Housing Considerations for Those with a Physical Disability - Quicken Loans Zing BlogIf you’ve just had a child born with a disability or experienced a life-altering injury yourself, your life will probably change in many ways. Suddenly, you may have to deal with medical treatments and therapies (some experimental), and you may have to make some modifications to your home.

There’s no manual for this, and every situation is different. You may be scared. I’m here to tell you not to panic.

This post is about modifications you can make to your home (or what to look for in a home) to make it more livable for someone with a special need. As someone who has spent his entire life in a wheelchair because of cerebral palsy, I can tell you not everything about my house is “normal.” However, modifications can make it easier for a person with a disability to function in their most personal space.

I’ve come to feel “disability” is the wrong word. It implies that a person cannot do certain things. If you’re new to this, you’ll come to find that you or the person you care about can often do a great many things; you just do them differently.

When modifying a home to make it easier to use for someone with a physical disability, there are three big factors you want to consider: spacing, flooring and reachability/usability.

Spacing

Space is of particular concern if the person gets around with a wheelchair, walker or scooter. There needs to be enough space for them to get through doorways with their adaptive equipment.

Doorways

Ideally, doorways should be 32 inches, but in a residence, this is not always feasible. A lot of this depends on the width of the equipment at the base. Although it’s tight, I can fit my chair through 28-inch doorways. This may not be attainable for everyone.

If you’re looking to add door width, you could consider swing clear hinges or a pocket door that slides back into the wall.

Kitchen

It’s key to make sure that there is maneuvering room around frequently used objects. For instance, in the kitchen, make sure to leave room around the stove, microwave, sink, table and dishwasher. Whatever amount of space you think you need, add a couple of inches to account for the “bad driver factor.” I probably won’t be good at parking until backup cameras become standard on wheelchairs. In short, every inch counts. (There’s absolutely no truth to the rumor that this post is to explain to my parents why the walls and door jams are scratched and broken.)

Living Area

In the living area, make sure there is a good space to put the person and their mobility equipment so that both they and those around them can see the TV. Always leave space for any other adaptive equipment that may be needed.

Flooring

Flooring can be another important consideration. People in manual wheelchairs or with walkers especially will have a hard time rolling on plush carpet. As for power chairs, a flooring contractor once came to my house and explained that the weight of the person combined with the weight of the chair and all the pivoting that goes on really wears down carpet.

Hardwood might work well, but be aware it can scratch. The harder the flooring rating, the better. Laminate might be a good option because it’s more durable and stain resistant. If you want to use carpet for the bedrooms, low pile carpet will work best. Also, commercial grade carpet will wear better.

Reach and Usability

There are several considerations when it comes to reach and usability. The level of independence may depend on a person’s gross motor function. In general, these tips will make things easier.

Doors

Adaptive handles, such as this one and this one, provide multiple ways of opening doors that can be very helpful. Personally, I have a kick plate on my bedroom door that allows me to leave it slightly ajar and bust in SWAT style if necessary. Alternatively, they do sell automatic door setups for the home, although they are a little pricey. Ramps replacing stairs also make things more accessible in entryways. If someone needs to get up stairs, stair lifts are a great option.

Kitchen

In the kitchen, a roll-under sink can make things easier for wheelchair users. When trying to figure out the proper height, measure from the ground to a few inches above the knee; anything higher than that can be awkward to use. Sinks with levers or sinks that are touchless may also be helpful.

If the person is able to use the oven, consider getting an oven that can be mounted on the wall. These come both in top-opening and side-opening styles. These ovens are generally smaller, but they’re much easier to reach than an oven on the floor. The same goes for dishwashers. If you can mount them higher, they may work better as they are easier to get into. Pull-out cabinet organizers can enhance reachability.

Switches

Consider remotes for light and ceiling fan combinations. These can be helpful in rooms where you would otherwise have to be able to reach up to control the lights and the fan separately. Things like The Clapper and touch lamps can make things easy if you have a hard time dealing with switches. They even sell bulbs you can control with your smartphone, such as this one by Philips. That particular system is a little pricey, but it lets you control tone, contrast, color and more. It has the added advantage of being able to transform your living room into Tatooine during Star Wars viewings; however, there are cheaper options.

