Toward a barrier-free home
An environment that is barrier free is a vital aspect to independence; it can substantially increase the options for establishing your own routine of daily living and working activity. There are many ways to change a seemingly inaccessible environment into a barrier-free living situation. The changes that you decide to make will depend on the following:
While a dream house with all the features of accessibility may not at present
be affordable, there are a number of changes that can be made for reasonable
costs. A professional carpenter can make structural modifications that you
need. However, a large number of modifications can be made by persons who
are skillful with their hands. Whether you use a professional or a weekend
carpenter, it is important that you make sure that the person knows exactly
what modifications are to be done before beginning the work.
- Personal financial resources
- Applicable building codes
- Availability of a qualified, experienced carpenter
- Approval from your landlord if you rent or lease
- Your own ideas and creativity
Another preliminary task involves checking to see if adding a room, moving
a wall, or making other structural changes at your location requires a building
If you are renting or leasing, you are required to get written permission
from your landlord to make structural changes. Your landlord may be willing
to share or pay for the cost of modifications.
Features of accessibility
A width of 30 inches is required for manual and power
wheelchairs. In the United States doors come in standard widths of 28, 30,
32, 34, and 36 inches. Doors with odd widths or larger than 36 inches are
considered custom doors and have to be specially ordered. A 28-inch door
can be made accessible by installing wrap-around hinges since they allow
the door to open past the frame. These hinges are available at hardware
Door handles with lever action can be installed in place of doorknobs.
Sliding doors save space but are considerably more expensive than standard
Folding doors save swing space but take up valuable space in the doorway
Relocating light switches and plug sockets will run
approximately $30-45 each. Improperly installed electrical wiring can be
dangerous, so a qualified electrician should be used to install or reroute
the electrical wiring. The electrician should be given the exact locations
for switches, plugs, and appliances.
Ramps should be 36 to 38 inches wide with a slope
of no more than 15 degrees or one foot of length for every inch in height.
Wooden ramps exposed to weather should be constructed with treated lumber
and marine-grade plywood. Rails at a height of 30 to 32 inches are recommended.
A non-skid texturizer should be added to exterior paint on the ramp surface.
The supports or legs for the ramp should be cemented 12 to 18 inches into
the ground if the ramp exceeds a length of 10 feet. A deck or porch of 4-1/2
x 4-1/2 feet is recommended for exterior entry ways to allow for a 360-degree
turning radius for a wheelchair. Similar platforms are needed at the end
of a ramp and for ramps that change directions. The same dimensions apply
for concrete ramps as for wooden ramps. Reinforcement steel rods are recommended
for ramps that are longer than 8 feet.
Roll-in showers generally require 16 to 20 square
feet (4x4 feet or 4x5 feet) floor space. A sloped entrance and proper drainage
are critical to prevent seepage into the floor or foundation. The installation
and relocation of shower controls and drain can be done by a plumber. Lever
action controls fro faucets are available at hardware stores. Also, curtains
are easier to operate than doors on showers. Vanity cabinets can be removed
from underneath the sink to allow for more mobility inside the bathroom.
Hot water pipes should be insulated to prevent burns or other injuries.
Lever action faucets for the sink are available.
Mirrors should be installed so that they can be used both by people standing
and by people seated in wheelchairs. Adjustable mirrors may also be installed.
The seat of the commode needs to be 17 to 19 inches from the floor. There
are brackets available to raise the seat or a plumber can raise the entire
commode to the desired height.
Grab-bars for steadying can be installed on sturdy walls next to the toilet
and in the shower approximately 33 to 36 inches from the floor and of sufficient
length to meet your needs.
Closet doors which are 32 inches wide with a maximum
threshold height of 1/2 inch are recommended.
Clothing rods may be lowered and adjustable shelves may be installed to
make the contents of closets more accessible.
The room should have a 5-foot diameter turning space.
Location of temperature control switches is important. Switches for air
conditioning units, fans, heaters, and thermostats all need to be 33 to
36 inches from the floor. Windows that open with ease by using a lever or
a weighted pulley system located at a comfortable height for the user can
be installed and modifications can be made to accommodate the user.
A width of 5 feet is required between counters for
Stoves that are level with the counter make the transfer of pots and pans
easier. It is safer to have temperature controls on the front of the stove
and staggered burner plates. Ovens that open to the side can be approached
more closely for the removal of hot items. Also, ovens that are placed either
below or above the counter should have controls and racks within reach.
An open area underneath the sink can be made by removing the cabinet. The
area at minimum should be a height of 27 inches, a width of 30 inches, and
depth of 19 inches.
Switches for lights and garbage disposal can be placed on the front of the
counter or cabinets.
Cabinet doors can be replaced with curtains. Cabinets and shelves need a
toe space of 9 inches high and 4 to 5 inches deep. Carousel shelves and
shelves on smooth rollers can be useful for reaching objects stored on the
back part of the shelf. Small carousel shelves are also handy to use inside
the refrigerator for storing small items.
Specific information about telephones such as speaker
phones, pushbutton dials, self-dialing phones for frequently used numbers,
and volume-control receivers is available from your telephone company. Teletypewriters
(TTYs, TDDs) are available for people who are hearing impaired.
Citizen-band radios are useful back-up systems for communication in cases
when the power goes off.
Flashing lights can be installed to indicate to a hearing impaired person
that someone is at the door or that the phone is ringing.
Hard surfaces are best for wheelchairs since surfaces
such as loose gravel and shag carpets, to say nothing of loose earth, make
travel difficult. For people who are visually impaired, rope trails with
spaces for cross traffic can be helpful in bad weather or when crossing
large open spaces, such as fields. Different textures of soil, grass, gravel,
and corner-marking stones can also be used to mark paths without rails for
people who are visually impaired.
Steep grades and uneven ground can be leveled in frequently traveled areas.
Proper drainage is necessary to prevent mud and erosion. Conversions and
modifications can be made on trucks, tractors, and other farm machinery
to allow for greater use of the vehicles. For more information on adapting
farm machinery, contact Bill Field, Breaking New Ground Project, Purdue
University, Lafayette, IN 47907. Other types of travel machines can be modified
too, including snowmobiles, 3-wheel motor bikes, bicycles, etc.
When considering ways to make your home more accessible,
the best of all tools and designs is a well coordinated amount of common
sense and a generous use of your creativity.
For more information about modifications, contact:
Accessibility Guidelines for Multi-family Housing, Regional Rehabilitation
Continuing Education Program
P.O. Box 1358
Hot Springs, AR 71901
Breaking New Ground Project
Lafayette, IN 47907, United States
National Clearinghouse for Rehabilitation Training Materials
115 Old USDA Building
Oklahoma State University
Stillwater, OK 74074, United States
Barrier-Free Environments, Inc.
P.O. Box 30634
Raleigh, NC 276722, United States
ILRU at Texas Institute for Rehabilitation
2323 S. Shepherd, Suite 1000
Houston, TX 77019
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