Despite the huge advances being made by science and society, the term ‘disabled’ is still a frightening word to a great many Americans. It conjures images of ambitions curtailed and opportunities denied; of physical issues preventing an individual from enjoying a full and varied active lifestyle. The fact is, recognized disabilities come in a variety of forms and making adjustments to your home is becoming more commonplace than ever before. This guide will give you an insight into the steps you can take to ensure your home is disability-friendly, and how to take these steps in the most cost-effective manner possible.
When many of us think of how to make a home disability-friendly we automatically start to contemplate those with restricted movement. Indeed, over 2 million Americans rely on wheelchairs day-to-day, and a further 6.5 million are dependent on other walking aids. Obviously, there are cost implications to incorporating the likes of ramps and stair lifts into your home, which we will come to shortly, but there are other steps you can take to make your accommodation disability-friendly. If you operate a business, you will even qualify for tax incentives to take these steps.
The Americans with Disability Act provides a great deal of helpful guidance on this matter, but your primary question may well revolve around finance. What kind of bill are you looking at, and is there a way of making adjustments to make the interior of your home disability-friendly in an economical manner? The short answer to these questions is akin to querying the length of a piece of string – estimates may vary from $859 to north of $2,000, averaging at around $1,500. However, it is possible to take these steps in a cheaper way – or, in some cases, at no expense at all.
Firstly, check your rights. There are a plethora of services available to assist disabled Americans, and you may qualify for some kind of funding to make the necessary changes to your home. The good news if you are on a lower income is that if you are eligible for Medicaid, a contribution will possibly be made to such an installation – and if you have private health insurance, don’t forget to check your paperwork carefully, as you may be eligible for a contribution as part of your existing policy. Then, start to plan accordingly. There are several different zones to the average home, all of which require different attention to improve functionality for the movement impaired.
PERIMETER OF PROPERTY
Arguably the biggest investment you may need to make for your home is a ramp, either to accommodate wheelchair users or otherwise disabled residents and visitors who struggle to negotiate stairs. The cost of a ramp varies from supplier to supplier – for your own safety, just ensure that anybody providing a quote is ADA-compliant – and investigate all the possibilities open to you. You may be more comfortable with a portable, folding ramp as opposed to a permanent feature, depending on how sizable your property is and how permanent your mobility issues will be.
Another alternative could be to rent a removable ramp or indeed to install a Platform Lift. This is an expensive option (you could be looking at up to $5,000 dollars for a new model, compared to an average of $1,500 for a ramp, though used elevators can also be purchased), and one that could grow increasingly costly once electrical access ports and the digging of holes is factored into consideration, but a potentially appealing one if your property entrance is on a steep incline.
The standard width of a doorway to welcome a wheelchair user is 32 inches and should be no heavier to operate than 5lb. At least 60% of the entrances to your property should meet these standards, preferably including at least one private access point, and if you use peepholes for security, it could be advisable to incorporate two. A second, lower hole – positioned at approximately 43 inches from the ground – will enable a wheelchair user to utilize the service. Older properties may require expansion on their doorways, as restricted mobility was not a consideration until comparatively recently. You could be looking at the region of $800 for such a task.
Of course, getting through the door is only half of the equation. Of all the rooms within a home or workplace, the kitchen is likely to provide the most challenges to a disabled individual, largely consisting of elevated cupboards as they are. This guide from the UK provides invaluable guidance on how to make a kitchen wheelchair-friendly, but there are a number of basic steps that can be taken under advisement.
Countertops are the biggest challenge, particularly in a home where different occupants may require different heights for comfort. Thankfully, adjustable models are available – and always remember to leave a hollow space below the counter, unobstructed by base cabinets, to accommodate comfortable food preparation. Like all kitchen counter designs, these are best commissioned on a bespoke basis – don’t expect much change from $2,000, but you should not have to go too far over $3,500.
Sinks are obviously not adjustable but should be positioned at least 27 inches above the ground. Appliances such as ovens and cookers should be slightly higher at around 31 inches, with cabinets at a similar height. Other cost-effective examples of making a kitchen wheelchair-friendly include the use of U-shaped handles and pullout trays (neither of these features will break the bank, available at any hardware store). The avoidance of elevated cupboards should also assist otherwise physically impaired individuals, as stretching and leaning is a challenge that can be avoided.
Bathrooms can also be perilous for anybody less than entirely steady on their feet, so grab bars are your friends here. Learn to love these little fellows, as they will be making several appearances further into this article. These will ensure that an individual can safely move to and from a shower (always preferable to a bathtub for somebody who is mobility-impaired – you could be looking at a cost of around $4,000 for a conversation if necessary) or toilet while minimizing the risk of losing balance. Shower seats and toilet frames are also cost-effective ways of improving safety in the bathroom – you should be able to acquire both of these secure elements for considerably less than $100 if you shop around. You should also leave at least 60 inches of manoeuvre space in this room that is often the smallest in any home for the benefit of a wheelchair user.
Anybody who struggles with staircases would benefit from the use of a stair lift in their home. Again, there are a number of models available (examples of which can be found here – please be advised that this link is purely for educational purposes, and not an endorsement of Handicare as a business over any other), and the costs average out at around $5,000. It may actually prove cheaper to remodel your home to include sleeping quarters and a bathroom on the ground level rather than installing such a device, especially when you factor in the cost of potential repairs that may be required as age takes its toll on these appliances, but that is at the discretion of each individual.
We promised that we’d be talking more about grab bars, although there isn’t a great deal to say. These items, usually available in a variety of sizes and finishes and retailing at roughly $10-30 each, are an invaluable addition to the home of anybody living with a disability. Strategically placing them around the home ensures that movement is safer and easier, and in the worst-case scenario of a tumble within the house, a selection of well-positioned grab bars would assist somebody in regaining their balance.
Making a home disability-friendly will take some patience and potential financial outlay, but it is becoming increasingly simple. The help and advice is plentiful online as to how to go about this project, and disability no longer means inconvenience and a stifled quality of life. The priorities are access points (via elevation and sufficiently wide doorways) and safety, the latter particularly in particularly dangerous areas such as bathrooms and kitchens, but in the year 2016 this will not mean sacrificing comfort and aesthetic style. Check your rights with regard to financial aid, investigate your options as to which amendments and adjustments you wish to make to your home, and enjoy the fulfilling, comfortable life that you deserve.