Living at home with a wheelchair can be complicated, and it’s certainly not ideal having to wash at the kitchen sink and sleep in the living room. Luckily, there are many methods and products to help you ease the stress and give you the peace of mind you deserve.
Whether you’re looking to move into a new place or renovate your current one, our comprehensive guide will help you create a wheelchair-friendly environment to encourage a feeling of freedom and independence.
1. Create Clear Pathways
A wheelchair accessible home should be wide enough to allow users to move freely. The minimum doorway width should be 32" (with a hallway width of 36").
Inside each room, create a path of at least 32" between furniture pieces to allow easier movement.
Transferring to and from – and maneuvering around furniture – is crucial, especially for semi-ambulatory wheelchair users. Whenever feasible, avoid sharp edges and opt for furniture with rounded corners.
Seatings with wider armrests and firmer cushions are easier to push yourself from. If you find yourself slipping down while seated, avoid slick materials like leather and opt for fabrics such as suede.
2. Doorway Accessibility
The first step to making your home wheelchair-friendly is to ensure the wheelchair user can move from room to room. This may involve removing the doorway frames and taking the doors off.
To allow the wheelchair user to comfortably go through doorways, ensure that all doors in your home are no less than 32" wide.
Doorknobs should be lowered as well. For people with a mobility limitation, a doorknob extender can make a significant difference. These devices are placed around the doorknob to make it easier to enter rooms.
3. Wheelchair Ramps and Rails
Having a wheelchair ramp helps you come in and out of your home easily and securely, but in many cases, it’s beyond people’s means to build a permanent wheelchair ramp. Fortunately, there are plenty of other options such as folding ramps, temporary ramps, threshold ramps, and suitcase ramps.
While their main goal is to help wheelchair and scooter users navigate stairs, ramps can also help with troublesome thresholds. Threshold wheelchair ramps are usually shorter ramps that are specially designed to get a wheelchair over a curb or short rise (like a doorway). The EZ-Access Transitions Modular Threshold Ramp, for example, is 34" wide and fits most standard doorways. You can use this model for sliding glass doors as well, without worrying that the ramp will interfere with the door track.
Other models – like the EZ-Access Trifold Ramp – come in a variety of lengths and can be used to get into SUVs, minivans, and other vehicles. The ramp’s unique trifold design allows for convenient transportation and storage.
4. Accessible Lighting Design
Lighting controls are oftentimes overlooked. When installing light switches, be sure to consider their position. Make sure they aren’t placed above countertops and are at a reachable height. A good rule of thumb is to place switches and thermostats about 36" from the floor.
Another thing to consider is navigation lighting. This additional lighting can be a great help for navigating through the house when it’s dark. Simply place lighting at the base of the floorboards, as well as next to handrails and doorknobs.
5. Choose Flooring and Thresholds That Are Easy to Move Over
Thick carpeting can make it difficult for wheelchair users to move over. Think about using hardwood flooring, ceramic tile, or vinyl instead. Alternatively, you could go for a low pile carpeting that’s less than 1/2" thick. Anything thicker can provide resistance for wheels.
In areas that collect water (like kitchens and bathrooms), opt for a slip-resistant material to help prevent accidents.
6. Wheelchair Accessible Kitchen
Out-of-reach cabinets and appliances often make it impossible to cook. To create a wheelchair-friendly kitchen, lower all counters so that they can be used from a sitting position. Accessible countertops should be placed about 28" to 34" above the floor. Make sure there are no base cabinets underneath the counter workspace to allow enough legroom.
If kitchen construction isn’t an option – or you’re on a budget – try using pull-out cutting boards or placing a board between the top of two open drawers. This way, you’ll still have an accessible countertop with enough legroom for your wheelchair.
Moving everyday items into lower kitchen cabinets can also help with making tasks easier to perform. Consider cabinet accessories such as adjustable shelves, pull-down shelves, and “lazy Susans”.
Remember that switches and electric sockets should be installed at an adequate height, within an arm’s reach.
7. Designing the Master Bathroom
Setting up a bathroom can be challenging for wheelchair users. They’re often the smallest room in the house, which makes it incredibly difficult to carry out basic personal care.
Getting in and out of a bathtub is perhaps the greatest challenge. Many people prefer installing a step-in shower with grab bars for extra safety and balance. If you have trouble standing up in the shower, simply install a shower seat or bench that allows you to sit comfortably while showering.
If, however, the bathtub cannot be removed (or you enjoy taking baths), consider looking into alternative solutions like an electric bath lift or walk-in bathtub.
Grab bars and toilet safety rails are important for keeping your balance while putting yourself onto the toilet. If the toilet seat is too low, opt for a toilet riser.
8. Make Your Bedroom More Accessible
When designing the bedroom, one of the first things you should consider is your bed size and height. Look for a mattress that allows you to easily get into and out of bed. In general, this is easier with a firmer mattress. If, however, you prefer a softer one, ensure that you set it at a taller height or purchase a rising bed.
When arranging dressers and nightstands, make sure that they allow comfortable access to the drawers. If necessary, secure them to the wall to ensure stability.
If you have a closet, you may want to lower the rods (about 2 ft from the floor) to make it easier to reach clothing. Always check if there is enough space for maneuvering and dressing.
Though not limited to the bedroom, wheelchair reachers and lifters can be beneficial for reaching items while in bed. Reachers are also great for picking up light objects, reaching items on high shelves, and changing light bulbs.
9. Medical Alert Systems for Disabled People
Having a medical alert system in place can provide you (and loved ones) with extra peace of mind.
A medical alert system is a device that, in the event an emergency occurs, sends a signal to emergency personnel. The device is usually in the shape of a button so it can be easily carried around at all times. The alert system is connected to a base station, and when the button is pressed, a pre-programmed (emergency) number is called.
Living in a Wheelchair-Friendly Home
Making your home wheelchair-friendly doesn’t have to be daunting. With some simple adjustments and home improvement projects, you can make your home fully accessible to any wheelchair user.
At ExMed, we offer a wide range of wheelchairs and wheelchair ramps to meet all your needs and preferences. What’s more, we have a variety of accessories (such as reachers and wheelchair gloves) that will help you perform daily tasks with ease and increase your quality of life!
Discover more about living with a wheelchair, as well as how to improve your comfort and independence in our wheelchair section!