Making Your Home Disability Friendly

A guide to modifications you can make in the home to make it more disability friendly

Few houses are equipped for the disabled, making many basic, household tasks impossible.  Luckily, refitting your home to be more accessible to those with disabilities is not as difficult as it sounds – and there are financial options available that can help you afford the remodeling, particularly if you receive Disability (SSI) benefits.

There is no way to calculate an exact cost for these improvements, as they are entirely dependent on your situation and needs.  Few of these renovations require extended periods of installation, meaning that you can probably continue living in your home while they are carried out, but you may want to factor in a few nights at an affordable hotel, just in case.

Likewise, financial aid and eligibility depend on several factors (type of disability, location, availability of funds, and more), so the following are only suggestions to jumpstart your research.  If you are renovating your place of business, you may be eligible for certain tax incentives or grants.  This is also true for homeowners and landlords.  Contact your health insurer, as well, as they may also provide financial assistance or incentives.

The most important factors are entry points and potentially dangerous areas like the kitchen and bathrooms.  Stairways might not be as important as you think, depending on the layout of your house; if you have a bathroom and bedroom on the ground floor, being able to get up and down the stairs might not be necessary.  A stair lift is expensive, requiring professional installation and periodic maintenance.

Finally, these adjustments do not have to be unsightly nor lower the resale value of your home.  In fact, an already handicap-accessible house opens you up to a new market – one willing to pay more for that very quality.  Thoughtful planning and a bucket of paint can make many of these adjustments unnoticeable to most people.

Grants.gov is the US government’s centralized database of available grants.  You can look for and apply for grants here.

CBS News reported on how to claim medical deductions for home improvements related to disabilities.

Basic Renovations

The most economical adjustments you can carry out to make your home disability friendly are also the easiest and quickest to install.  Handrails, or grab bars, can cost as little as $10 (US) and generally be installed without the need for a professional.  Some models include hinges so the bars can be folded away when not in use.

A few of these in strategically placed areas, including bathrooms and the kitchen, won’t make a big difference in your wallet or your house but will make a huge difference for those with physical limitations.

Replace lightbulbs so they do not affect those with height disabilities, those in wheelchairs, or those with vision impairments.  This usually means using bulbs that reduce glare or are lower wattage.  Frosted bulbs are one suggestion.

Changing doorknobs and taps to lever-style handles is another minor, affordable change which most homeowners can install themselves.  You might also install a second, lower peephole on external doors at approximately 43” height to accommodate the wheelchair-bound as well as those with height disabilities.

Remove thick carpeting and throw rugs.  Only purchase furniture with no sharp edges that can be used by everyone (for example, coffeetables are usually too low for wheelchair-bound guests).  Arrange furniture so that there is plenty of room for wheelchairs and walkers.

281 Home Renovation Ideas for those with Disabilities on Pinterest (with instructions).

10 Ways to Make Your Home More Handicap Accessible from Family Handyman.

Wheelchair-Accessible Accommodations

The most obvious is installing a ramp(s) with handrails outside.  These can be costly but they also facilitate those with walking aids and limitations who are not wheelchair-bound.  Removable ramps that fit over existing stairs are another possibility, as are platforms and chair lifts that can be withdrawn, but these are more expensive and require both professional installation and continued maintenance.

Doorways must be 32” wide for wheelchairs but some minor changes to existing doors may be all you need.  Removing the trim and door threshold can improve clearance, for example.  Removing doors entirely, or installing offset hinges, can also improve accessibility.  Doors should not weigh more than five pounds and be easy to operate, especially at wheelchair height.  If doorways have to be physically widened, as is the case in many older homes, it will be expensive and may take some time to complete.

Sunken floors and certain types of surfaces (concrete, tile, masonry) can also prove difficult for those with mobility limitations.  Replacing the flooring can be costly but strategically placed, non-slip, plastic mats are one suggestion.  At a width of approximately 35”, these can be placed (usually) along the outside perimeter of areas to allow wheelchairs, walkers, and those with canes an even surface with more traction.

How to Make Your Home Wheelchair Accessible from How Stuff Works.

How to Widen a Doorway in 14 Steps from WikiHow.

Bathrooms

Grab bars around the toilet and shower are essential for handicap-friendly bathrooms.  A shower seat and handheld shower head are fundamental, too.  Take care to store toiletries and personal necessities at an appropriate height.  Lever taps on sinks and in showers are preferable, and sinks should be lowered to accommodate those in wheelchairs.

More expensive alterations include an accessible shower, at least 17” of space around toilets for transferring from a wheelchair, and at least 60” of room throughout for optimal wheelchair maneuverability.

Handicap Friendly Bathroom Design Ideas from Lushome.

Smart Home Bathroom Options from Kohler.

Kitchens

Countertops can be lowered or even adjustable, but these options are expensive.  A more affordable solution is to lower only some countertops or install a low-level island.  You can also purchase islands on wheels or install pull-out boards under countertops or drawers.  The general height should be 28-34” and be sure everything has rounded edges.

Lower wall cabinets to make them more accessible.  Lowered prep areas on either side of the stove may be necessary – this is a great place for pull-out boards.  Some countertops should have clearance below for wheelchairs, which may involve removing lower cabinets.  Store appliances (blenders, food processors) in easy-to-reach areas where they can be slid into position, as opposed to having to be lifted.

Lowering sinks is a major renovation but, depending on the situation, may be necessary.  Likewise, ovens and dishwashers should be at appropriate heights (generally 31”) with plenty of space on either side to improve access.  This may require professional construction or installation, although custom models are available.  Be sure all knobs and controls are clearly labeled and on the front of the appliances.

Major kitchen renovations will definitely affect your home’s resale value but, again, there is always a market for disability friendly homes.  This market sees them as move-in ready.  Although it is a more limited market, up to 56 million people in the US are disabled, and you only need one buyer.

If you live in a home with both able-bodied and disabled persons, you can scale renovations to meet your needs.  For instance, if there is only one wheelchair-bound person in the house, a single area with a lowered countertop and space below might suffice, as long as it is large enough to accommodate her and appliances are easy to reach.

Add a pull-out counter under a drawer and/or either side of the stove for prep, arrange the furniture to facilitate access, store their favorite foods on accessible shelves, and place the microwave and toaster oven somewhere they can be easily reached, and the rest of the kitchen can be left as-is.

Kitchen Magic offers practical, custom solutions to kitchens for the disabled.

Overall Modifications

Here is a quick checklist of modifications to be made throughout your house, in general.  While some of these were covered above, they bear repeating.  Note that some of these renovations are expensive and time-consuming, and require professional installation and possibly extensive remodeling.  You might have to move from your home temporarily.

  • Lower all light switches.
  • Raise all outlets.
  • Replace all taps and doorknobs with lever-style handles.
  • Replace heavy doors with those weighing five pounds or less and make sure they swing out so that they do not impede wheelchairs.
  • Adjust refrigerator and pantry shelves to make them more accessible.
  • Store favorite foods, clothes, and other items in accessible areas.
  • Invest in smart home options that can automate tasks and make many features more accessible through remote control options and voice commands.

How Smart Homes Empower the Disabled.

The US Department of Housing and Urban Development, or HUD, provides more information on home ownership and other housing issues for those with disabilities.

Conclusion

Making your house more accessible to those with disabilities is not as challenging as it may seem.  Many, affordable modifications can be made relatively quickly by homeowners with little or no DIY experience.  While more expensive renovations are available, assess the needs of your household and scale your customizations to fit them.