The Accessible Home:
12 Tips to Make Your Home More Livable
Incorporating Universal Design into Your Living Space
“How do you design a space that functions equally well for ALL users? Designing a home or apartment that allows everyone, not just people with disabilities, easy access and livability by incorporating accessibility features in a tasteful and barely perceivable way into the overall design of the structure is the basis for Universal Design. Below is a list of accessibility features you may want to consider when you buy, build or remodel your home for easier living.
1. Limit Stairs
Instead of steps leading to the front door, gradually grade walks to allow for easy access to the door. To allow easier access for wheelchairs, walkers and those who shuffle their feet install zero-step (flat) thresholds into living areas from the main entrance and the garage.
2. Allow Enough Clearance
To give a wheelchair user enough room to maneuver easily, doorways should be 36” wide, hallways 46” wide, and bathrooms, kitchens and entry areas should have a 5-foot turning radius. If there is a landing outside your door, make sure there is a 5-foot flat landing in front of the door.
3. Keep Essentials on the Main Level
If you have a zero-step entry, wide hallways, and an accessible bathroom and bedroom on the main level, anyone, regardless of ability can visit you, and you will never have to move because of a disability.
Make life easier — install lights with motion sensors, remote controls to operate everything from electronics to lighting, fans and heating/cooling systems, automated door openers, whole house intercoms, and other SmartHome technology.
5. Maximize Natural Lighting
Bring light and the outdoors in with plenty of windows, French or patio doors, and add skylights to windowless areas. Not only will you enjoy the benefits of more light with less glare, but you may find it a mood booster as well.
6. Make Your Bathroom Accessible
Install a curbless shower stall with a floor that slopes to a drain at the back, an adjustable hand-held shower head with an easy on/off switch, multiple shower heads for different height people, and a shower seat; if you prefer a bath consider a walk-in tub. Choose a toilet with a seat that is 17-19” off the floor; and leave the space under the sink open for knee room when seated.
7. Add “Balance Bars” for Support
Add decorative grab bars to give you support near toilets, tubs and showers. Curved, ergonomic designs (www.GreatGrabz.com) are easier to use than straight bars; add heavy duty towel bars and reinforce them so they can double as support. Make sure walls in the bathroom have 3/4'’ blocking between studs to allow for maximum flexibility of grab bar placement.
8. Slip-Resistant Flooring
Install easy care wood, slip resistant tile, or dense carpet with less than 1/2” pile in living areas so your flooring will not trip anyone up.
9. Higher Outlets and Lower Switches
If you are building or remodeling, raise outlets to 18” form the floor to make it safer for children and reduce bending, and lower light switches to 32” so children or someone in a wheelchair can operate them.
10. Create an Accessible Kitchen
Create accessible work stations with lower countertops and open knee spaces under sinks and cook tops; install drawer-style dishwashers and ovens with side open doors (both should be raised to 18” off the floor to be more easily accessible by everyone); bring microwave ovens and some cabinets down to the counter top where they can be more easily reached; install full-extension drawers and shelves in lower cabinets, automatic hinge closures, and a side by side refrigerator.
11. Does It Pass the Closed-Fist Test?
Faucets, cabinet handles, and door knobs can be used by almost everyone if they can be operated with a closed-fist. Test them out before you purchase. Replace round door knobs with lever handles that can be easily opened with a closed fist. Hand rails and grabs should allow clearance the width of a closed fist between them and any walls.
12. Organize Your Closets for Easy Access
Installing high and low closet bar brings clothing within reach of someone who is seated; add easy-pull, clear plastic or wire drawers for accessories and other items, like socks and t-shirts; you might even consider an automatic closet bar that lowers clothing to a seated level for access and then raises back up out of the way.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed by all the choices and decisions, get help by contacting your local building supply store or NARI chapter (National Association of the Remodeling Industry) for reputable builders with specialized training in home accessibility modifications.
For more tips and strategies for making your home safer and more accessible, pick up a copy of Home Accessibility: 300 Tips for Making Life Easier by Shelley Peterman Schwarz at a library, bookstore, or on-line bookseller.
©2011 Meeting Life’s Challenges, LLC www.MakingLifeEasier.com
For reprint permission contact Shelley@MakingLifeEasier.com