Fifteen years ago, Laura Dickson’s mother Nancy adopted Humberto, a little boy with very specific needs. Nancy’s career in special education had given her a world of insight into how to care for those who are differently abled. While she was fully ready, she knew she wouldn’t be able to do it alone. Therefore, Nancy leaned on her children for support from day one, relying on their respective talents to help Humberto thrive. Laura specifically, who has a degree in interior design, works alongside her mother to optimize her home in order to make it beautiful in both from and function.
They both humbly admit they’re continually learning what’s best for Humberto, and new addition Haylie, but they’ve come across some great tricks and tips along the way. And thankfully, the pair have agreed to share their expertise with all of us today. To bring some of their top insights to life, we’ve combed through our archives to find a little inspiration to match Nancy and Laura’s clever do’s and don’ts (as told by Laura). Scroll down to check them out, and enjoy! —Garrett
Photography courtesy of Laura Dickson
Image above: A Historic Family Home Brought Back to Life
Wide Doorways and Halls: Wheelchairs and walkers take a lot of space, so the wider the better. Most doorways are 23–27 inches wide, but according to the ADA, a doorframe needs to be at least 32 inches wide in order to accommodate a wheelchair. French doors are a great option.
Ramps and Rails: You need to be aware of elevation changes. Many homes have at least a step or two, and often a whole flight of stairs. Kids in wheelchairs can be lifted up a few steps, but as they get older, they get heavier. Plus, wheelchairs are incredibly heavy themselves (in the 80 lb. range). Rails are important for those who don’t use a wheelchair but struggle with mobility. They offer that little bit of extra support.
Roll-in Showers and More Grout: Lots of room to roll the shower chair in and non-slippery so the helper doesn’t fall and hurt themselves. Use smaller tiles with wider strips of grout in-between them. The more grout that shows, the less slippery it will be.
Tons of Turn-Around Space: Wheelchairs can require upwards of 60 inches to turn around. Just like the doorways and hallways, if it’s tight then you start bumping into things and knocking everything over. It’s great to have that space everywhere [in the home].
Keep a Clear Path: Have a place to put everything that keeps the path clear. Don’t leave shoes by the door in case a wheelchair or walker comes through and trips. This also applies to toys or whatever messes plague your home.
Places to Park: For our family, this is mostly at night and in the bathroom. You need extra spots to move the wheelchair out of the way when it isn’t being used. Tripping over a wheelchair is painful and climbing over one is frustrating.
Sink and Counter Height: Find a bathroom sink that one can roll their legs under to use the faucet and place the mirror lower so everyone can see themselves. Store dishes and pans in visible and reachable places.
Seating: With my brother and sister, they have very little to no control of their arms which tend to stick out no matter how many times you put them back within their wheelchair space. My brother has muscle spasms and so his arms will randomly shoot straight up really fast. With their arms sticking out, you have to be extra aware of sharp edges, furniture, doorways, tight spaces, decor sitting on bookshelves or tables, your dinner plate, etc. because they can and will knock everything off and get hurt if you aren’t careful.
Hardscaping: Distinct pathways to and from the garage or simply around the garden are a must. It’s hard pushing a wheelchair through the grass. Having places to sit in the shade, like a covered patio, is awesome as well so he/she using the wheelchair has the opportunity to enjoy being outside.
Good Lighting: This is for those with low visibility. Good lighting makes all the difference in helping someone not trip or put on matching socks.