|Housing for Independent Living |
Convenience, safety, and comfort are the most important aspects of well-designed housing for a disabled person. The following questions should be answered before a home is modified to accommodate an elderly or disabled person.
· What are the present limitations of this person?
· To what extent can these limitations be expected to improve or further deteriorate?
· Will the person be happy in the dwelling after changes occur?
· Can space be provided for hobbies or other interests?
· Are finances available to cover alteration costs?
· What are the most urgent design needs that must be met first?
After a careful analysis of the above factors, a decision should be made to modify an existing residence or move to housing that already meets the requirements. For those interested in making life a bit easier in their present homes, the following is a guide to meet that objective.
· Ramps should have a slope ratio of maximum 1:12, preferred 1:20; this means for every inch of height in grade change, 12 to 20 inches of ramp length are required.
· The ramp length (or run) should not exceed 30 feet, without landings; nor should the ramp rise more than 30 inches.
· The minimum width of the ramp should be 3 feet between railings.
· Install rails on both sides. The height of the rail should be 30 to 34 inches, with an intermediate rail at 24 inches from the floor. The diameter of the top rail should be between 1¼ inches to 1½ inches. The rails should extend 1 foot beyond the end of the ramp.
· Landings are required at the top and bottom of a ramp and should be at least as wide as the ramp. Each landing should be at least 5 feet by 3 feet. For a change of direction, the landing should be 5 feet by 5 feet minimum.
· Use a non-slip surface on the ramp. If the ramp is concrete, texture the surface. If the ramp is wood, pebble-grained paper or sand mixed with paint provides the necessary texture.
· Protection from the weather is important.
· The door should open inward.
· Securely mount to the latch side of the door a small shelf 36 to 39 inches high for packages. It should not protrude into the door space.
· Install a light switch (illumination 36 to 39 inches from the floor) for outdoor and indoor entry. Pressure switches are preferred over toggle switches.
· A mechanical lock system that disengages the deadbolt and door latch with one action is recommended.
· There should be an area 60 by 60 inches on the outside and the inside for room to maneuver.
· The floor should be slip-resistant and without throw rugs or small area rugs.
· Entrance doors should be a minimum of 36 inches wide, giving a clearance of 34 inches.
· The threshold should be no higher than ¼ inch. It should be beveled so a wheelchair can easily cross it.
· Eliminate storm doors and screen doors.
· All doors should provide a clearance of at least 32 inches.
· Replace doors that impede traffic. Use a door that swings in the opposite direction or use a pocket door. If the door is not essential, then it is best to remove it.
· The minimum accessible corridor should be 3 feet 6 inches wide.
· Windows should be low enough to see out from a seated position, and the window controls should be between 18 inches and 42 inches above the floor.
· Wall switches, drapery pulls, thermostats, towel racks, human-activated warning systems, window-locking devices, telephones, and doorbells should be accessible (40 to 48 inches above the floor) from a wheelchair.
· One clear path of travel (without stairs) is necessary from the front door of the dwelling to the following: kitchen, dining area, bedroom, bathroom, living room, and storage. Provide an alternate exit in case of fire.
· The wheelchair user generally prefers a bed, couch, or chair the same height as the seat of the wheelchair. Blocks of wood can be placed under the legs of furniture to raise objects to the desired heights.
· Countertops must be adjustable to alternate heights of 30, 32, and 34 inches. The limiting factor for minimum height is adequate leg room under the sink area for a person in a wheelchair. For example, if the doors of the base cabinet can be cut out in front of the sink, the person in a wheelchair can roll up to the sink rather than approaching it parallel and twisting sideways in the wheelchair. If sink cabinet doors are removed, insulate the hot water pipes to prevent leg burns.
· Clear space under the countertop must be provided at the sink, the cooktop, and the mix center. Each of these areas should be 30 to 36 inches wide.
