According to the Australian Network on Disability, 4.4% of people with disability in the country are wheelchair users. This means that out of the more than 4.4 million people in Australia who report some form of disability, around 193,600 use wheelchairs.
Wheelchair users are a very specific group of people with disability, with their own set of needs. Because of their wheelchair, they can find navigating both their home, workplace and community quite challenging without the appropriate structures and sufficient space.
If you or a loved one need to use a wheelchair to get around, it makes sense to make some necessary wheelchair accessible modifications to your home. With proper planning and the right design, your house can facilitate freedom and ease of movement for those who are wheelchair-bound.
Moreover, some homeowners planning for aging in place deliberately introduce certain design changes that would create an accessible home that is aging-friendly. In doing so, they can significantly prolong the time they can spend in their current home, even as they grow older, retire and start to develop mobility problems.
And whether the wheelchair use is temporary or long-term, there are specific steps you can take to create an accessible home and make life a little easier for everyone.
Removing Barriers to Mobility With an Accessible Home
Creating a home that can accommodate a wheelchair essentially involves minimising or getting rid of barriers. By creating a universal design, you make daily necessities more accessible and most tasks manageable and easier to do for people with mobility issues.
Getting rid of physical barriers could mean changing a few sections of or your entire home.
Single-storey residences are understandably more wheelchair-friendly as access to all sections of the home is easier to facilitate. But if your house has more than one storey, it would help to ensure the wheelchair user has access to all necessary spaces on the ground floor.
Below are 5 ways to create a more wheelchair-friendly home.
1. Make Doors and Narrow Entryways Wider
Wheelchair-friendly and accessible homes provide wheelchair and walker users or people with specific needs ample space to make manoeuvring doorways, hallways and corners easier.
To be wheelchair-accessible, a door should at least be 81.28 centimetres (32 inches) wide, although easy passage is assured at 91.44 centimetres (36 inches) wide.
Some accessible home solutions to consider include installing offset hinges that can add about 2.54 centimetres (1 inch) of clearance, and getting rid of the doors or trim altogether. Installing French doors is also another good alternative and offers very wide entry points in a home.
While replacing or widening a doorway can be an expensive job, there are disabled access doors that can be installed on existing entrances or doors. If you want to take the high-tech route, these disabled access doors can be integrated with an access control system, intercom hardware and other types of door or access technology to create a more accessible home design.
It’s also important to ensure all hallways and rooms are well lit with accessible light switches and lighting options.
2. Install Ramps and Grab Bars or Handrails
Ramps and grab bars or handrails are among the other important home modifications for wheelchair users. However, installing these involves knowing elevation changes.
Some homes have a few steps, while others have an entire flight of stairs. While children using wheelchairs can be conveniently carried up a couple of steps, this may not be possible nor safe and practical as they grow older.
Aside from the weight of the user, you also need to calculate the wheelchair weight if you plan to carry both or one by one; either way, carrying will always be a laborious process.
To give you an idea, a standard manual wheelchair can weigh up to 23 kilograms; an ultra-lightweight wheelchair from 7 to 14 kilograms; and a regular motorised wheelchair between 23 and 113 kilograms.
Therefore, installing strategic ramps as an alternative to steps or stairs is an important modification. Rails alongside ramps, stairs and walls are useful as they provide additional support. Also, look into using a non-slip surface material in your home design and a cover for added safety.
If space is a big concern, you could also look into using a vertical platform lift instead of a ramp, where appropriate. Stairway lifts can be installed in places where there’s a staircase. But again, if the wheelchair user can access all necessities on the ground floor, there would be no need for a stairway lift at all.
Grab bars are a great addition to any home and make any existing or new home more accessible. Consider adding grab bars to your accessible bathroom, kitchen, living room and incorporate them into the overall design of your house.
3. Add More Legroom and Clear Pathways Everywhere
It takes strength and a lot of skill to manoeuvre a wheelchair expertly around sharp corners and narrow hallways. So, if knocking down walls to add more space in every room is deemed too expensive or impractical, consider keeping all paths clear or free from clutter, dirt and obstructions.
This means no shoes or racks near doorways or toys and other messes in your home.
By ensuring all pathways are clear, you’re making it easier for your wheelchair-using family member or friends to move about independently.
You also need to designate spots in your home where the user can park their wheelchair when it is not in use.
4. Adjust Sink and Counter Heights
Look into making height adjustments to your bathroom sink to ensure the wheelchair user can roll their chair underneath to use the sink. Also, consider putting another mirror that they can use or just lowering the height of the existing one.
In the kitchen, store basic items like dishes, pots and pans in accessible drawers at a lower height. This way, even if you need to leave your wheelchair-using family member alone for a few days, they’d have no trouble preparing their own meals.
Small design changes like this create more accessible homes and make all the difference.
5. Use Wheelchair Accessible Flooring
Carpets and rugs do not only pose a tripping hazard but can also make it harder to drive a wheelchair around. If you need to have carpets, shift to using low-pile carpet. If you have the budget, you can get your flooring changed to hardwood, ceramic tiles or vinyl.
Watch out for exposed cords and threshold safety issues and see if installing rubber ramps would make your place a lot safer for a wheelchair user.
Creating Wheelchair Friendly Homes
Turning your home into a wheelchair-friendly space takes planning, time and some investment. But part of making your house a proper home for everyone is ensuring all who live there have the freedom to move around independently, including wheelchair users.
But why stop there?
If you have a business or are a decision-maker in your place of work, why not look at ways you can make your business more accessible to wheelchair users.
To get started, contact the team at Go Doors for a consultation. As registered NDIS providers, we have many years of experience in creating a wheelchair-friendly home and can guide you through creating a more accessible property.