Adapting A Home For Wheelchair Users
A home represents safety, comfort, and independence.
For wheelchair users, certain modifications can greatly enhance mobility and ease of use within the household. Even small infrastructural changes can make getting from A to B significantly more comfortable.
Whether it’s due to a new condition, an ageing family member or the desire to be inclusive, there are countless ways to adapt a home for wheelchair accessibility.
Are you interested in adapting a home for wheelchair users? Let’s go over the basics and explore all of the common options so that by the end, you will have a very clear image of how to adapt your home.
1. Hoisting and the Different Types of Hoists
Mobility challenges can make it difficult for individuals to move independently – especially when transitioning from one position to another, such as from a bed to a wheelchair or vice versa.
This is where hoists become incredibly efficient.
Hoisting equipment provides a safe, efficient, and comfortable method of transferring individuals with mobility restrictions.
What is Hoisting?
Hoisting refers to the act of lifting or transferring a person using specialised equipment. Hoists are used for individuals who have limited mobility or strength, ensuring their safety and the safety of caregivers.
When it comes to hoisting, there are primarily two types to consider, each catering to different needs and environments.
Mobile hoists are freestanding units with wheels, allowing them to be manoeuvred to different locations within a room or even transported between rooms.
- Flexibility: They are not bound to a specific location and can be used wherever they are needed
- No Structural Modifications: They don’t require any significant home alterations
- Multi-purpose: Suitable for various transfer situations including bed-to-chair, chair-to-toilet, and even into a bathtub
- They require adequate floor space for movement and storage
- Users and caregivers should be trained to use mobile hoists safely to avoid accidents
Ceiling Hoists (or Overhead Hoists)
These are hoists fitted to a track mounted on the ceiling. The track can be installed in specific rooms like bedrooms or bathrooms, or extended to multiple rooms for more extensive coverage.
- Space-Saving: They don’t occupy floor space, making them ideal for cluttered rooms
- Convenience: Once installed, they offer a seamless transfer process without the need to set up the equipment each time
- Extended Coverage: Tracks can be designed to cover various points within a room or even multiple rooms
- Installation: They require a professional installation process. Depending on the structure of the home, the ceiling might need to be strengthened to support the weight.
- Initial Cost: Ceiling hoists can be more expensive initially due to installation costs and equipment.
- Fixed Location: Unlike mobile hoists, they are limited to areas where the track is installed.
2. Downstairs Bedroom with a Wet Room vs Fitting a Lift in the Home
When it comes to deciding how to set up your bedroom situation, there are two common options.
One is the creation of a downstairs bedroom with an adjoining wet room so that there is no necessity to travel up or down levels, and the other is to install a lift in the home.
Here’s a closer look at both options, helping you evaluate which might be the best fit for your needs.
Downstairs Bedroom with Wet Room
This solution involves converting a space on the ground floor into a bedroom, often with an adjoining wet room. Wet rooms are specially designed bathrooms where the floor is flush with the shower area, allowing easy access for wheelchairs without any barriers.
- Ease of Access: No need to navigate stairs daily
- Safety: Wet rooms reduce the risk of slipping due to their slip-resistant flooring and open design
- Convenience: Having both sleeping and bathing facilities on the same floor can be particularly beneficial for those with severe mobility issues
- Space Requirement: This option requires enough room on the ground floor to accommodate both a bedroom and a wet room
- Cost: Depending on the existing structure, significant alterations might be needed, potentially making this a pricier option
- Permanent Alteration: This is a long-term change to the house layout
Fitting a Lift in the Home
Installing a lift (or elevator) can enable individuals to move between floors without using the stairs. Home lifts come in various sizes and styles, from compact designs to more spacious ones.
- Maintains Home Layout: No need to make significant changes to the primary home layout
- Versatility: Useful not just for the individual with mobility issues but can also aid elderly family members and children or transporting heavy items
- Property Value: A well-installed, modern lift can potentially increase the home’s value
- Space Requirement: A lift requires a dedicated space spanning all floors it will serve. You’ll also need room for the lift mechanism and pit
- Cost: While the price range varies, lifts can be expensive both in terms of equipment and installation
- Maintenance: Regular maintenance checks are needed to ensure the lift’s safety and functionality
Is there enough space to do this?
