Whether it’s to allow seniors to age comfortably at home, or making your home accessible after an unexpected change in circumstances, retrofitting the home for handicap accessibility is a task to be undertaken thoroughly and with great care. While some aspects of retrofitting may seem obvious, you may not immediately think of others. Here is a brief overview of what to consider when updating your home.
- Driveway: in areas that experience inclement weather, ensure that the driveway is a safe route to enter the home. For instance, if it snows in winter, is it possible to shovel a clear route to the door?
- Gates and doorframes are recommended to be at least 36 inches wide, and door thresholds should be no more than one-half inch in height.
- Ramps are also recommended to span 36 inches, with as shallow a grade possible. Where applicable, ensure the ramp can be completely cleared of snow, and has enough traction in rainy weather.
Going up and down within the home:
- If the handicap individual will have access to only one level, the home should have a clear exit, full kitchen and bath, plus living area, and bedroom on that level.
- If that individual will have multi-level access, consider installing a chair lift or elevator for easy transport up and down stairs.
In the kitchen:
- Cabinets and countertops: Standard-height countertops are often too tall for those in wheelchairs, so lower them, if possible. Other options are to keep regularly-used items within reaching distance, or to keep a reacher tool on hand.
- Sink: To allow better access, remove cabinet doors below the sink so the individual can get as close as possible. Also consider updating the faucet to a model with a hand-held or elongated spout, and with paddle-type lever handles.
In the bathroom:
- Toilet: Standard models may be too low for handicapped individuals. Consider replacing the existing toilet with a tall-height toilet, or installing a toilet seat riser.
- Shower: A hand-held showerhead, and a bench located inside the shower are 2 great ways to add comfort and safety.
- Grab bars: Slips, trips and falls are always a concern for those with limited mobility, but especially in a area like the bathroom, where conditions are often wet and slippery. Installing grab bars in the shower and near the toilet adds a good measure of safety.
There are myriad ways to make your home safe and accessible to a handicapped individual. This list is far from comprehensive, but should get you thinking about areas in the home that will require updating. Medical supply companies offer products for accessibility, from the wheelchairs and walkers themselves to grab bars, shower benches, and lift chairs.
More information is available from the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which outlines federal regulations for public buildings and accessible housing (Fair Housing Act). Professional organizations and consultants who are knowledgeable about the ADA also offer services to help assess your home’s individual needs. While updating the home for handicap accessibility can seem an overwhelming task, helping a loved one to live comfortably in the home is invaluable. Taking the time to do the research, or enlisting the help of professionals for a thorough update is a gift beyond measure, one that will endure for years to come.