Accessibility. Most of us take it for granted. Heavy doors require just a bit more effort to open and a high-curbed sidewalk is just a bit of an inconvenience. But for approximately 14% of Canadians, accessibility concerns go far beyond a bit of effort or a slight inconvenience. Those living with accessibility issues know that a few simple — or not so simple — modifications can turn a house into a home.
Known as accessibility improvements, or medical renovations, the idea of adapting a home is becoming more and more popular as the Baby Boomers get older. Part of the push is due to the idea of “aging in place.” The desire to stay in one’s home, combined with rising health care costs and technological advances that create incentives and opportunities for people stay in the familiar surroundings of their own home as they age, means more and more builders and renovators (as well as policy-makers) are making accessibility a priority. The idea is to encourage people to make modifications to their current homes to increase safety and accessibility, so they can remain independent.
What types of house modifications are possible?
There are many modifications that can be done to make a home more accessible for either an elderly person or a person living with a disability. The first step is to find a design professional who can assess a person’s physical needs and design the space to suit. Getting the right person is important, as if they get it wrong, it will cost money to fix.
All the major areas of the home need to be assessed, especially entryways, the bathroom, kitchen and bedroom, as well as other concerns such as proper lighting and security systems.
An accessible entryway is important. By modifying an entryway so it is safe and convenient for the user, it can become easier to receive guests, bring in groceries, and allow the homeowner greater ease to get to appointments and social events. Consider the following entryway modifications:
- No-step entries. This is when a non-sloping ramp or walkway is constructed from the sidewalk or driveway to the front entrance of the house. It is very convenient for a wheelchair user or someone who has trouble climbing steps.
- No-step thresholds. This is when there are no thresholds to step over to enter the house or in any of the rooms, so there is less chance of tripping. This is particularly important if a homeowner uses a wheelchair, a mobility chair or a walker.
Bathrooms can be modified in a number of ways with a homeowner’s accessibility in mind, but the design and decor can also be tailored to their taste. Consider the following bathroom modifications:
- Getting rid of the bathtub and creating a walk-in shower (with no curb or lip)
- Getting a height-adjustable handheld shower head
- Lowering the bathroom sink and making sure there’s proper knee clearance (for those in wheelchairs)
- Installing an elevated toilet
- Installing grab bars in the shower and bathroom
- Getting a modern waterfall faucet with a lever-style handle that doesn’t require fingers to turn on and off.
Safety and accessibility are also important in a master bedroom, and the following home modifications should be considered:
- Ensuring there’s ample manoeuvring clearance around the bed and other furniture pieces
- Building a walk-in closet with storage at differing heights
- Swapping flip switches with rocker light switches.
A kitchen with modern conveniences may be trendy, but if it makes it difficult for the homeowner to cook in then it isn’t user-friendly. The following modifications can make it more accessible and practical:
- Ensuring there’s ample manoeuvring space around cabinets, appliances and islands
- Varying the height of countertops
- Installing powered counters that rise and lower at the push of a button
- Installing a sink/bench area with knee clearance
- Installing a raised dishwasher
- Lowering cooking surfaces (or using lowered island cooktops and elevated ovens installed in cabinets)
- A wall oven or microwave mounted at a reachable height
- Making sure there’s plenty of storage space within easy reach.
Installing proper lighting where it’s needed can decrease the chances of accidents happening inside and outside the home. Consider well-placed lighting in stairways, kitchens, living room and outdoor areas. Adding more ceiling lights, or a skylight that can be controlled by the push of a button will also bring in more electric and natural light to the home. Accessible light switches, such as rocker-type switches, can be moved so they are easily reached by a wheelchair user or someone who has trouble bending down.
There are endless possibilities to the modifications you can make to a home, depending on your budget. Even if the budget is small, making simple modifications, such as installing grab bars in the bathroom or eliminating thresholds, can make a big difference.