Lifts and Other Home Adjustments for Disabled Individuals
By Andy Darnley
Imagine not being able to access all parts of your home. Imagine not even being able to get through the front door. Every day, disabled individuals find that their homes need to be modified in a way that gives them easier access. These modifications make it possible for them to stay in their home and live an independent life. Home adjustments come in all shapes and sizes and can vary in cost from one manufacturer and contractor to another.
Home modification starts with the entryways into the home. The goal is to offer a firm, level surface that can be navigated by a person using any type of mobility assistance. This includes everything from a cane to a wheelchair. This level surface needs to transition to a ramp that makes it easy to move the wheelchair from ground level up to the entry of the home. And the entryway needs to be wide enough to accommodate the type of mobility assistant that a person is currently using.
Once inside, it is important for disabled individuals to get around their homes. In addition to wider entrance doorways, many homes also need wider entryways between different rooms. This allows for any type of mobility assistance to help a person move from one room of the house to the other. If a home is made up of more than one level, it is important to look into the addition of lifts or an elevator to bring a person from level to level with ease. When making modifications, make sure that certain things are within a person’s reach at all times. This includes a telephone and outlets to plug in any electronic devices. Finally, changing out knobs for handles on each of the doors will make it easier for a person to navigate around the home.
Using the restroom can be a real challenge if the space isn’t modified to accommodate a disability. Because there are different types of disabilities, there are different modifications that could potentially be made to the space. In the bathroom, a person needs to be able to access the toilet, shower or tub, and sink. Modified toilets that are raised up often help a person transition from a wheelchair or other assistive device. Also, showers that have a built-in seat offer a comfortable way for a person with a disability to shower. Both the toilet and the sink can have grab bars nearby, providing something stable for a person to hold onto. In addition, the sink needs to be at an acceptable level. Extending the controls for the sink can make it easier for a person with a disability to turn the water on and off as needed.
Ideally, the kitchen should be accessible to anyone. Part of being independent includes being able to make meals. The biggest challenge in the kitchen is the countertops. They need to be moved to a level that is easy to reach for the resident. If someone is in a wheelchair, it is important to leave room underneath the countertops so that the wheelchair can come all the way up to the counters without running into cabinets. There should be plenty of space in the kitchen for movement. Also, certain appliances are easier to use than others. Stoves with knobs on the front make it possible to adjust the temperature of the range and oven without reaching across the hot burners.
There are also general accommodations that need to be made for a variety of other disabilities. While many of these modifications center on a person who has trouble with movement, other changes can be made to a home that will benefit individuals with a variety of disabilities. For example, doorbells that don’t just ring but also cause the lights in the home to flash will make it easier for someone that is deaf, and an individual who is blind needs to have a home laid out in a way that leaves pathways unobstructed.
Use the following resources to learn more about home accessibility as well as general information for the disabled community:
- The Role of Home Environments in Residential Adjustment Decision-Making in Later Life
- Aging in Place: Facilitating Choice and Independence
- United Spinal Association: Home Modifications
- Aging in Place Inspection Checklist (PDF)
- Home Adjustments for the Disabled
- Home Safety: How Well Does Your Home Meet Your Needs?
- The Council for Disability Rights: Home Modification Funding Sources
- Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation: Home Modification
- Easy Access Housing for Easier Living
- Portable Lifts: A Real Pick-Me-Up for Caregivers
- Home Modifications for Persons With Disabilities
- Vermont Center for Independent Living: Bathroom Guidelines (PDF)
- Simple Modifications for the Disabled
- Making Housing Accessible Through Accommodations and Modifications
- Home Modifications
- Home Adaptations and Modifications After Spinal Cord Injury (video)
- Lifetime Homes and Wheelchair Housing Design
- Tips on Building an Accessible Home
- The Livable and Adaptable House
- Wheelchairs: Getting Around Easier
- Safe at Home: Living With Low Vision