Is your home accessible? Would your home accommodate someone with limited mobility, such as someone requiring the aid of crutches, a walker, or a wheelchair? Limited mobility can make everyday tasks like climbing the stairs, driving a car, or maneuvering through a house feel as challenging as scaling a mountain.
Thinking of the phrase “break a leg” leads to an important question: If someone you know has a broken leg, could they easily navigate your home?
Below are a few questions to ask about your home’s accessibility. (And note: An accessible home does not need to look institutional. With good design, the accessibility modifications can also be aesthetically pleasing.)
Stairs are a difficult task for people with crutches or a walker and impossible for those with a wheelchair. For a remodel, consider eliminating stairs by raising the surrounding topography or aesthetically incorporating a ramp. The term “zero threshold” is used a lot in design, meaning little to no threshold at doorways or at a change in flooring material, like from wood to tile. Strive for door thresholds no more than 0.5 inches for a beveled threshold.
The Americans with Disabilities Act requires a minimum 32 inch clearance at knuckle height with 18 inches of maneuverable space on the handle side of a door. Products like swing-away hinges that replace standard door hinges allow for maximum clearance. There are also ways for professionals to widen existing doorways, sometimes without major structural work (like changing the existing door framing studs to jack studs, gaining extra space for a slightly wider door).
Lever handles are ergonomically more functional to use than knobs. The lever style is easier to use with limited dexterity, requiring no grip to operate.
Lighting is important in navigating a home. If you cannot see where you are going, it’s harder to avoid running into furniture and walls. Even for those that can manage stairs – dark stairways are just screaming for a missed step!
Determine if there is enough clearance to comfortably navigate throughout your house. Wider hallways avoid the dark tunnel feeling of a narrow hallway. Handrails can double as towel rails in kitchens and bathrooms. A walk-in shower without a threshold gives easy access to people of all ages.
While some accessibility modifications are easier to implement, like adding a decorative grab bar or changing doorknobs to levers, other changes require more skill, such as changes to thresholds, doorway structures, and bathroom layouts.
A home cannot accommodate every ailment or limitation a human can acquire, but there are accessible design strategies that can improve accessibility. Universal design is the practice of making a home accessible to the majority of people, regardless of age or limitations. There are a multitude of strategies that can be implemented. When considering your next remodeling project or building a new home, talk to your designer about strategies on how to improve accessibility.