Taking steps to make your home accessible for all can increase its attractiveness to both renters and buyers. It may also make your life easier if you want to have ageing relatives come to live with you and/or age in place yourself. Here are some tips on how to create a home that’s accessible to all.
Look at the route from the curb to your front door. How easy is it for people with mobility issues? For example, is there a gate? If there is, how does it open? Can it be fitted with a remote opening mechanism?
Once they’re at the front door, how do they get through it? Is the door level with the ground or is there a step or flight of steps? If there are steps, is there also a ramp or a lift?
If there is no ramp or lift but no immediate need for one, you may simply wish to ensure that you keep the necessary space clear for one. That way you can have one installed with minimal delay if it becomes necessary.
Make sure that there is plenty of light from the roadside to the front door. This isn’t specific to accessibility, but it does have particular relevance to it.
The front door often serves an important security function. Make sure that this can be used effectively by people in wheelchairs as well as by people standing up. For example, you may wish to fit a second spyglass and/or chain at a wheelchair-friendly level. Better still, use an intercom, a smart doorbell and/or CCTV as they can be operated by anyone.
Think about the practicalities of opening doors. Ideally, doors should be fitted with an opening mechanism. If that’s not possible, try to use door openers that work without needing to be pressed or turned.
Similarly, it’s preferable if doors can open to the side. If that’s not possible, then they should have double-hinges. This will make sure they can always open without a wheelchair user having to roll back. Soft-close hinges can make for a pleasanter experience for everyone.
If your doors have wooden stops on the floor, then you need to remove them. If necessary, replace them with another form of door-stop.
Make sure there’s enough space for wheelchairs to move freely. There might be a limit to what you can do about the basic layout of the house (without knocking down walls). You can and should, however, resist the temptation to make corridors narrower than they are by lining them with bulky storage units.
For example, if you have limited space at your entrance, avoid deep cupboards. Instead, go for hooks for coats etc (at different levels) and slimline storage for footwear. If you need shelving, bookcases can be a good option. They tend to be slimmer than shelving units.
From an accessibility perspective, it’s best to avoid stairs. In the real world, however, this isn’t always a practical option. When there are steps indoors, there should be some way of getting up them, for example, a stairlift.
Most types of flooring can be made to work for people with mobility issues, including wheelchairs. You just need to look for variations of them that are flat, smooth and offer a comfortable grip.
For example, if you want carpet, make sure that wheels will glide along it. If you want tiles, make sure that the tiles fit together seamlessly rather than having dips between them. Cork tiles can be an excellent choice for accessibility. Wood floors are also popular for good reason.
In the old days, making lighting accessible meant positioning light switches so that they could be easily accessed by wheelchair users. This is still an option, but smart lighting is probably the way to go now. Smartphones are now mainstream across all demographics. Apps for smart devices such as lighting are very easy to use.
It can also be worth remembering that battery-operated LED lights can be put in places regular lights can’t. They generate practically no heat so there’s no fire risk. You can get smart options and also options that can be worked by a standard remote control.
Lighting is probably the single most important navigation aid in a home. It can, however, be useful to include others. For example, you might want to make sure that doors contrast strongly with the neighbouring walls and flooring so that they can be easily seen. You might also want to add signs on them to indicate what the room is.
Again, these used to be major challenges when it came to making homes accessible. Now, smart devices have largely dealt with the challenge. Heating and cooling can now be worked from a phone. Likewise, devices can be turned off and on at the wall from a phone if you provide smart plugs.
If a kitchen is intended to be used by both wheelchair-users and non-wheelchair users, then you may want to look at putting sinks at different levels. At a minimum, think about the taps you use. Motion-activated taps are both convenient and hygienic. If, however, these are out of your budget (or not practical), look for taps with levers rather than knobs.
Similar comments apply in the bathroom. Additionally, you may want to pass on the traditional bath and go for a shower or wet room. If you go for a shower, make sure that the base is level with the floor for wheelchair access.
If you do want to offer a bath, then think about using a chair lift or having a walk-in bath. With that said, remember that baths do tend to eat up a lot of floor space. That’s at a premium in most bathrooms. It’s particularly important within accessible bathrooms as both wheelchairs and mobility aids need space to move and be moved.
Last but definitely not least, make sure that a wheelchair user can easily get from their wheelchair to the toilet quickly and easily.
Here at Tara Neil, we are able to help you design your accessible kitchen, from initial consultation to installation, we’re here to help. To discuss our accessible kitchens, please contact our friendly team today.