Attractive, accessible housing is essential for children and adults with disabilities as they go about their everyday lives.
This may mean finding a home that is accessible or can be adapted for someone who has a physical disability and uses a wheelchair to get around. It may involve adapting a home for someone who has a hearing or vision impairment. It may be top-of-mind for a growing number of Baby Boomers, empty-nesters, retirees and older Americans -- people living longer and developing vision, hearing and some physical disabilities as they age -- who are concerned about finding homes they can grow old in as an alternative to nursing homes and retirement communities. Or it could mean building a new, accessible home for all members of your family to enjoy throughout their lives.
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Making small changes can mean the differance between frustration and independance
There's a good chance someone close to you is now in need of a handicap accessible environment if you are reading this page. Because of disease, an accident or aging, many people each year find themselves unable to function in a normal healthy manner. This can lead to anger and major frustration.
Because mobility and independence have a major impact on our quality of life, it is important to move quickly to implement ways and means of helping our loved ones move around and help themselves as soon as possible after they become disabled or handicapped.
Many handicap accessible changes can be accomplished immediately
Small changes can be implemented without any cost or inconvenience. The most immediate change would be to clear the paths and walkways. Whether it is crutches, walker or wheelchair being used, be sure the pathways are wide enough and cleared of obstructions. Safety and ease of movement are your first consideration at this time. Prevent tripping and falling by keeping an eye out for loose rugs, sharp corners or furniture legs that may extend into the walkway and making sure children do not drop items into the walkways.
Helping a loved one conduct her daily activities in a way that reinforces her feelings of independence is also of first priority in making a home handicap accessible. Rearrange the dishes and coffee cups, along with the sugar and other often used items to lower draws and cupboards within reach. Place often used items on lower shelves or the door of the refrigerator for easy access. Go through each room in the house and rearrange all the necessary items for ease of access.
Handrails add safety and reassurance and help make your home handicap accessible Adding handrails to the home offers support and extra security to the elderly and disabled. The height of the handrails could vary according to the needs of the person. Wheelchair users could use a rail height of 27-29" high. Children need lower handrails of about 24". Most building codes specify heights of 34-38" on at least one side of every stairway.
Whatever height you need the diameter should be from 1 1/4 to 2 1/2 inches in diameter. Choose a size that is easy to grab and be sure it is smooth and well finished. Be sure the railing is securely attached and can be used with confidence.
Below is a listing of changes to make daily life easier and handicap accessible
Changes in the handicap accessible kitchen
The kitchen as the heart of the home is often the main gathering place for the family. Making changes to make the kitchen handicap accessible will aid not only the disabled, but also make the kitchen safer and easier to use for the entire family.
Since much of the work in the kitchen is done standing, choose cushioned flooring material such as cork or vinyl that will minimize leg fatigue for the elderly or people with leg or lower back pain. Choosing neutral colors with a glare-free finish will help reduce eyestrain. A non-slip finish will help those using crutches, a walker or wheelchair.
Under cabinet lighting will make life easier for the cook with limited vision. Adding contrasting borders around the edge of a room can also aid the vision impaired mark boundaries. The same technique could be used to mark the edges of counters and islands.
Install a scald-guard valve on your kitchen faucet to protect the young and the elderly from sudden changes in water temperature. If limited hand or wrist strength is an issue, use single lever style faucets that are smooth and easy to adjust. A hot water dispenser installed at the sink will make it easy to prepare coffee, tea, or soup without having to turn on the stove.
Create a continuous work surface between the sink and the stove to that people with limited strength can slide heavy pots instead of lifting them. Choose a cook top with front mounted controls for easy access for wheelchair uses. Fold away doors under the sink and stove counter provide roll under access for wheelchair users. A tilted mirror installed over the stove makes it easier for wheel chair users to see into the pots as they are cooking.
Kitchen items to make life easier and handicap accessible include plate guards, scooper plates, scooper bowls, adaptive utensils, arthritic utensils, jar openers, no spill cups, and ergonomic knives. Utensils with large handles, angled handles or added weight make dining easier. Jar openers, bottle opener, bag openers, box openers; any of these helpful aids would be of use to a person with limited strength and ability.
When a handicap accessible home is needed, whether it's caused by aging, chronic illness, or unexpected accident, there are dozens of easy to make improvements that help the quality of life for a loved one. Changes you could make in the handicap accessible bathroom
The bathroom signifies personal independence more than any other room in the home. Because of this problem designers and manufacturers are constantly working on innovative products to preserve safety and independence for the disabled and elderly.
Since moisture is a factor in the bathroom promoting safety from falls on slippery surfaces is of first priority for all members of the family not just the handicapped. Installing grab bars near tubs and showers is a quick and easy first step. Apply non-slip adhesive strips or decals to the bottom of tubs and showers. If the existing floor is tile or ceramic with a slick slippery surface you can brush a slip-resistant glaze on it for safety.
