When adapting your home for a wheelchair user, it’s imperative to understand and anticipate the kind of challenges they face daily. It ranges from general movement through the house to maintaining personal hygiene, using the bathroom and the kitchen and handling objects such as knobs, light switches, and various equipment.
To make sure your home is safe for a family wheelchair user, tick the following items off of your safety checklist.
Even if you can’t knock down walls and change the original floor plan, there are still certain tweaks you can make to the general layout to make it more wheelchair-user-friendly. Firstly, consider the doorways in your home. As the standard wheelchair footprint is 30x48in, doorways must be 32in wide at least and turning circles in the rooms must leave enough room for maneuvering the wheelchair on the spot, which is 60x60in.
Furthermore, tables and desks should be at the height of 28 to 32in and the typical knee clearance height under them should come somewhere between 27 and 29in. Finally, to have the outside home access wheelchair-friendly, maximum access ramp slope should be 1:12 and the general ground slope in aisles, driveways and parking spots 1:48.
An aspect that’s commonly overlooked in a wheelchair-friendly home is lighting, as it’s generally designed for healthy individuals who can easily stand up and walk to reach and operate light switches and lamps. But, from the point of view of wheelchair users, light switches placed behind countertops or doors are too high and impossible to reach.
All hard-to-reach switches, such as those behind kitchen countertops or the ones higher than 44in, should be moved to the height of at least 36in. For a job like this, consider contacting a local emergency electrician who can also become your to-go-person in future, should any issue arise. Discuss with him changing to larger rocker switches, as they are much easier to use.
One lighting hack that can be beneficial to all household members, wheelchair users included, is navigational lighting. Modern LED lights can be conveniently placed at the base of floorboards in hallways, doorways, around handrails and door locks to minimize the struggle of finding switches in the dark.
Stairways and corridors
Stairways are commonly the biggest issue for wheelchair users, whether they’re indoors or outdoors. Make sure handrails are installed properly, capable of supporting user’s full weight, with enough spacing from the wall to allow a full and firm hand grip and with extra length beyond the first and last step for additional support. Avoid using rugs, runners or mats as they can rise and wrinkle and cause slips and tripping hazards.
Kitchens and bathrooms
Kitchens and bathrooms are particularly problematic for wheelchair users, so their design and layout must prioritize mobility and safety. The height of countertops, including ovens and burners in the kitchen, and vanities and sinks in the bathroom, should accommodate wheelchair armrests which are at a height of 29in. Also, most of these surfaces don’t allow much space beneath them for a closer access, so it’s necessary to plan a knee recess of about 30-32in wide. Lower cabinets can also be adjusted with pull-out shelves and racks and a hose attachment on the faucets makes washing much easier.
In bathrooms particularly, there should be enough handrails, seats and benches for support, curbless showers for easy entrance and exit, and flushes and fittings that are easily operated from a seated position. For additional safety, make sure if the wheelchair user has any reduction in limb sensation so you might need to install anti-scald control in the shower and on taps.
With limited and slow mobility, wheelchair users need to be accommodated in cases of fire hazards. There should be a personal evacuation plan drawn up and precisely explained to the user and everyone in the household. There should also be a suitable fire exit cleared of any obstacles and clutter at all times.
With these considerations in mind, any wheelchair user will feel utterly comfortable, mobile and safe in their home.
Image credit: https://www.pexels.com/photo/grayscale-photo-of-wheelchair-927690/