Whether you’re considering a downstairs bedroom with a wet room or fitting a lift, space is a crucial factor. For the former, evaluate your ground floor’s layout to see if it can comfortably accommodate a bedroom and wet room without making the living space too cramped.
For the latter, while compact home lifts are available, you’ll still need a vertical space that extends through all intended floors and some additional area for the lift machinery. Remember to consider the headroom and depth needed for the lift shaft.
3. Level Access from Front and Back Entrance to the House
Navigating the entry and exit points of a house is one of the primary challenges for individuals with mobility restrictions.
For wheelchair users, those with walkers, or even those who simply find steps challenging, creating level access at the main entrances can be a game-changer.
Let’s look at the importance of level access and how to achieve it.
What is Level Access?
Level access refers to a smooth, step-free path leading to the entrance or exit of a property. It ensures that there are no barriers or obstructions, such as stairs or raised thresholds, that might impede movement; this makes it easier for everyone – especially those with mobility aids – to enter or leave a building.
Why is Level Access Important?
- Safety: Reduces the risk of trips, slips, or falls
- Independence: Allows those with mobility issues to come and go without assistance
- Inclusivity: Makes the home welcoming for visitors of all ages and abilities
Achieving Level Access at Home
There are a few ways to put in a level access at your home. Some of the most common ways include:
Ramps are a great choice as they provide a gradual incline, replacing steps or stairs. They can be made of various materials, such as wood, metal, or concrete. They’re versatile and can be adapted to fit the aesthetics of the home. Ramps can also be portable, offering flexibility in usage.
Regrading the Landscape
This involves altering the ground’s slope to create a natural, step-free path to the entrance. Regrading offers a seamless look without adding external structures like ramps.
These are small lifts designed to overcome short heights, like a few steps leading up to a doorway. Lifts are space-efficient and can be a good solution when there’s not enough room for a ramp.
Threshold Ramps or Bridges
These are small, portable ramps designed to overcome single steps or door thresholds. They’re cost-effective and can be easily moved or stored when not in use.
4. Space for a Wheelchair Accessible Vehicle in the Driveway
Mobility freedom is greatly enhanced with the aid of wheelchair-accessible vehicles (WAVs).
Wheelchair-accessible vehicles are specially designed or modified to allow individuals in wheelchairs to travel without the need to transfer out of their wheelchairs. Depending on the design, they might feature ramps, lifts, or modified seating arrangements.
However, these vehicles present unique considerations when it comes to driveway space.
Here’s a closer look at the things to consider when it comes to ensuring your driveway is ready to cater to a WAV.
Key Considerations for Driveway Space
- Width of the Driveway: It’s ideal to have a driveway that’s at least 3-3.6 meters wide to comfortably accommodate the WAV and allow room for side features or loading/unloading aids
- Length of the Driveway: Given the adaptations, some WAVs may be longer than your average vehicle. A typical driveway length of about 5.5-6.1 meters should generally be sufficient but always account for the specific dimensions of your chosen WAV
- Turn and Navigation Space: WAVs might require more space to navigate turns or to back out. Ensure there are no obstructions in the driveway, and consider making modifications if the space feels too tight for comfortable navigation
- Ramp or Lift Space: Whether the WAV has a rear or side lift or ramp, adequate space is needed for deployment without obstruction. An additional clearance of 6-8 feet, depending on the vehicle’s specific features, is often ideal to ensure smooth operations
- Driveway Surface and Slope: A level and even surface, free from potholes or steep hills, is essential for the safety and efficiency of WAV operations
- Lighting: Good lighting ensures safe operations during nighttime, especially when deploying ramps or lifts
Optimising your driveway for a wheelchair-accessible vehicle isn’t just about ensuring there’s enough space to park. It’s about creating a seamless and safe experience from the moment you drive into your property
5. Creating a Wet Room
The bathroom can be one of the most challenging spaces for individuals with mobility issues. Wet rooms, with their open and barrier-free design, have emerged as a popular solution to these challenges, providing both functionality and style.
