A Guide to Making Your Home Wheelchair Accessible
There are a few different reasons you may wish to make your home wheelchair accessible. You or your partner may have recently begun using a wheelchair or will be using one shortly. You might also be thinking about your needs later on in life. If you plan on staying in your current home as long as possible, it may be a good idea to adjust it now while you are able to make the arrangements easily. Wheelchair accessibility will often involve making sure there is enough space for a wheelchair to move through the various areas of your home. This will necessitate the need for numerous adjustments in furniture, fittings and hardware. It is a good idea to seek professional consultation before making any major adjustments to your home. However, by finding out about the types of changes you may need to make, you can start planning how to make your home wheelchair accessible now.
A wheelchair is around 30 inches wide, and you will need to make sure your home allows enough space for it to move easily. The space needed for a wheelchair to maneuver or change direction is at least 60 by 60 inches. A hallway or additional route should be at least 36 inches wide and doorways should be at least 32 inches wide.
Ramps and Levels
You will need at least one entrance to your house to be accessible without steps. This may involve the use of a ramp. A wheelchair ramp should, at maximum, have a rise of 1 inch per 12 inches of length or it will be too steep. Additionally, turning areas should be level.
You may be able to improve the access of your home by changing the types of doors you have installed. If possible, it may be best to remove the doors altogether. Otherwise, offset hinges can open up more space for a wheelchair to move through. A pocket door, bi-fold door, accordion door or double door might also provide better access. Remember to move the door handle down to an accessible height. If you use a peephole at your front door, install a second one lower down on the door.
Outlets and Switches
Light switches should be rewired and placed lower down toward the floor. Additionally, electrical outlets must be raised for easier access. Other switches, such as thermostat controls, should also be moved to where they will be more easily accessible for a resident in a wheelchair.
If you have a home with more than one level, you will need to turn one of the ground floor rooms into a bedroom. Make sure to fit it with a carbon monoxide and smoke detector. Leave at least a 36-inch gap between the bed and the wall to allow wheelchair access. A cordless phone installed within easy reach is also recommended.
Bath and Shower
Your bath or shower will need grab bars installed for safety. Make sure they are placed on reinforced areas of the wall. You will need a seat for bathing purposes, in either the bath or shower. The bath may need to have a fold-up seat or transfer seat. You may also choose to install a whirlpool tub. A handheld showerhead in either the bath or shower can also be very helpful for wheelchair accessibility. You might consider installing a shower wide enough for a wheelchair to roll into with a sloped floor for drainage. If you have the budget, it might be preferable to remove a bathtub and install a roll in shower instead.
A sink that is mounted on the wall or on a pedestal can provide easier access for wheelchair users. It should be low enough to reach and should have adequate knee space underneath without risk of burns from hot water pipes. Removable cabinet doors will make the storage more easily accessible.
You may want to install a wall mounted toilet since it is easier to access. It should be high enough for an easy transition. You can add a riser if you do not wish to install a new fixture. After installing a new fixture, there should be adequate space for a wheelchair directly next to the toilet.
Kitchen Counter and Sink
The countertops in the kitchen should be low enough for a wheelchair user to reach comfortably and there should also be knee space present underneath them. You may use an adjustable counter or repurposed desk if you cannot replace all of them. Removable cabinet doors can help to provide better knee space and access to storage. Pullout shelves or lazy Susans can also help with storage access.
Ensure all of the safety features in the kitchen, such as the fire extinguisher, are placed within easy reach. Items like the microwave should be moved to low areas to allow better access. You will also need to leave an adequate space of at least 30 inches in front of each appliance or work space for a wheelchair to fit.
Furniture may need to be rearranged to accommodate the maneuvering needs of a wheelchair. Make sure there are low seats available for easy access. The ideal height is less than 17 inches. Adjustable furniture is also a good idea if it fits into your budget.