Installing outdoor ramps, widening doorways and lowering countertops are just a few of the many ways to make your home wheelchair accessible.
Creating a wheelchair-accessible home may seem overwhelming at first, but rearranging some rooms or making small investments in renovations can greatly improve the quality of life for many homeowners. Check out these five ways to make an accessible home that you’ll love.
1. Entryways - Ramps or VPLs
Getting in and out of our homes safely is a key place to start. This can often mean building a ramp or installing a Vertical Platform Lift (VPL). In some cases, you may want both. There are many types of ramps available, from permanent pressure-treated wood ramps to modular (steel or aluminum), folding or rollable ramps and threshold ramps. A threshold ramp is often smaller in size and portable, used for lower barriers like thresholds in doorways, curbs, or low porch steps. Whereas custom wood ramps are typically larger, preferred for their aesthetic and built in front yards. According to the Ontario Building Code, freestanding ramps must have a flat landing at the top (or in the middle for ramps longer than 20 feet) to prevent users from rolling back down or tiring out.
Additionally, for every inch of rise to your door, you require one foot of length for your ramp, So it’s best to consult with an accessibility contractor to assess your property and measure the required ramp size. Snow clearing is also of key importance when considering a ramp. If this is a challenge or the amount of rise to your door is too high to install a ramp, consider a Vertical Platform Lift. A VPL can be a bit more expensive but are great for saving space and can often be installed in a garage to protect from harsh Canadian winters.
2. Accessible Bathroom
Once you make it safely inside your home, a wheelchair-accessible bathroom is one of the more important renovations to undertake. This is a personal space that should be designed with your unique health needs, transferring abilities or caregiver supports in mind. There are clear guidelines in the Ontario Building Code for building accessible bathrooms for the public, but when it comes to your own home, layouts, grab bar positioning, bathroom counter heights and turning radiuses should be tailored to work best with your body. Our team regularly works with our clients’ occupational therapists to help with these measurements and ensure you can use your bathroom with ease and independence.
For a truly barrier-free bathroom, installing a zero-threshold shower means no lips or curbs of any sort to navigate into the shower space. If you can transfer out of your wheelchair, also consider a few grab bars, a permanent built-in bath bench, and a showerhead with a long, easily accessible hose.
There are great options for the toilet area, including taller Right-Height toilets and base risers that can bring a 14-inch high toilet up to 23 inches. And vanities that leave ample space to roll under the sink make something as simple as washing your hands that much easier. The best part of transforming your bathroom into an accessible space is that it doesn’t need to look like a hospital! Design trends and mobility supports are now designed to not only be functional but look incredibly stylish too.
3. Widened Doorways
The width of doorways can range anywhere from 24 inches to 32 inches. Equally, wheelchair widths also have a large variation in individual sizes, but the average is around 32 inches, meaning doorways should be at least 36 inches to pass through. No matter what size your wheelchair is, widening your doorways is often a necessity.
Doorway widening involves removing the door frame along with molding and drywall, relocating any wiring or light switches, and then replacing the wood studs. Your contractor will then install some new drywall and cut the frame or trim to the correct size, adding a few inches of room on either side. In total, this home modification takes a few days of work but makes a world of difference.
Another simple and affordable way to get a few extra inches from your door frame is using offset hinges. These hinges have a curved shape and extend the door one to two inches away from the frame. Although offset hinges may not be a permanent solution, they’re an excellent option for doors that you don’t use often or for people with non-wheelchair mobility aids.
Whether you install a widened door frame or new hinges, don’t forget to use accessible handles! Door levers are much easier to grip compared to doorknobs and are ADA compliant, so they’re your best bet for both indoor and exterior doors.
4. Lowered Countertops
Kitchens are the heart of the home. And although they have many moving parts, from appliances to sinks and cabinetry, a few changes can get you back to cooking up delicious meals in no time.
Lowering a section of the countertop to between 28 and 34 inches or removing the cabinet under the sink and stove give wheelchair users the ability to prep and cook food comfortably. Moving smaller appliances like microwaves or coffee makers to lower shelves gives easy access as well. If you want to keep use of the upper cabinetry, manual or remote pull-downs are a great option.
Consider rearranging your storage space too. Instead of placing items that you use daily in the upper cabinets, such as cups or plates, maximize your lower cabinets with sliding drawers or rotating trays. You can also purchase separate shelving units for your kitchen without permanently changing the counters or cabinets.
5. Organized Closets
Choosing what to wear every day is already stressful enough, so reconfiguring your closet is a simple way to make your morning routine more enjoyable. There are many handy products to help you out, including double closet rods. Having two rods to hang clothes at different heights is ideal for storing seasonal items above and your essentials below or for sharing a closet among family members with different mobility needs.
Pull-down rods are also fantastic for wheelchair-accessible closets. They look like regular clothing racks but feature a handle you can grasp from a seated position to tilt the clothing towards you. Pull-down rods usually have adjustable widths, so they fit most closet sizes and are 33 to 40 inches high.
If you have a walk-in closet, installing a sliding or pocket door can give you extra room if needed. It’s also worthwhile finding a dresser that stacks no more than five drawers high and includes fully extendable drawers so you can reach the back.
6. Accessible Washer and Dryer
Installing a front-loading washer and dryer instead of top-loading machines will make it much easier to move clothes from a seated position. If your machines are in the basement of your home, one of the biggest considerations may be moving the washer and dryer near your bedroom or onto the main floor. This requires re-routing some plumbing and can impede on some sleeping or living space, but in the end, makes keeping our clothes clean and dry that much easier and safer.
Although there are many other ways to make your home more wheelchair accessible, these are some of the most essential home modifications to get you started. Learn more about bathroom-related renos on our blog, or contact us with any questions.