I am a wheelchair user and am planning on visiting my brother over the holidays. He has a rambler style home and therefore believes most of the access issues will be at a minimum….I have a hunch otherwise. Do you have any tips on ways to make his home more accessible for me during my stay?
Susan, St. Paul, MN
Yes! There are lots of things that can be done to “temporarily” make your brother’s home more accessible and user friendly for your visit. Some of our clients who enjoy traveling have gone to the extent of creating a “suitcase of traveling products” that are always packed and ready to go. You may consider this. Here are a few suggestions to make your visit easier:
Dining Table: One of the most important holiday moments is time eating the wonderful foods prepared for the holidays. Many tables do not provide adequate knee clearance below to roll a wheelchair underneath. The table can be easily raised by placing wood blocks below each table leg. To keep the table stable when resting on these blocks, create a hole into the wood block large enough for the table leg to recess into the block.
Entrance: Consider renting or purchasing a portable “suitcase” style ramp. It may not provide the “ideal” slope to enter the home independently, but with assistance, you most likely will be able to enter and exit the home as needed.
Door Widths: By removing a door from its frame, you can achieve an additional 1” to 2” of clearance at a narrow door opening. Removal of the door can also protect it from occasional scratches you may cause when trying to pass through the doorway. Curtains can be hung in the door frame using tension rods for visual privacy. If you desire to keep a door on the frame for better privacy, “swing clear hinges” can be installed to position the door outside the clear opening, behind the door frame.
Maneuvering: Remove furniture along primary pathways to provide a minimum 36” wide path of travel leading to all areas of the home you will have access to. In gathering areas such as the living room, family room, dining room, etc., remove coffee tables, end tables or even a chair to make a place for you to be a part of the conversation area.
Path of Travel: Remove all area rugs and lightweight mats from primary pathways so they do not restrict your movement.
Kitchen: If you are planning on helping in the kitchen, the use of pull-out breadboards work well providing a work-surface with clear knee space below. Bread boards can also be used as an alternative work surface by strapping them across the arm of your wheelchair.
Communication: Use of a baby monitor can allow you to communicate with someone in the home if you need assistance—without involving all other household members.
Bathroom: If the toilet seat is too low, the installation of a plastic riser seat works well and easily attaches to an existing toilet. Grab bars that attach to the toilet seat also work well when installation of permanent grab bars is not possible.
If the vanity mirror is too high, use a hand-held mirror or one which can sit on top of the bathroom counter.
Bathing: For showering, hand-held shower heads are easy to install in place of an existing shower head and will assist in directing water spray when bathing. A transfer bench can be used with either a bathtub or shower. Grab bars that clamp onto a bathtub rim are also available.
Sleeping Room: In the bedroom, remove any unnecessary furniture and position the bed next to a wall to provide additional clear floor space along one side of the bed. If possible, replace a double bed with a twin bed to achieve more wheelchair maneuvering space.
If the height of the bed is too low to facilitate safe transfers, raise the bed by placing wood blocks below in the same fashion as mentioned above for tables. Another solution would be to purchase bed leg extenders which may be available at specialty bed and bath stores (these extenders are typically used to raise a bed to provide storage below).
If you need help locating any of the above products, contact your accessibility specialist. They may also be able to help you identify where you can obtain “previously owned” equipment at a lower cost than new equipment. The Center for Independent Living in the area where your brother lives may be able to help you coordinate rental of larger pieces of equipment.
I hope some of these suggestions are useful for you and your brother.
Accessibility Design was founded in 1992 to enhance lives through design and project management. They provide design, consultation, project management, and product recommendation services specializing in home access for individuals with disabilities at all stages of life.
Do you have a question relating to Access? We’ll cover all of your questions in future issues of Home Access Answers. Please contact us at 651-644-2133 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org