With advances in medicine and health care in recent decades, people are living longer. As people age, ability and mobility become issues that many are unprepared to deal with; not only for the individual, but also for family and friends who often become caretakers. Further, physical disabilities are not limited to the aged, as debilitation due to any number of reasons may strike at any time. Those who experience difficulties through their ailments may also be severely limited by their inaccessible surroundings as well; mainly, their homes.
Although there is an increased awareness by the majority regarding accessible design of dwellings, most existing homes are poorly designed for handicapped accessibility from the start. Stairs at entry doorways, doors that are not wide enough, and bathrooms too small to allow movement for wheelchair users all prevent the disabled from accessing their homes, which they were used to doing before their disability. As these people want to continue to be independent and live in the comfort of their own homes and neighborhoods, the demand for home renovations is therefore increasing.
Such renovations may range from the readily achievable and relatively inexpensive, i.e., installing grab bars in showers, to the fully accessible, where costs may render the work to be unfeasible. Remodeling a bathroom for accessibility may cost $10,000 or more. Fortunately, there are government assisted funding sources available in the forms of grants, loans, and tax deductions. These may depend on qualifications and location of the project modifications, as well as availability of those funding sources.
Typical modifications include: widening doorways and hallways; lowering cabinets and countertops; installing handrails on both sides of all steps and hallways; installing lever handles on doors and faucets; replacing carpeting with hard, non-slip flooring materials; removing a tub and replacing it with a roll-in shower; installing ramps.
Installation of certain modifications may require the expertise of an experienced contractor, while others may be done by the do-it-yourself homeowner, with materials found locally. For more involved projects requiring special skills and design experience, designers or architects may be able to provide advice or services regarding design options to address specific needs of the homeowner, compliance of design to building codes, and assistance in cost budgeting.
To avoid having to make future expensive modifications, those contemplating building a new home should highly consider incorporating an adaptable design throughout. Adaptable design allows some features of the building to be quickly changed as needed for a person encountering mobility limitations as he/she ages. In addition to including into the design some of the ideas mentioned above, additional supports can be installed into walls where grab bars may later be added, as well as base cabinets below sinks that are easily removable for wheelchair knee space.
Appropriate design, whether for existing or new homes, can provide for “aging in place” with safety and independence for individuals with disabilities and the elderly.
Written by: Brian Shimomura, Architect at Brian Shimomura & Associates, LLC; firstname.lastname@example.org