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Homeowners with disabilities ranging from visual impairments to immobility must have accessible homes if they are to live independently. How this can be achieved is either through the adaption and modification of an existing property or by designing homes with features that provide freedom of movement, such as ramps, flat surfaces and wide doorways.
The Americans with Disability Act—which prohibits discrimination based on disability—came into effect in 1990 and set the goal of independent living for people with disabilities.
However, research from 2015 revealed:
Despite these gloomy findings, one-third of homes did have some essential accessibility features, as well as the potential for modification. Here we look at what can be done to improve the situation.
To find out about some of the ways you can modify or design a building to accommodate mobility issues, we sought the advice of experts:
Jacqui Smith—Access Advisor at Cae, the Centre for Accessible Environments
Steve Reading—Architect at Collier Reading Architects
Joe Halsall—Digital Marketing Manager at Origin Global
Many people who have reached the stage in their life when mobility becomes an issue prefer to remain in their own home, where they have created precious memories, rather than move into retirement accommodation. However, to manage any current or future difficulties with mobility, it is often necessary to make modifications to safeguard against potential accidents.
Joe: “Supporting the use of mobility aids such as scooters, frames and wheelchairs means ensuring property entrances are wide enough and residents are able to manoeuvre freely once inside, preferably with enough space to turn 360 degrees if using a wheelchair.
“Bi-fold doors are a popular feature for homes as they showcase impressive views and let in natural light. However, they can also provide accessibility for those with a range of disabilities because they open widely.
“These doors also make it easier for people to move between the indoors and outdoors as they are designed to fold and stack to one side.”
Steve: “When designing entrances to be suitable for mobility difficulties, level access and the ability to manoeuvre wheelchairs easily while opening the door should be considered.”
Bi-fold door thresholds—the track along which the carriages slide to open and close the door—should be set as low to the ground as possible. This will make it much easier for people who have difficulty moving throughout the home.
Joe: “Homeowners can choose non-weathered thresholds on interior doors or doors in sheltered areas. These thresholds are completely level with the floor, which makes it especially suitable for anyone with mobility difficulties.”
Although narrow hallways and passages can be a concern for people with mobility difficulties, it is easy for a contractor to carry out a few renovations to widen these spaces.
Jacqui: “A wide corridor is important, particularly where a wheelchair user has to enter a door at right angles and needs turning space behind other doors such as the front door or a bedroom door.
“Sufficient space is important within the home to ensure easy manoeuvring and access between rooms. Bedrooms, bathrooms and kitchens need to be well-designed so that they are functional and easy for a wheelchair user to use.
“The biggest challenge for people with mobility difficulties is often moving between floors within the home, or getting into and out of homes where step-free access is not provided.”
Flat surfaces throughout the home are also important. Removing doorsteps or installing a ramp at the entrance can provide clear access and avoid the need for assistance. However, installing permanent ramps can be costly and might need planning permission.
Steve: “The most important things to consider when designing homes for accessibility is providing level access, accessible light switches and door handles and making kitchen worktops low enough to reach.
“It is important to take into account a house’s lifetime use. There are things that can be built into new houses to allow for future adaptation. For example, trimmed floor openings to allow for hoists and stairs designed to allow easy fitting of stair lifts.”
A home with entrances and exits that are easy to access can improve the quality of life for homeowners with disabilities and enable them to live independently.
Being able to enter the garden without assistance gives homeowners an opportunity to explore gardening as a hobby, which has benefits in terms of exercise, therapy and stimulation. Offering this option in homes means applying certain design features and modifications.
Measures that make gardening easier for those with mobility problems include:
Jacqui: “A level threshold and a sufficiently clear and wide opening through one door leaf is key to providing garden access.
“An area of hardstanding for seating and paved pathways is important to provide access to different areas of the garden.
“Views of private outdoor space from a seated position are important for people who may spend more time indoors or in a seated position.”
For people with only partial sight, fixing coloured tape to door handles can make navigating through the home easier. Painting door frames and handles in a distinct colour can also highlight where the doors are.
Joe: “Living in un-adapted homes is a growing concern for family members of homeowners with a range of disabilities, such as immobility or visual impairment.
“To improve their quality of life and put worries to rest by ensuring they are safe, homes can be modified and made much more accessible.”
Making these necessary modifications to a home tackles the biggest domestic challenges that those with a range of disabilities may face and provides support to the homeowner so they can live independently.