Key Things to Consider When Designing Homes for the Physically Disabled

When you or a family member has a physical disability, designing a home takes on new meaning. You no longer just think about the look and feel of the interior; you also pay attention to factors that will make their life easier and more comfortable. The space should be safe, easily accessible and meet their specific needs. That’s the concept behind taking a universal design approach, which aims to make homes accessible to everyone, irrespective of their age or health.

Not sure where to start? Here are a few simple but important factors to consider.

Useful Tips to Build a Disability-Friendly Home

In this blog, we’ll discuss some effective ways to create a safe and convenient home environment for the disabled.

Build Broader Doorways

Make sure that the front door and all internal doorways are sufficiently broad for easy wheelchair access. The ideal width for the main door is 34-36 inches, with slopes instead of steps. Choose lever handles over knobs, as the latter can be difficult to operate for people with fine motor skill problems. If it’s not possible to broaden the doorway, choose doors with swing-away hinges for a few extra inches of width.

Locks should be placed between three to four feet from the floor. This is also applicable for any plugs, alarms or switches. A shelf or basket at the back of the doorway can be a useful place to put grocery bags and other packages when locking and unlocking doors; just make sure it doesn’t prevent the door from opening fully. Even if you don’t have a disabled family member, these doorway features are a good thing to invest in. They make it easier to walk in and out of the house when your hands are full. Wide doorways also make your room look more spacious.

Build Broader Doorways

Make Your Bathrooms Safer

Bathrooms are one of the most difficult areas to access for those with mobility issues. Having more floor space and adding the right shower accessories provide ease and comfort for everybody, including disabled family members.

Install a countertop-style sink for added support and accessible storage. If there’s a standard sink, use additional supports underneath so it doesn’t detach from the wall if leaned on. Since bathrooms are notorious for slip-and-fall accidents, it’s important to use slip-resistant floor tiles. Roll-in showers with handheld attachments are also a great option. Use grab bars mounted to the wall for safety, especially around the toilet and shower. If there’s no free wall space, install an L-shaped bar using the floor and back wall as support points. The bars should be sturdy enough to endure 250 lbs of weight. Use an elevated toilet seat to prevent excessive hip flexion. Depending on your specific requirements, you can opt for either portable or permanent attachments.

Make Safer Bathrooms

Choose Open Spaces

This is probably the most important feature for a home with disabled inhabitants. Homes with an open floor design have large, spacious rooms with fewer barriers like walls and doors. This will make it easier for them to move about, without colliding with obstacles. For small homes with limited space, try making small alterations to fit your special requirements. Use minimum furniture, adjustable beds and seat-level automatic closet bars for as much open space as possible. All corridors, foyers and passages should be at least 3 feet 6 inches wide.

Build Larger Driveways

Mobility is probably the biggest challenge for people with physical disabilities, and broader driveways help ease this trouble to some extent. Driveways that measure 3.8 m in width and 5.4 m in length facilitate parking and provide plenty of space when getting in and out of a car.  Go for wide, flat pathways between the front door and driveway with no obstructions like plants or trees. Fewer obstacles mean fewer chances of collision and a safer (wheelchair) ride down the driveway.

Choose Proper Flooring

When choosing a flooring option that’s suitable for wheelchairs and walkers, consider the following factors.

  • Low maintenance
  • Slip-resistant
  • Smooth and level
  • Not highly polished
  • Able to easily transition to adjacent rooms

Choosing Different Flooring Types

While carpets are ideal for people suffering from joint pain, it’s not the best option for wheelchair users as it hinders movement. Hardwood floors, on the other hand, are low maintenance and very useful in allowing smooth movement around the house. They are however highly susceptible to scratches from regular wheelchair or walker use. Hence, it’s recommendable to choose a wood species with a high rank on the Janka hardness test like white ash, hard maple or pine. The higher the hardness rating, the more durable your floors will be. When installing hardwood floors, choose a matte finish over a highly polished one, as they can be very slippery and cause accidents.

We all want a good life – a beautiful home, a healthy family, a lucrative job or a flourishing business. But life doesn’t always go the way we want. A physical disability can change your attitude towards life and your way of living. No matter your disability, it’s possible to overcome many challenges to enjoy a fulfilling life. With today’s technological advancements, you can use many home features to provide ease, comfort and mobility to the physically impaired.

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