For seniors in the United States, mobility issues are a common challenge. According to the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, nearly 2.2 million Americans depend on a wheelchair to accomplish everyday tasks. While the Americans with Disabilities act made navigating public spaces a bit easier for wheelchair users, it doesn’t apply to all private residences. And if you’re providing in-home care for a wheelchair user, you know how difficult cramped spaces can be. There are, however, certain changes you can implement throughout your home to make it more friendly to wheelchair users.
Ramps and no-threshold entries are the best place to start for your home’s exterior. Steps are obviously a natural barrier for wheelchairs but a simple door threshold can also be a difficult obstacle. Consider installing an automatic door bottom, which is a retractable threshold that can clear carpet while still providing a barrier for sound and cold air.
For wheelchair users to move freely inside a home, they need added space. Ideally, doors should be 34 to 36 inches wide and there should be a clear five foot path which allows wheelchairs to move and turn freely. Wheelchair users also have limited reach compared to those with full mobility, so it helps if light switches can be lowered and electrical plugins raised. The same is true for overhead cabinetry and storage.
For wheelchair users to easily access kitchen staples like a stove or the sink, they need to be able to get as close as possible. That usually requires removing cabinetry from underneath. Seated users can also more easily access controls placed towards the front of appliances.
Grab bars are essential here, for both the toilet and shower. Installing non-slip tiles and shower seats can also help prevent falls, which can be deadly for seniors. As in the kitchen, drawers beneath sinks should be removed and replaced by low-hanging toiletry storage.
If you’d like to learn more about making your home wheelchair friendly, the United Spinal Association has a great resource page. There’s lots of information about accessible home design and tips on paying for these important upgrades. Being wheelchair dependent can certainly add new challenges for seniors. But by making a few deliberate changes, their home can remain comfortable and welcoming.