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Disabled Friendly Homes: 10 Tips to Make Your Home Accessible for All

Image showing a wheelchair accessible kitchen.
Alokita | May 5, 2017 (Last update: September 25, 2021)

Alokita is a Polio Survivor. She overcame her disability and went on to become a commerce graduate. Alokita writes about disability issues and her appetite for learning new things is far from satiated.

You won’t obviously like the WELCOME sign at your entrance to be seen as ‘UNWELCOME’ by any of your loved ones. Would you? Or will you ever want the feeling of ‘home sweet home’ to fade away from your life? Obviously not!

So why not plan your house accordingly?

We make plans for celebrations, family holiday, work projects and even our daily routine is planned. But when it comes to building a house we just focus on our current needs rather than planning with future conditions in mind.

Change is the law of nature and our life is a staunch follower of the law. As time passes our mental and physical condition changes and so does our needs. A kid’s needs differ from young parents; the parent’s needs changes when they reach old age and a house should cater each individual’s need equally.

Willingness to make a house usable to the greatest extent to every individual regardless of their physical condition and ability leads to the development of an idea called ‘Universal Design’ for homes. A former version of the concept, which was termed as ‘barrier free’ infrastructure, was mostly seen as a concept that is related to disability and hence was promoted and paid heed to only by people who are directly or indirectly related to any type of physical disability.

What is Universal Design?

The concept of Universal Design coined by an architect, Ronald L. Mace, put emphasis on the fact that Universal Design is useful for persons without disability as well as for the persons with disability at every stage of their respective lives.

A house built on the concept of universal design is nothing quite different or expensive as compared to ordinary houses but it can bring a massive positive change in the lives of the dwellers. It is built on the very basic concept that ‘the design should work for the person rather than the person working to fit the design’. After all people are not born to adjust with the infrastructure; they build the infrastructures for easing their lives. The houses built on universal designing concept are such that they meet the needs of people across a range of disabilities. And, if ever needed they can be altered with minimum expenses and efforts to meet the changing needs of the person.

Universal Design is a very broad concept including numerous things that seem really small but are actually very useful for almost all types of people. Let us discuss some of the most common features of a Universal Design House along with their usability.

Features of a Universal Design House that Make it Disabled Friendly

1. Path leading to the front door should be wide, gently sloping and free from steps

Prima facie it may seem that this feature is meant for wheelchair users. If you don’t have a wheelchair user living in your home you may think that you do not need this feature. But when you look at it logically and practically; you will see that this feature of a house can also make things easier for the person other than a wheelchair user. A steps-free gentle slope makes it easy for a mother with pram to take her child out. Small children do not need any elder to carry their tricycle or bicycle out and down the stairs… they feel more confident when they do small things like this on their own. Bringing new furniture and taking out the old ones is also a lot easier when there are no steps at the entrance and the door is wide enough.

2. Knob handles on doors should be replaced with lever-handles

The lever-handles are easy to operate and can be used by everyone. These can be easily grabbed by a person having arthritic problem or a person with dexterity problem. A person carrying a sleeping baby or too many of shopping bags can also easily use their elbow to open up the door… this is not possible with knob handles.

3. Parking should be relatively larger (minimum 3,800 mm)

Larger parking areas come handy when you need to get down with big shopping bags, a baby in a pram and it is also useful for a person using wheelchair or walkers. Larger parking area also keeps you tension free when you have children jumping up and down the cars like little monkeys. You don’t need to restrict them from playing and enjoying. Good amount of space also allows you to give enough support to older persons or a patient who needs someone else to take him in and out the car.

4. Two-way-switch: One at the entrance of door and one at the bed side is always better than one-way-switch

Genuinely two-way-switches for light are a good thing for everyone. No one is comfortable walking and bumping into things in darkness. You can use the switch at the entrance door to light-up the room, go easily to your bed, read any book for a good night’s sleep and switch off the light without getting up. Sick people won’t need to call anyone for switching off room’s light. People with crutches would not have to be afraid of falling down due to darkness.

5. Shelves in rooms and kitchens should be of adjustable heights or pull-out style

Shelves of adjustable height allow people with varied heights to live with dignity without being dependent on anyone. Small children learn taking responsibility of arranging their clothes and toys when they are provided with shelves of their height. Pull-out shelves are really good for kitchen shelves as the same shelf is used by peoples of different heights without any difficulty. Wheelchair users or people affected with dwarfism would also find such adjustable shelves very useful.

SEE ALSO: Adaptations in Kitchen for Visually Impaired

6. Bathroom should be spacious with wider entrance

A wider entrance (60 inches) and spacious floor no doubt makes the bathroom accessible for wheelchair users. At the same time it is comfortable for parents who need to bathe their small kids. A smaller bathroom increases inconvenience level for everybody. If a bathing chair is needed by any of the house member at any future time, it can be easily adjusted in a spacious bathroom without causing inconvenience to the other users of bathroom.

