider interior doorways as well if a loved one needs room to navigate through the home in a wheelchair. Even assistive devices like walkers can require wider doorways for easy navigation.
Other questions to ask when you’re evaluating the exterior and entry to your home for accessibility include:
- Can the address number be easily seen from the street to ensure emergency responders can see it and locate the home?
- Are all entries free of any clutter or tripping hazards?
- Is there adequate lighting at every entry?
- Are outside pathways free of leaves, loose bricks, holes, and uneven pavement?
- Is there a table or bench near the entrance to easily place packages or other items while unlocking or locking the door?
Does the Flooring Make Navigation and Mobility Easy?
Look at the flooring in your home. Does the flooring make it easy for a loved one with a disability to move around? Many people forget to consider flooring when making home modifications, but it’s a very important consideration. Flooring materials should be smooth, durable, firm, and fairly non-porous. This offers a safe surface for wheelchairs, walkers, and other assistive devices to roll on. This type of flooring is easy to clean and is less likely to cause falls, trips, or slips. A floor that is easy to clean is especially important if you have a service animal in the home.
Laminate and vinyl flooring are two reasonably priced options. Stone and ceramic tile shouldn’t be used outside of the bathrooms and kitchens, and when it is used, you’ll need to ensure it’s slip resistant. While hardwood flooring is a great choice, it can be harder to maintain and is far more experience than vinyl or laminate. If you like the warmth that carpet provides, consider low-pile carpeting.
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Are Lighting, Electrical, and Other Home Technology Controls Accessible?
Another important question to ask is whether lighting, electrical and other controls throughout the home are accessible. Specifically consider light switches, electrical outlets, thermostat controls, and security controls. If your loved one is in a wheelchair, this may mean moving these controls to a lower level so they can be reached.
Beyond the location of switches and controls, you’ll also want to consider the angle and location of lighting in the home. While lighting reflections, angles, and locations may work well for some, it may shine right in the face of someone else, so you could need to change fixtures or redirect the lighting. If you have ceiling fans, installing long chains or going with a unit that uses a remote may improve accessibility.
Smart home technology should also be considered. This technology focuses on automation in the home, allowing control from motion sensors, voice activation, tablets, or smartphones. Door locks, lighting, and even thermostats can be controlled in this way, and smart home technology can make life easier for someone dealing with a disability.
Is the Bathroom Accessible and Safe?
The bathroom can be one of the most dangerous rooms in the home for someone with a disability, and the CDC reports that more than 235,000 people over the age of 15 visit the emergency department each year due to bathroom injuries. This means that the bathroom should be one of the first rooms you should focus on. Walk into your bathroom and look around to determine if it’s accessible and safe. Here are several areas of the bathroom you need to look at carefully:
For a wheelchair user, it’s helpful to have a slightly higher sink that has an open space so a wheelchair can roll right up to the sink. Lever style handles on the faucets are easier to use than knob style, and you may even want to consider touch-operated faucets.
Getting on and off the toilet can often be a challenge for individuals with disabilities. Higher toilet seats and grab bars by the toilet can make using the toilet safer and easier.
Tubs and Showers
Tubs and showers are where slips and falls often occur in the bathroom. Take a good look at your tub and/or shower. Does it have a high side that requires someone to step over it? That may be a problem for someone with disabilities. If you’re willing to make a big investment, walk-in or roll-in tubs and showers are an option. If you need to keep costs down, installing grab bars, shower chairs, handheld showerheads, or even specialized lifts can make your current tub or shower more accessible.
Is the Kitchen Easy to Navigate, Safe, and Accessible?
Some of the same principles used to make the bathroom safe and accessible will apply to kitchens. If someone in the home uses a wheelchair, then wheelchair friendly stoves, counters, and sinks are important. Level-handled fixtures are also helpful. Other things that can improve ease of use include:
- Installing hose faucets
- Going with shallow-basined sinks
- Insulating pipes under the sink to prevent accidental scalding
- Easy access cabinetry
- Pull-out shelves or cabinetry under counters
- Lazy Susans in the corner cabinets
- D-shaped pulls on drawers and cabinets
- Suitable task lighting
- Easy-to-use stove controls
- Cooktop and stove controls near the front to avoid reaching over hot pots or flame
Are Living Areas and Bedrooms Accommodating to Disabilities?
Living areas like the living room or family room and bedrooms should be accommodating to your loved one with a disability so they can feel comfortable in their own home. Simple changes can be made like moving furniture to give wheelchairs enough room to maneuver or moving rugs and electrical cords to prevent tripping. Padding sharp corners on furniture may help prevent painful accidents.
In the bedroom, grab bars near the bed can make getting in and out of bed easier. A landline that’s accessible from the bed can be helpful if a loved one needs to call for help. Individuals who have smartphones will appreciate having an outlet where they can charge their phone so they can easily contact help if they have an emergency in the night.
Other helpful tips that can make living areas and bedrooms more accommodating include:
- Securing large area rugs to the floor with a nonslip mat or double-sided tap
- Adding interior lights to closets
- Using adjustable shelves and rods in the closet
- Bed arranged in a way to make it easy to get from bed to the bathroom
- Adding night lights in the bedroom and other living areas to make them easy to navigate in the night
If you go through your home asking these questions, you’ll be able to identify the areas that need modifications to accommodate your loved one. While some home modifications can be done on your own, know when it’s time to get help from professionals. We’re experienced in helping families modify their homes to make it a more comfortable and safe place for loved ones with disabilities. If you’re ready to start making modifications in your home, call us today at (610) 518-2221 to find out how we can help you.