You can improve the accessibility of your home with minor modifications. Many updates do not require drastic changes to your home’s appearance. Make sure you cover all the areas that need modification with this wheelchair accessibility through this checklist.
Steps to Make a Home Wheelchair Friendly
A wheelchair-friendly home allows a person in a wheelchair to go through their daily routine as efficiently as possible. You can hire someone to make these changes or take a DIY approach, depending on your level of home improvement skills.
Applying universal design principles to your home will ensure everyone, including wheelchair users, can use the home for years to come. As the name suggests, universal design principles create spaces for everyone, regardless of height, ability or age. Universal design can help people to remain in their homes even as they age.
The major areas that need changes include doorways, corridors, stairs, kitchens and bathrooms. Focusing on these places maximizes the mobility around the home for the wheelchair user and others. For all these areas, always measure the alterations to ensure they meet the recommended guidelines for accessibility.
Making your home more accessible increases safety and livability. Just a few changes to the design will be valuable investments in yourself and your home.
How to Make Doorways Wheelchair Friendly
Making your doorways more accessible may require you to expand the space. Doorways need to be wide enough to ensure ample space for a wheelchair to maneuver through openings. The width of a wheelchair typically ranges between 25 to 36 inches. Some codes require 34-inch-wide exterior doors and 32-inch-wide interior doors. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires doorways to have a minimum of 32 inches of width with the door open. Always check with your local building regulations before beginning any remodeling projects.
Standard doorway widths may not fulfill minimum accessibility requirements. For example, while the International Residential Code mandates a 36-inch-wide by 80-inch-tall opening for the main entry door, these measurements do not apply to the back or side doors. Commonly found exterior doors measure anywhere between 28 inches and 32 inches. You may need to widen the back or side door of your home.
Inside the home, standard doors for hallways, bedrooms and bathrooms measure 34 inches wide. However, half-bath doors generally are much narrower, with a distance between 25 and 30 inches wide. Small doorways will need widening because their existing width is too small for a wheelchair to maneuver through them.
If you need to resize the door openings, you will have to remove the existing frame as well as the door. When cutting a new doorway, add two inches to the door width you want to add to account for the size of the frame. For example, if you need to install 32-inch-wide doors, cut the opening to 34 inches wide.
When widening doorways, also look at the new doors you will install and their hardware. The ADA outlines requirements to make businesses and public places fully accessible to all. Included in these guidelines are instructions for doors and doorways. Doors should not have hardware that requires twisting or firm gripping. Replace doorknobs with handles that a person can open single-handedly. For example, lever handles are easier to open than knobs.
Thresholds across doorways need to have a rounded surface to allow a wheelchair to smoothly pass over them. Do not build thresholds higher than 1/2-inch to adhere to ADA regulations. The exception to this rule is for sliding glass doors leading to the outside, which may have a maximum height of 3/4-inch for the threshold.
Widening doorways makes your home more accessible, but you will need to make additional modifications throughout the rest of the home, especially for multi-story buildings that may require wheelchair access to upper-floor bedrooms and other spaces.
How to Make the Whole Home Wheelchair Friendly
To make the rest of the home accessible, you must examine hallway widths and how you will get people and goods to the second floor. Check the lighting levels throughout the home in all rooms. Do not allow light to cast shadows along corridors or in the moving spaces of rooms. Exchange incandescent light bulbs with energy-efficient LED lights. These lights will last longer and offer more light while using less electricity, so you can choose higher wattages for increased brightness in darker areas.
Universal design principles recommend corridors measure at least 36 inches wide. Keep the floor clear of obstacles and do not allow any furnishings to impede movement. This means tables and bookcases must still allow for at least three feet of maneuverable space on the floor along the entire length of every corridor or hallway.
To facilitate the movement of wheelchair wheels over the flooring, replace all carpeting and throw rugs that could bunch and catch wheels with smoother options. Hardwood floors, ceramic tile, laminate flooring or vinyl can make using a wheelchair easier throughout the home. Reassess the flooring throughout the home, not just in the hallways. Bedrooms, living rooms, bathrooms, kitchens and corridors all need smooth flooring.
In addition to moving throughout each floor of the home, you also must consider means to move between levels. Home elevators fit into almost any home design and provide a safe, convenient way to move in a wheelchair to another level. Dumbwaiters raise items between floors, making daily chores easier.
1. Home Elevators for Wheelchairs
Home elevators offer several benefits over other means of changing floors. Unlike stair lifts, elevators can fit inside an easily hidden closet. They also have numerous customization options, while you cannot alter the appearance of stair lifts. Because anyone can use an elevator, adding one increases the value of the home; however, a stair lift does not raise your home’s value. Stairlifts also impede progress up the stairway for those who choose to walk.
You have three choices for the drive system of your elevator, depending on the availability of space. All three systems — cable drum, hydraulic and MRL overhead cable drum — offer similar safety features such as an overrun switch, emergency battery lowering and a self-diagnostic processor.