· Recommendations for base cabinets include U-shaped handles for easy use; lazy Susans, pull-out trays, or storage shelves and pot racks; for various food wraps, holders attached inside the cabinet doors; 2 feet of heat-resistant countertop next to the range to allow user to slide hot utensils without the danger of trying to lift them. At least one kitchen sink bowl should be 5-6½ inches deep with a drain at the rear. Insulate the water supply, waste pipes, and underside of sink to protect the user from burns.
· The toe space is 10 inches high and 8 inches deep under the cabinet, for clearance of wheelchair footrests.
· Locate all controls for easy access from a seated position.
· Adjust or lower wall cabinets for easy accessibility. Lower the bottom shelf of the wall cabinet to a maximum of 48 inches above the floor. If it is impossible to move the cabinet, install shelves under the cabinet. Under-the-cabinet small appliances are popular, but make sure you can comfortably reach and use them.
Conveniences to help adapt a kitchen include these:
· Clear plastic shelves so a person can see its contents;
· Pegboard to store equipment at an accessible level;
· A rolling cart or cutting block table with wheels to use as a work table;
· A lazy Susan in the refrigerator to make retrieval of items in the back easier;
· An adjustable mirror attached to the wall behind the cooktop to facilitate easy viewing. Clear, glass cookware is also helpful.
· Have pull-out boards at a variety of heights.
· All areas of the kitchen should be accessible by a wheelchair to frontal and parallel approaches. This means an access area no less than 48 inches.
· The door to the bathroom should not swing into the bathroom.
· View all towel bars, grab bars, and sink edges as support members that support 250 pounds of stress at every point. Locate grab bars at commode tub, and shower, according to building code height and size specifications. Never install grab bars at an angle.
· There must be a clear space inside the bathroom of at least 60 by 60 inches on the access route. All facilities should be approachable from that space and fully accessible.
· There should be 32 inches clear space on one side of the commode and 42 inches clear space in front.
· Floors should be of a slip-resistant material, even when wet.
· If a shower is used, it should be 60 inches by 40 inches with a built-in seat 16-18 inches high, 16 inches wide, and 16 inches deep. The shower should have a nonslip bottom, no entry curb, and curtains instead of a door.
· If there is a bathtub, it should be low (16-20 inches) with a flat, slip-resistant bottom and water controls 18 inches above the tub rim.
· The toilet should be 15 to 18 inches from the floor. Elevated toilet seats may be purchased. Portable and permanent toilet seat attachments are available, some with adjustable seat heights. Some are available with arms and guard rails.
· The basin should be 32½ inches high and open underneath. An adjustable or tilted mirror over the basin helps.
· Single handle water spigots at the tub, shower, and basin are easiest to control. A water thermostat set at 120 °F maximum is needed to control all outlets where body contact is possible.
· An adjustable shower head, between 42 and 72 inches above the floor is available, with controls that require only one effort to adjust water and temperature (a single-control faucet); spray unit at least 60 inches long is included for use as fixed or hand-held shower.
· The bottom of the bathroom mirror should be no higher than 40 inches above the floor, with the top at 74 inches. A full length mirror provides a view for any user.
· Minimum size preferred is 11 feet by 12 feet.
· Bed and wheelchair need to be about the same height.
· Attach grab bars to the wall, close to the bed.
· Dressers should be open underneath.
· Install a large, low mirror or a door mirror.
Modifying the home for a disabled resident means more than making design changes. Training must be an integral part of the modification. An individual in a wheelchair needs to be shown the best way to maneuver in the bathroom or how to open the front door with an armful of groceries.
Renovating a home is expensive and may even be prohibitive--but a few careful modifications can make a difference in converting what was once an obstacle course for a disabled person into a livable environment.
By Dr. Frances Graham, Extension Housing Specialist
Mississippi State University does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, age, disability, or veteran status.
Extension Service of Mississippi State University, cooperating with U.S. Department of Agriculture. Published in furtherance of Acts of Congress, May 8 and June 30, 1914. Ronald A. Brown, Director
Copyright by Mississippi State University. All rights reserved.
This document may be copied and distributed for nonprofit educational purposes provided that credit is given to the Mississippi State University Extension Service.