One of the most common home renovation projects for disabled people is to make the home accessible for a wheelchair. It’s not rocket science, making it possible for wheelchair users to access a building and move around it, but some properties, particularly older ones, present many problems.
Inclusiveness Becoming More Normal
Of course disability access for new buildings is now enshrined in law but this doesn’t extend to private houses. Although that’s disappointing it does at least mean that people are getting used to the idea of fully accessible buildings and you’ll get fewer odd looks asking a builder to put a ramp in for your front door or widening doorways in the house.
If you’re doing a complete renovation job on a property then doing all these things is a lot easier. And of course, the wheelchair user needs to be involved too, trying things out, giving their opinion on the best solutions to all the different problems. Knocking down walls to make more open plan areas would obviously make things easier for a wheelchair user but some people don’t like too many open plan areas because noises and smells aren’t contained.
External Ramp for a Wheelchair
Ramps for the outside might cause problems if you are in a conservation area and they will need to be ‘in keeping’ with the area. If the property is listed then you could be in for a real ding-dong with planners as you’ll need to get listed building consent. It’s worth trying to get access sorted for the front door of a house, or at least the door that most people use, so that wheelchair users don’t have to be shuttled round the back like second class citizens.
Note that ramps should have a flat landing area at the top, in front of the door, so that the wheelchair can stop on a level while the door is opened. You may also need handrails along the ramp for people to pull; against, particularly if the ramp has to be steep. Recommended gradients for access ramps can be obtained from local authorities, try the planning department first.
Internal Doors in the Property
They will also be able to advise you about doors and doorways. They should be at least 90cm wide, if not a full metre, and doors should have lever handles rather than round door knobs to make them easier to open. You could have spring catches on all the doors so that they can be pushed open without having to use a handle.
If so, door closers might be useful so that the doors close behind the wheelchair user without having to be pulled shut. If you go for that option, make sure you fit metal bash plates on the doors at wheelchair height!
Other Aspects of Wheelchair Friendly House Design
Wheelchair access isn’t just about widening doorways and putting in ramps though. There are leaflets available from government sources that describe the current recommendations for clearances for all sorts of areas. Turning circles need to be considered and there will be areas where more than the width of the wheelchair is needed so that people can lift themselves in and out.
Consider a bathroom, for example. As well as the space to get out of the chair there needs to be somewhere for the chair to stand while the owner takes a shower or bath, but within easy reach for when they have finished and need to leave the room. It’s the same in the lounge too, a wheelchair user might want to sit on the sofa for an evening’s relaxation so the chair will need to be out of the way but close by for when it is required.
See Through Doors Can Help a Wheelchair User
One final point is to consider internal doors with glass panels in them at a lower height than usual. This is so that someone at wheelchair height can see if someone is about to come through a door rather than discover it as they hit them.