7. A packed glass window should be tactfully placed alongside the main door

The peephole (aka magic eye) in a door is made at a height that is unreachable for wheelchair users, children or short-heighted adults. A window alongside the main door allows the person inside to see and talk to the visitor without opening the door. It is not only a feature that allows accessibility to almost everybody but it is also a good step from the view of security.

8. Worktops of kitchen should be of adjustable height or of a height that is comfortable for working in a sitting as well as standing position

Image showing a wheelchair accessible kitchen.

If your kitchen worktops are of adjustable height or if they are accessible with sitting position then your child can easily explore the master-chef within himself. It is not safe  to let them cook standing on a stool to manage their height with the high platform. The low platform kitchens allow wheelchair users, old people or pregnant ladies to cook from the comfort of their respective chairs. Standing in kitchen is not always a comfortable option.

9. Stairs should have hand-rails on both the side. Rails should extend beyond first and last step

Hand rails on the stairs are meant for everybody’s safety. They are helpful for small children, older people or someone who accidentally broke his leg. Extension of the hand-rails beyond the steps allows a visually impaired person to have an idea about the stairs without tripping on steps. It also helps elderly people to securely climb the stairs.

10. Floor tiles should be skid-proof and slip-resistant

Well it is needless to explain why we need a skid-proof or slip-resistant floor in our house. It becomes really dangerous when the floor tiles in the bathrooms are of glossy finish. An accidental slip may prove troublesome for any individual. And yes bathroom should have fittings that can bear an adult person’s weight so that a person may save herself by holding the fittings if she slips in the bathroom. Stronger fittings also help people with muscular dystrophy as they can hold things as convenient for them while getting up.

There are a lot more features that signifies Universal Design Homes. They may seem to be adaptations for one or the other kind of person with disability. They indeed are the adaptations but they make life easier for persons without disability too.

Are you still wondering why you need to have a universally designed home when you can do without it? You should compare the concept with the insurance plans in which you invest your money. Just as the insurance is a cushion to save us from being too much hurt from unwanted incidents in life… universal design too is a preparation for inevitable situations. No one can restrict oneself from growing old and the old age comes with its own consequences.

Universal designs of house lets a person live independently with the problems of old age. Disabling accidents too are not a rare incident in today’s fast paced life. These accidents come with lot of problems and if the house is not accessible the problems and frustration increase multi-folds. A physical condition should not make you alien to your own sweet home and this is the reason you should invest in a universal design of home. In addition, if you have friends with disabilities — you will be able to invite them over for a comfortable weekend stay at your home!

Universal Design of home welcomes people across varying abilities with same warmth. It increases self-dependency to maximum level thus making the dwellers happy and confident. A house where everybody can have their share of smiles is always full of positive energy without having any Feng-shui items!

So, do invest in universal design to make your home welcoming and full of positive energies!

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3 responses to “Disabled Friendly Homes: 10 Tips to Make Your Home Accessible for All”

  1. Avatar Chhaya Datta says:

    Thanks a lot for your wise guidelines.
    Anyway, could you please inform us about the names of professional care-givers whom patient like me can engage at the time of travelling ?

  2. Avatar Mac says:

    With a physically disabled son now aged 41, I’ve had many years to think through the best adaptations for him. At 5’-1” he’s too short for “standard” kitchen appliances. Given lower heights needed for any cooking appliance and the danger of hot stove tops or ovens, I’ve settled the cooking area question with an induction cooktop and a counter placed microwave. One benefit often unconsidered is that most multiple cook circle induction set-ups are driven at 240v/20-30a – power typically provided to a U.S. OVEN. Using 220/240v is more efficient (ask Europeans) thus less costly to run. The required ferrous iron cookware is more prevalent and cheaper than one is led to think by the full sized appliance industry.

    A countertop placed microwave is the perfect mate for an induction cooktop and, like the cooktop, vastly reduces the chance of burns while putting everything needed for hot food within reach.

  3. Avatar Lnda waddell says:

    I am a senior that was disabled following surgury at age 58. I am now 75 so I have well outlived medical providers projected life expectancy.
    As years past, I have dealt with various physical challenges by 1. Adapting my apt to be safe and to allow me to continue doing as much as possible for myself. And 2. By taking the least medical interventions possible.
    My brain has also changed so I have found ways to use more fully the parts currently available. By doing this, I have been less impacted by the part less functional or so hard to access, it becomes a burden to try and make it worked at earlier times in my life.
    So universal design for everyone in their home and community will provide a higher quality of life for everyone.
    Currently I am researching generational playgrounds and city planning strategys that provide a wallk, bike pathway extending throughout the city.

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