Bedrooms

The same rules for sinks in the kitchen can apply to desks in the bedroom: Make them high enough, but not too high. If you can find room in your budget, I highly recommend getting a motorized standing desk. This sounds counterintuitive, but they are highly adjustable and can often go as low as you would want. This could also allow people to take advantage of the advanced features that allow for changing position in the newer power wheelchairs.

You also want to make sure you leave enough space for adaptive devices that might be necessary in the bedroom, such as transfer boards and bed rails.

Lift Systems

I want to put in a quick note here about lift systems for the bedroom and the bathroom. Overhead lifts are good for transferring from the chair to the bed or shower when you might otherwise not be able to execute this. They all work using a sling and some sort of overhead track system.

If you install a lift that doesn’t come down, the headers are removed from your door to be able to go straight from the bedroom to the bathroom. Alternatively, in my home I have a portable lift that allows me to transfer from the bed to the chair. I then drive to the bathroom with the lift in my lap and hook it back up again to go to the toilet and the shower.

Bathrooms

In the bathroom, leave space for any necessary assistive devices. These could include transfer benches/boards, handholds, etc.

The same rule applies to the bathroom sink as sinks in the kitchen. Also, make sure the mirror is not too high for someone seated.

It’s becoming a trend now to recommend higher toilets for those with disabilities. (This seems to have even caught on with the mainstream public.) The theory is that it’s easier to stand if you don’t have to get down as low. I’m going to go against the grain here and say it really depends on the height of the individual. As a short person, my feet don’t reach the floor with a higher seat. This doesn’t provide me with the most stable base possible for balance purposes.

When it comes to showering or bathing, there are several things you can do to make the process a little bit easier. One of the simplest is to put in a nonskid mat. Well-secured grab bars can help someone get up out of the bathtub or stand in the shower. For those who will be seated, consider a built-in bench or shower seat. Make sure hygiene products are left within reach, possibly through the use of a shower caddy or built-in shelving.

If the person will be using a roll-in shower chair, you will want to look at low- or no-threshold showers. When considering spacing, remember to leave room for caregivers or aides to access if the person will need help with bathing.

Do you have any tips for making the home more accessible to those with a physical disability? Share them with us in the comments.

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This Post Has 4 Comments

  1. There are some great pieces of advice and tips here, so thank you to whoever made this! I’m actually on here because I’m currently helping my sister with her new bathroom. Very sadly my nephew was recently in an accident which has caused him to have reduced movability, luckily he’s slowly on the road to recovery at home but my sister wants to install a few assistance devices so she can help look after him as best she can. Basically I was wondering if there was any specific bathroom alterations that needed to be made in order to accommodate this? I know for example that she is getting a special assisted bath with a seat with adjustable height, is there any special tiling or flooring that is needed for this? I know she’s getting the bath from a company called Abacus ( this is their site: http://www.abacushealthcare.co.uk/ ). I don’t know if that helps with providing any more information at all? Will my sister need to plan anything differently to accommodate the bath or will it just be a case of simply installing it? I’d be ever so grateful if anyone could provide some insight here, it would be such a big help to us both! Thank you everyone!

    1. Hi Isabel:

      I’m very sorry to hear about your nephew. It’s very hard to give you specific recommendations without knowing his level of ability. Flooring that gives him the ability to have a little bit better traction when he or a caregiver are trying to move can be helpful, so you don’t want anything overly slippery. With a shower seat and getting access, sometimes having a showerhead with a flexible hose helps. You may want a lower threshold on the shower for easier access. One thing to know is that water does sometimes get on the floor outside the shower because of this. In terms of accommodating the bath and his routine, it depends on how much assistance he needs and his level of physical ability. I know this isn’t super specific, but hopefully it helps.

      Thanks,
      Kevin Graham

    1. Hi Chinndie:

      I definitely sympathize. We do have a sweepstakes going right now called Room for Improvement where the top prize is $4,000 to use on whatever you wish. If you have any equity in your home, we could also help you take a look at a possible cash-out refinance. If you’d like to look into that, you can do an application online with Rocket Mortgage or you can feel free to call us at (888) 980-6716. Hope this helps!

      Thanks,
      Kevin Graham

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