If you’re considering transitioning to a wet room, here’s a comprehensive guide to get you started.
What is a Wet Room?
As mentioned previously, a wet room is a waterproofed bathroom where the shower area is level with the rest of the floor, eliminating the need for a shower tray or enclosure.
Key Considerations When Creating a Wet Room
- Waterproofing: This is crucial to prevent leaks and water damage. Since the entire room will be subject to getting wet, it’s important to employ a professional to ensure that the entire room, not just the showering area, is adequately waterproofed
- Flooring: Non-slip tiles, vinyl, or resin floors are popular choices for wet rooms. Make sure that the floor has a slight gradient towards the drain to ensure efficient water flow
- Drainage: Ideally placed in the lowest part of the room, ensuring all water flows towards it. Consider linear drains for a more contemporary look or centre drains for traditional designs
- Walls: Tiles, waterproof panels, or marine ply are suitable options. Even if you’re only tiling the showering area, ensure the rest of the walls are waterproofed to prevent potential damage
- Ventilation: Proper ventilation prevents mould growth and maintains air quality. Install an efficient extractor fan and consider additional windows or vents if possible
6. Adapting the Bedroom for Enhanced Accessibility
The bedroom is our sanctuary—a space where we rejuvenate and rest. For those with mobility challenges, ensuring the bedroom is both accessible and comfortable is paramount.
One of the primary aspects of bedroom accessibility is having adequate space for manoeuvrability and the inclusion of specialised equipment, like profiling beds.
Here’s how you can adapt a bedroom to cater to these needs:
Wider, Wheelchair Accessible Doors
Standard doors might pose a challenge for wheelchair users. By widening the doorway, you ensure smooth and unhindered access.
Ideally, doorways should be at least 81 cm wide, although 91cm offers even more comfortable access for wider wheelchairs or powered chairs.
Door Type Considerations
- Sliding Doors: These can be a space-saving solution, eliminating the need for door swing space
- Pocket Doors: These doors slide into the wall, offering seamless access while saving space.
- Lever Handles: Replace traditional doorknobs with lever handles, which are easier to operate for those with limited hand dexterity.
Space for a Profiling Bed
These are specialised beds that can be adjusted in various sections (like raising the head or foot) to provide optimal comfort and support for the user.
Ensure that there’s enough space around the bed for easy access. This is especially crucial if using hoists or other mobility aids. Place the bed in a way that allows access from both sides, offering flexibility for caregivers and for transfers.
Given that many profiling beds are electrically operated, ensure there’s an accessible power outlet nearby. Also, consider having backup power solutions for emergencies.
7. Adjusting Light Switches for Optimal Accessibility
Lighting plays a pivotal role in setting the ambiance of a room and ensuring safety, especially during night-time or low-light conditions. For wheelchair users or those with mobility challenges, accessing light switches can often be an overlooked obstacle.
Adjusting the placement of light switches can significantly enhance a room’s accessibility.
Let’s look at things to consider when it comes to modifying light switch heights:
The Standard Height Issue
Traditionally, light switches are placed at a height convenient for standing individuals, generally around 1.2 meters from the floor. For someone in a wheelchair or with limited reach, this positioning can be inconvenient or entirely out of range.
Optimal Height for Accessibility
For wheelchair users, positioning light switches between 91 to 101 centimetres from the floor can be more accessible. This height adjustment ensures that both seated and standing individuals can comfortably reach the switch.
Apart from height, consider the proximity of the switch to doorways or main paths of travel within the room. It should be easily accessible without the need to manoeuvre around furniture or other obstacles.
Alternative Lighting Controls
While lowering light switches is a straightforward solution, thanks to recent advances in technology, there are more and more accessible solutions:
- Motion Sensors: These automatically activate lights when someone enters a room. This hands-free solution is not only convenient for everyone but especially beneficial for those with limited dexterity
- Remote-Controlled Lighting: Using a handheld remote or even a smartphone app, individuals can control lights without having to physically reach for a switch
- Voice-Activated Systems: With the rise of smart home devices, voice commands can be used to control lighting. This is particularly helpful for those with limited mobility or dexterity
- Touch Lamps: Especially useful for bedside lighting, touch lamps can be turned on or off with a simple tap, eliminating the need for traditional switches altogether
8. Making Kitchen Facilities Wheelchair Accessible
The kitchen, often dubbed the heart of the home, is a space of creativity, nourishment, and family gatherings. For individuals with mobility challenges, an accessible kitchen can significantly boost independence and enjoyment of daily routines.
