The Easiest Ways to Make Your Home More Wheelchair-Accessible
If a relative uses a wheelchair and wants to come for a visit or someone in your family finds themselves suddenly needing to use one, even temporarily, you may begin looking around your home with a fresh set of eyes. Is the place accessible? Is everything the person will need within reach? While you may not have time to go full Extreme Home Makeover on the place to make it a shining, example of perfect accessibility if their arrival is imminent, you can take some steps to make it as welcoming and hospitable as possible pretty quickly.
Measure your doorways
Per South Bay Residential, which maintains a landing page of specifics for home buyers to look for when considering whether a property is wheelchair friendly, a door should be at least 32 inches wide to facilitate wheelchair passage, but comfortable passage is achieved in doorways that are at least 36 inches wide. The standard residential doorway is between 23 and 30 inches across, so measure yours to make sure someone in a wheelchair could even pass through them at all. You may have to remove the trim on your doorways to accommodate passage. It’s up to you whether you want to leave it off for a short duration or have a pro come in and redo the doors in your home more permanently.
You can use offset hinges to allow your doors to swing clear of the doorway, which can add up to an inch of clearance, or take the doors and trim off entirely. Keep in mind that if there are sharp turns before or after the doorway, even 32 inches may not be wide enough, so professional doorway widening may be in order if the wheelchair use is long-term.
Consider your lighting
Lower the position of your lamps, if you can, because glare is a real problem for people in wheelchairs. This should be relatively easy and when the person in a wheelchair arrives to your home, have them take a tour with you and ask them to point out any spots where they experience glare from a bulb or other lighting issues. Installing lamps at their preferred height is an easy way to help them feel more comfortable.
They still have to be able to turn those lamps on, though, so consider where your light switches are, too. There are plenty of options for turning lights on and off that don’t require using switches in high places. Smart outlets are relatively inexpensive and can make it possible for lamps to be turned off and on using a phone or even by voice using an Echo or Siri-enabled device. Grab a bunch of these outlet plugs to make all of your electronics easy to control remotely. Work with your guest or wheelchair-using family member to make sure the smart adaptations are installed correctly on their personal devices and they know how to use them. Looping some string around a lamp’s pull cord can be a simple way to make lighting more accessible, too.
Inspect your rugs
In advance of a visitor or a family member’s temporary wheelchair use, you may not have time or reason to redo the flooring in your entire home. Under the Americans With Disabilities Act, any ADA-compliant flooring should be “stable, firm, and slip resistant.” Per Flooring Inc., if you have tile, vinyl, laminate, hardwood, or rubber flooring in your home, you’re already ahead of the game. What you need to watch out for is high-piled carpet. If any of your rugs are particularly luxurious or plush, roll them up for the duration of the guest’s stay. The more flat, smooth surfaces are available, the more mobile they can be.
A table in your hallway displaying family photos is beautiful under most circumstances, but can be a headache for someone in a wheelchair to navigate around. A hallway should be at least 36 inches wide, but 48 inches is the ideal minimum, according to South Bay Residential. Take a look around your home and identify items that might be cutting into valuable space, especially in hallways. Hampers, side tables, and shoe racks that might seem like no big deal to you could be eating up inches that are the difference between struggle and ease for someone navigating your space in a wheelchair. Put those things in a closet or in storage for the time being. (Even low-hanging artwork can be difficult to navigate around, so move it up if you can.)
Rearrange frequently used items
Head to your kitchen and bathroom. Anything in a cupboard that is used daily should be moved down somewhere where the person can reach it. Cups, plates, toothpaste, or writing tools are among the items that should be moved lower and made easily accessible. Place snacks and drinks on lower shelves in your fridge and move lesser-used specialty items up top.
These aren’t perfect or long-term solutions, but on short notice, they’ll help you make your home more welcoming while you work on the bigger renovations in the event the person in a wheelchair will be there for an extended period of time.