Accessible living space nourishes independence

retired person using walker

The Accessible home is our sanctuary regardless of our physical abilities, creating a living space that is designed specific to a person’s disabilities or aging in place requirements is critical to safety, enjoyment and independence for all occupants.

Top 3 rooms to be accessible

1. Entrance, technically not really a living space however careful consideration to the approach and entrance making sure it is accessible to the home to encourage living beyond the house for a person with mobility challenges.

concrete ramp for person with mobility challenges or physical disabilities

Focus first on the area from the road to the main door that will be used by the person with mobility challenges. Are pathways straight, hard surfaced, smooth yet slip resistant. Is the grade and width of the path good for walkers, wheelchairs or power scooters?

Now consider the actual entrance, is the door wide enough, is there a screen door that will be difficult to maneuver and is the threshold low enough to reduce tripping hazards or permit wheel chair access? It is common for many entrances to have a small landings where stairs lead up or down, these areas can be challenging and limit accessibility. 

Electric scooter's have become the latest device to improve independence, seldom do homes consider where these scooters will be parked and recharged. If your renovating build in a convenient place close to the main entrance to park, protect and charge the scooter.   

2. Bathrooms, no room provides independence like a highly accessible bathroom.

disabled washroom

Consider overall movement around the room, is there sufficient space so that your not bumping into things.

Accessible sinks and vanity cabinets really depend on the disability, consider the height, clearance underneath the sink and fixtures to be installed. Look at the mirror and ensure it is adjustable. Consider drawers and cabinets where supplies will be kept, are the nobs and handles usable, make sure everything is accessible. 

Toilets are considered all on their own as the travel distance going from standing to sitting or moving from a wheel chair can be quite challenging. Install grab bars to aid in transition and ensure the toilet paper holder is within reach.

Bathtubs are often the first fixture modified in a bathroom for anyone with mobility challenges. Removing tubs and installing a roll in shower, without a lip is the ultimate in accessible living but it is a big job and is only done during a full bathroom renovation. Other reasonable options include lift assist devices and additional grab bars.

From a subscriber; living in the orient I experienced bathrooms that all walls, ceilings and floors were tiled with one central floor drain. There was a toilet, and wall sink (no vanity) in the room and a hand-held shower with a very long flexible line. A water tight medicine cabinet was hidden behind the mirror over the sink. Smart and efficient bathrooms that are excellent for any age group or disability.

3. Kitchens, cooking for yourself or others is the ultimate in independence, make it possible by;

The general layout of the kitchen has to be considered, features like Islands that are common in kitchens can create tight travel paths for wheel chairs or walkers.

accessible kitchens

Take a look at the cabinet and counter top heights. A typical kitchen has the working surface at 36” which is too high when sitting in a wheel chair. Often a living space is shared by people of different mobility challenges and therefore it is important to find a balance to make areas accessible for everyone. 

The modern trend for kitchens is to opt out of upper cabinets and use large pantries, this trend improves accessibility for everyone.

Similar to the bathroom take a look at all doors, drawers and pulls to see if they are accessible. 

If your renovating the entire kitchen space look to install microwaves closer to counter top height or even below the counter top. Consider installing separate range and oven so that each can be mounted at a good working height.

Having a split sink with one shallow side and one deep side works well for all. A modern kitchen faucet with spray hose and levers work well however position them to the side of the sink to avoid long reaches.

Electrical, often installed above the countertop on the back wall are out of reach for someone in a wheel chair. If renovating the entire kitchen consider installing electrical at the front of the cabinet. Contact a professional to assist with design, installation and local code requirements.

General considerations for any room of the house

large doors for accessibility

Take a look at doors, 32” is the minimum but 36” will provide more room to move and less damage to door frames. Making a door larger is a challenge and a professional should be contacted to consider the header above the door. If the door opening has to be only slightly larger (under 3”) consider; removing the door all together, look for hinges that let the door swing completely out of the way, replace a swinging door with a sliding door (barn door). Curtains can provide some privacy when doors have to be removed on a room.

reach height for someone in a wheel chair

Height of anything, try and sit in a wheel chair, move around the house and try and reach light switches, door handles, items on upper shelves even coat rods.

smart home technology for accessibility

Smart home technology is a must have in any new home, this technology let’s anyone see who is outside the door, turn on any light in the house and adjust the temperature anywhere from a mobile device, making smart home technology a great option for people with mobility challenges.

Flooring, last but critical to get it right. Generally hard non slip surfaces are better than soft in providing firm footing and ease of wheelchair or walker movement for persons with mobility challenges. Consider hardwood floors, laminates, industrial low pile carpets. When evaluating flooring look at the transitions between surfaces and ensure there are no tripping hazards.


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