Children with disabilities require a home that provides comfort, relaxation, and above all, safety. Often, this means that a home will require custom modifications for the child’s specific set of needs. Most homeowners spend between $1,604 and $14,168 nationally for accessibility modifications. This wide gap is largely due to the custom nature of the modifications and personal budget parameters.
Let’s look at some room-by-room considerations.
Flooring – The following is some advice for selecting a flooring option:
- The floor surface should be no-slip. This includes hardwood flooring, laminate flooring, most ceramic flooring (but not all), and vinyl flooring with an embossed surface.
- If selecting hardwood, stay away from softwoods such as pine and fir as these will dent easily.
- Laminate flooring is very durable, and scuff marks are easily removed.
- While carpet is less navigable, some do prefer this in sleeping and living areas. Always select low-pile carpet.
Lighting – It’s very important that all spaces, including more typically dim hallways, are well lit.
Doorknobs – Replace door knobs with lever door handles.
Stairwells – Stairs should have handrails on both sides, be well lit, and have light switches at the top and bottom. You may need to consider a stair lift installation if your child will not be able to navigate the steps.
Doorways – If your home has narrow doorways, you will have to consider modifying rooms where your child will need access. All doorways should ideally be 36” wide or larger. Doors can be widened by adding a pocket door which can cost $2500 more than a typical door. One of the more economical and trendy alternatives is a $750 barn door.
Ramp – The primary home entrance will need to be step free, meaning a level threshold, or have a ramp. There are several options for ramps.
Sidewalks – Some concrete can be very slick, especially if a sealer is applied without traction sand. Make sure to have traction control on all home pathways.
Entrance Area/Foyer/Mudroom – Whatever area will be used as a primary entrance should be a wide-open space with plenty of room for chair maneuverability, and preferably have a proper height bench/coat hanger for storing coats, backpacks, etc.
As your child won’t be responsible for the bulk of cooking, you won’t need large-scale kitchen modifications, but these are a few things to consider.
Cabinet – If children are of an age where they can do basic warming up in the microwave, etc., set aside at least one low cabinet (with pull-out drawers) where they can have a set of dishes and a cooking bowl. You may also include a snack area here if there is not accessible pantry space.
Floorspace – Where possible, make sure that there is wide-open space for maneuverability in this area.
Kitchen Table/Workspace – The kitchen table height should be appropriate for children so that they can easily pull up to the area for eating or working.
The bathing area can be one of the most dangerous areas in the home. Consider these modifications.
Showers – It is preferable to have a doorless or an easily maneuvered shower curtain covering the shower entrance. Also eliminate any ledge or obstacle so that the shower area has roll-in access, as this greatly reduces the risks associated with bathroom falls. Grab bars should be placed along all sides to allow easy maneuverability from a wheelchair to a shower bench. Finally, make sure the floor surface has a no-skid pad.
Sink – If a stand-alone sink is present, make sure it is reinforced to withstand the weight of someone getting up and down with it. If a cabinet sink is there, modify it for wheelchair access. Lower any mirror or medicine cabinet as necessary.
Grab bars – Place extra bars throughout the bathroom to provide support.
Toilets – Depending on your child’s disability, he or she may need a modified toilet.
Determining specific home-modification needs for disabled children may take a little time. Watch them maneuver in their space, and see where they are struggling. Life with limited mobility can be difficult, especially for children. Talk with them and see where they are most frustrated, and make your priority list based on their highest needs.
Guest blogger: Paul Deniken