The differences between these drive systems include the amount of space the motor requires and how far the elevator can move. Cable drum systems take up the least amount of space and operate the quietest. MRL overhead cable drums have the smallest space between floors, making them ideal for split-level homes or those with half-stories. Hydraulic systems from Inclinator use much less fluid than competitors. All three elevator types have similar speeds of 40 feet per minute and reach up to six stories.
To customize the elevator, you choose from five cab styles and 18 cab configurations, including the gate type and the number of openings. These gates are safety features, holding the occupant securely inside until the elevator reaches the desired floor.
A home elevator enhances mobility for those who use wheelchairs as well as everyone else in the home. Unlike stair lifts, home elevators provide a more universal accessibility option for all people.
Carrying food, laundry or other goods throughout the home becomes easier with dumbwaiters. Our residential models from Inclinator support up to 120 pounds and make as many as four stops. A dumbwaiter runs off your home’s electricity using a standard 120-volt power source, and you can choose the style of the exterior door to match the décor of the home.
Dumbwaiters have a fascinating history that highlights these appliances’ usefulness. These devices originated as hand-powered lifts to move merchandise, ore and similar goods from basements and mines to upper levels. Later, these lifts migrated to the homes of the wealthy where they moved food from the kitchen to dining areas. They served the same purpose in restaurants where they silently brought food to the level of patrons, giving them their outdated names of dumbwaiters.
Though many have forgotten the origin of the name, the dumbwaiter still performs the same task in homes today. Instead of using manual power, though, electricity automatically moves the loads between floors. While older versions had weight limits based on what the user could hoist, today’s dumbwaiters can carry up to 120 pounds in homes, and even more for commercial models.
Install a dumbwaiter between the basement and kitchen to bring groceries up. You can use it to move dirty clothes from an upper-floor bathroom down to the laundry room. Once washed, dried and folded, you can move the cleaned towels and clothes back upstairs via the dumbwaiter.
A dumbwaiter allows a person in a wheelchair to move items between floors without needing to worry about trying to balance them on their lap. These devices also make moving things between floors safer for those who use the stairs. Children and others will have less chance of tripping if they have both hands free to hold the stair rail instead of carrying things in their arms.
How to Make Home Entrances Wheelchair Accessible
You must do more than just make the exterior door accessible when it comes to making the front wheelchair friendly. You need to have a way to get from the driveway to the front, side and back doors either walking, from a wheelchair or using any type of mobility aid.
Ensure footpaths are flat and smooth to the entire extent and have a width to accommodate wheelchairs. Replace gravel or paving stone walkways with smooth concrete or continuous outdoor tiles. You will also need a way to reach the door since most homes have a door built higher than the front lawn.
While you can build a ramp, you must use the lowest slope possible and make it at least 36 inches wide to accommodate a wheelchair. Depending on the rise the ramp needs to make, it could be extremely long. A more space-saving option is adding a wheelchair lift.
Select a wheelchair lift based on the vertical distance it needs to cover. Lifts often have an emergency stop that includes an alarm to alert others that the user needs assistance. Additionally, the ramps often fold up automatically to hold the user safely inside. Some premium models automatically detect objects under the lift and stop the device from descending.
How to Make Bathrooms and Kitchens Wheelchair Friendly
The hardest working places in the home are the kitchen and bathroom. Making these rooms wheelchair friendly may cost the least and be the easiest because accessories to adapt to these spaces are not expensive and are readily available.
Inside the bathroom, install grab bars for the tub, shower and toilet. The bars will likely require you to reinforce the walls because they must hold at least 250 pounds, regardless of the weight of the user. Though bathrooms, especially half baths, are small rooms, ensure at least a 30-by-48-inch clear space on the floor for a wheelchair to move around in.
Depending on the wheelchair user’s level of mobility, consider a roll-in shower that allows the user to get inside the shower stall from their chair. A handheld showerhead makes it easier to bathe when seated.
Raise the toilet seat and lower the sink to improve accessibility. If the sink uses knobs, replace them with easy-to-use handles that do not require gripping strength to turn. Don’t forget to make similar changes to the kitchen sink. While focusing on plumbing, lower the water heater temperature to 120 degrees Fahrenheit. This temperature saves energy while preventing scald burns, especially in children or those who cannot quickly move away from the water stream.
In the kitchen, allow for multiple users by lowering several work surfaces to allow for those in a wheelchair to use them, but leave other working areas for standing users. Have at least one sink in the kitchen at a working height for someone in a wheelchair. Consider a side-by-side refrigerator-freezer unit to allow for access to both sides while seated. Choose a stovetop with controls on the front for easier use.
Making a home wheelchair accessible also makes it easier for everyone to move through it. With additions such as home elevators and dumbwaiters, you will also increase the home’s value. Greater value for a home that adapts to everyone’s needs is a combination that benefits all those in the home.
Find the Components You Need to Improve Mobility at Home
Specialty components, such as elevators and dumbwaiters, require finding knowledgeable dealers who stock quality brands. If you want to incorporate an Inclinator elevator or dumbwaiter into your home, find a dealer near you. For a multi-story home, safe and reliable lift systems that help with the mobility of people and items should be priorities for making your home wheelchair friendly.