Purchase ready-to-use shower and tub seats to make bathing safer and easier for the elderly and the disabled. You can also replace your shower head with an adjustable shower head mounted on a vertical slide bar. Often these come with a hand held option. These changes in the shower will make it more handicap accessible for seated bathers.
Keep the area under the sink open so wheelchair users can move up to the counter and have the sink accessible to them. When mounting mirrors over the sink, tilt them at an angle so seated users can see themselves easily.
Install a vent fan with a heating lamp to reduce moisture and help reduce slippery areas. Oftentimes the elderly are bothered by cold. Installing this heating lamp will warm the bathroom and provide a more comfortable environment for them.
The handicap accessible bedroom
The bedroom is a private retreat where we go for rest, relaxation and to renew our spirits. This is an area where people love to be alone to reflect and rejuvenate. By making this room as handicap accessible as possible you insure privacy and security for it's occupant.
If mobility is an issue be sure to choose non-slip flooring or low pile carpeting to help the elderly and disabled maintain their footing. Keep the path to the bathroom clear of obstructions.
If getting in and out of bed is difficult, add a handrail to the bed. Look for a bed frame that allows the feet to touch the floor when seated on the bed.
Place nightstands, chairs, and lamps so that they won't interfere with getting in or out of bed. Look for easy to use lamp features such as pull cords on lamps or touch lamps. Use nightlights for ease of movement during the night. Motion sensor room lights when someone enters a room are especially useful for those with vision or mobility disabilities. Another useful place for motion sensor lights is inside closets.
If possible include a sitting area in the room with a convenient table and lamp nearby for rest and relaxation. Be sure to keep a telephone in the bedroom. Choose large buttoned lighted keypads for ease of use. You may even want to consider installing an intercom system in the bedroom for the convenience and peace of mind of the occupant.
Small touches can make a big difference in helping the disabled and elderly feel independent. Place an electric teapot in the bedroom with an assortment of instant coffee bags, tea bags and cocoas. If there is room, a small under the counter refrigerator could be installed for milk, juice, fruit, yogurt, etc. A toaster or a microwave would be of use also
Closets can also be adapted to become handicap accessible
In order to make your closet handicap accessible, install an adjustable closet system. This type of system puts clothing within reach for people of all abilities. Include roll under space if needed for loved ones in wheel chairs. Use features such as adjustable shelves and rods to make clothing more accessible. Install hooks at usable heights for hanging belts, ties, scarves, purses and other accessories.
If an elderly person feels the cold and is slow in washing and dressing, try to include a dressing area or even a chair in the bathroom where the heat lamp is installed. This will help them be more comfortable and give them the luxury of not feeling rushed to get dressed because of being cold.
Go through the storage and organizing areas at home improvement stores. Pull out drawers and baskets can be incorporated into your closet system at a reasonable cost. Install a carousel system if mobility is a problem for your loved one.
Help make nature and the outdoors handicap accessible
By making nature a part of the life of the handicapped and elderly, you can help soothe their spirit and bring them a sense of freedom. Ideally, if their bedroom is on the ground floor, installing French doors with handles and knobs that open easily will bring a feeling of freedom to their lives. Make sure there are no steps that will limit the mobility of the handicapped.
Other rooms such as living or family rooms could also open directly to the outdoors. Be sure there is an even transition between the room and the patio. Floodlights, spotlights or walkway lighting would be of great help at twilight time to help the vision impaired move about.
If your loved one is a gardener, there is no need for them to stop doing what they love. Raised flowerbeds and planters can be built to be handicap accessible. Hang window boxes and planters on fences or place on railings or benches so they are accessible to people in wheelchairs or to those who have back problems and have given up gardening because they cannot bend for long periods. Be sure to install outdoor spigots at a height that is convenient to make them handicap accessible.
If your loved ones are elderly and live alone, going for the mail may be a slow process they do not want to do more often than necessary. There are products available to let you know that the mail has arrived without you going outside.
There are both manual and electronic indicators available. The manual indicator attaches to the mailbox. When the mailbox is opened, the flag is released and can be seen from the house, much like a flag on an ice fishing trap(if you know what that is). If the view of the mailbox is obstructed, electronic devices can be installed that go off in the home when the mail is delivered. Whatever choice you make, be sure to check with your postal carrier before installation to make sure it is an approved device.
The health and well being of a loved one is of prime importance. Anything you can do to make a loved one feel independent and useful is going to help maintain a peaceful and harmonious environment in your home. It will also bring you peace of mind to know you have done the best you can to bring comfort at a time of great stress