Ensuring kitchen facilities are adapted to meet these needs is not just about accessibility — it’s about reclaiming the joy of cooking and communal experiences.
Here’s how you can adapt kitchen facilities for wheelchair users:
Countertop Height and Depth
Standard countertops may be too high for wheelchair users. Consider reducing the height to around 71 to 86 centimetres, ensuring a comfortable working level for someone seated.
By creating a recess or cut-out space beneath countertops, wheelchair users can pull up closer, allowing for easier access to the countertop and sink area.
- Oven and Microwave: Wall-mounted ovens or microwaves at lowered heights can be more accessible. Alternatively, consider drawer-style microwaves or under-counter ovens
- Refrigerator: Opt for side-by-side refrigerator and freezer units, which allow for easy access to both sections from a seated position. Pull-out shelves or rotating trays can further enhance accessibility
- Dishwasher: Raised dishwashers can reduce the need to bend down. Additionally, drawer dishwashers offer flexibility as you can use one drawer at a time
In crafting an accessible kitchen, smart storage is paramount. Pull-out shelves in base cabinets offer easy access for wheelchair users, eliminating the need for deep-reaching.
Lazy Susans in corner cabinets introduce efficient rotation, ensuring items are always within a quick spin’s reach.
Additionally, maximising kitchen height through pull-down shelving units or racks can bring items down to an accessible level, merging functionality with ease of use.
Installing shallow sinks ensures that, from a seated position, users can comfortably reach the faucet and the bottom of the sink.
Motion-activated or touch-sensitive faucets can simplify kitchen tasks and are especially useful for those with limited dexterity.
9. Choosing the Right Flooring for Wheelchair Accessibility
The foundation of every room, quite literally, is its flooring. When considering a home’s accessibility, especially for wheelchair users, the type of flooring can play a significant role in ease of mobility and safety.
While aesthetics matter, the functionality of the floor is paramount for those who rely on wheelchairs or other mobility aids.
Let’s delve into the intricacies of selecting the most suitable flooring for an accessible home.
The Challenges with Carpeting
Thick, plush carpets can pose resistance to wheelchair movement, making it difficult to manoeuvre and increasing the risk of wear and tear both to the wheelchair and the carpet itself.
On top of this, carpets can trap dust and allergens, which may not be ideal for those with respiratory issues or allergies.
Ideal Flooring Options
- Hardwood Floors: Hardwood floors offer smooth, even surfaces that are easy for wheelchairs to glide over. Ensure they are finished with a non-slip sealant to prevent any potential slipping hazards
- Laminate Flooring: A cost-effective alternative to hardwood, laminate flooring mimics the look of wood but offers easier maintenance
- Vinyl Flooring: This option is both durable and water-resistant. Its smooth surface is ideal for wheelchair mobility, and it comes in a variety of styles, mimicking anything from tile to wood
- Tile: While tiles can offer a durable and smooth surface, it’s crucial to choose non-porous tiles with a non-slip finish. Grout lines should be minimal and even to prevent any bumps or hindrances
Regardless of the chosen material, ensuring the flooring is slip-resistant is vital, especially in areas prone to wetness, like the kitchen or bathroom.
Floor transitions between rooms or different flooring types should be as seamless as possible. Raised thresholds can be a tripping hazard or an obstacle for wheelchairs.
Making a home wheelchair-friendly isn’t just about the big changes; it’s more about creating an environment where everyone feels free, comfortable, and valued.
Remember, the goal is to blend functionality with convenience and aesthetics, ensuring that your home remains a welcoming space for all.
For those seeking guidance or rental mobility products to enhance home accessibility, Strive Mobility stands as your reliable partner.
From wheelchairs to hoists to hospital beds, find everything you need to make your space truly inclusive with Strive Mobility – the simple way to rent mobility products online.