Wheelchair Accessibility

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Renovating your home for wheelchair use poses a number of challenges. Make sure you’re ready to step up and do it right before you put hammer to nail.

Your starting point is the accessibility standards for residences – but this is just a start. Consider the needs of the disabled person. For example, the standards call for 36-inch wide doors, but most disabled people need wider doors. Contractor Bill Mavrakis calls doors of that width “knucklebusters.” Mavrakis has found that 42-inch wide doorways are far more usable by wheelchair users who have to push themselves along.

One of the first additions to the home may be a wheelchair ramp. A lot of designers like to put these ramps in the garage or in the rear of the home. But a properly built ramp can take up most of the garage, Mavrakis notes. He likes to use reconditioned or used lifts to save space. Contractor Dennis Gehman builds L-shaped ramps to use less space. He also recommends styling the ramp to blend with the home’s exterior décor.

Bathrooms, with their small size and multiple uses, are particularly challenging. Gehman likes to either expand the existing bathroom into an adjoining room, or convert a spare room into a wheelchair-friendly space. “Curbless” showers that allow wheelchair users to roll right into them are very popular. Also consider special fittings if the wheelchair user has limited use of their hands – few things are more frustrating than for someone to try to turn on the bathtub faucet with fixtures that don’t accommodate their grip restrictions.

Wheelchair users like to be able to roll right up to the sinks in the kitchen and bathroom. Removing floor cabinets around sinks and rerouting plumbing pipes tight against the rear wall can accommodate their needs. You may consider lowering sinks and countertops to 30 inches in height rather than the conventional 36” to help wheelchair-bound cooks make their favorite dishes.

And don’t forget the design elements. Renovation specialist Robin Burrell says that creating an elegant and functional redesign not only adds to everyone’s enjoyment of the home, but adds to the resale value. Homesellers “don’t want to sell [their home] as having a handicapped bathroom but as having a very nice, high-end, larger bath,” she explains.

Renovating your home for a wheelchair user can be a daunting task, but when done properly, it can enhance the value of the home and give everyone a more pleasant living experience.