Designers tasked with undergoing renovations on a home to make it wheelchair-friendly may feel daunted at first. With these tips, however, you'll find the task may be easier than you think.
Bathrooms are one of the most important places to update for a resident in a wheelchair. The biggest priority will be ensuring the room is large enough for a wheelchair to manoeuvre around. Make sure there's clear space in front of each fixture and between the sink and toilet. This allows for the person in the wheelchair to move about with greater ease, and should provide enough space for a caregiver too.
Ensure the vanity is at a comfortable height for a wheelchair user, and install tapware and shower nozzles at appropriate heights. A built-in seat in the shower can make things much easier and more comfortable for someone in a wheelchair. Handrails can be installed around this room to help users get in and out of wheelchairs.
Fittings and fixtures
Doorways throughout the house will need to be at least three feet wide in order for a wheelchair to pass through. Door handles should also be modified to sit at levels accessible to someone in a wheelchair. The same goes for electrical outlets – these should be moved higher up the wall so that everyone in the house can reach them with ease.
Light switches should also be considered when renovating a home to make it wheelchair-friendly. These should be placed at heights accessible to all occupants of the house. For instance, each room should have a switch at a level within arm's reach of someone in a wheelchair, and another panel at a height easily accessible for able-bodied people.
Once you've completed upgrading the function of the home, it's time to think about the form. Paint is always an easy way to update a room and make an impact.
It's important that paint can withstand bumps, scratches and other wear and tear that comes with a wheelchair, so make sure walls are coated in an ultra-tough paint such as Resene SpaceCote Low Sheen. It brings an enamel-style toughness to any interior wall, resulting in a durable low-sheen finish.
Any stairs in the building should be replaced with ramps. Each ramp should be between 91 and 122 centimetres wide in order for comfortable navigated by an adult-sized wheelchair. Ramps shouldn't be too steep – a good rule of thumb is that there should be 30 centimetres of length for every 2 centimetres of incline. This allows wheelchair users to safely get around the home. Add handrails to ramps for extra accessibility, and make sure the surface is weather resistant to prevent slipping.
People using wheelchairs need plenty of space to navigate around a home, so it's important not to clutter a space with too much furniture.
Make sure there is plenty of space around large furniture items such as couches, televisions, tables and chairs. Consider purchasing height-adjustable or specially-made furniture such as dining tables so that it can be used by all members of a household.
Counter tops in the kitchen should be installed at levels for wheelchair use, along with shelving, drawers and cabinets. If someone in a wheelchair shares a home with someone who doesn't use a wheelchair, consider installing multi-level counters so the kitchen is accessible to everyone.
It's also a good idea to remove any rugs in a home, as these can get caught in wheels and cause problems.
It's not just those in wheelchairs that benefit from these design tips. Anyone with impaired mobility, including people who use canes or walkers, will find homes renovated in this style much easier to navigate.
If you'd like further advice on making homes more accessible for people of all ages, check out the Lifemark programme. They offer an independent seal of approval to homes designed and built to specific quality standards, making them easy and safe to live in. See their website, www.lifemark.co.nz, for more information.