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10 Tips for a Wheelchair-Accessible Home

by Garrett Fleming

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.

Image above: Before & After: A Modern, Wheelchair-Accessible Bathroom

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.

Image above: Before & After: Bathroom Makeover

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].

Image above: DIY Ladder Shelf Shoe Storage

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.

Image above: Sneak Peek: Jessica Helgerson Interior Design

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.

Image above: Vintage Modern in San Francisco

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.

Image above: A Comfortable, Colorful Cave for Paleo People in Atlanta

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.

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Comments

  • Thank you for this insightful post! While accessibility isn’t currently a concern for my household, it’s good information to keep in mind as we try to make sure our home is comfortable for guests, and in thinking forward as we prepare for age related changes in mobility.

  • Yaaaaaaaassssss to this post!!! I didn’t realize until I worked at a camp for people with physical disabilities just how much design (or lack thereof) impacts their ability to get through their day. I’m thrilled that DS is opening up that conversation and awareness and look forward to learning more :)

  • Great thoughtful post, especially now with people getting their homes ready for visitors during the holidays

  • Thank you for continuing to share design tips for differently abled folks! I love this new addition to Design Sponge!

  • Thank you, Design Sponge! My husband is a wheelchair-user, and I really appreciate the work you have done this year to feature some accessible designs. I am always looking for aesthetically pleasing yet functional solutions for our home.

  • This is great – homes used to be gracious with wider hallways and entries. In the modern age of tract development, the standard of care is minimal spaces. As a (currently) able bodied person, I would love the ability to dance through my house without tripping on things or smashing into a wall!

    While there are guidelines for public accomodations online (for instance the american with disabilities act accessibility guidelines, or ADAAG), every disabled person is different. If you are designing your home for your childs needs or your tiny grandmother’s needs, then work to make things fit for them, not the average disabled person.

    By the way – I ADORE the family picture! Happy smiling faces.

  • I would like to see images from the actual home this family lives, not from random- although beautiful houses, thank you

  • Love this post. We are all “temporarily-abled”. If you are building new, as we did, and can possibly afford it, you should try to build with some of these things in mind: 3 ft wide doorways, one large accessible bathroom, one-floor living possibilities, ramps, etc. We are fine now, but who knows what will happen as we age? Also, if any of our friends have issues they will be easily accomodated coming to our house. These things make building more expensive, but we feel our house will be a long-term and flexible place for us and others.

  • This is helpful! I am currently able-bodied but am planning to build an ADU in our back yard. I want to make it as accessible as possible for renting out, future aging-in-place as well as housing elder family members.
    One thing I would love to see more information on is ADA-compliant design that is both attractive and affordable.

  • Thank you so much! We are currently buying a home and tried to find one that was fairly accessible or could be made so easily — no easy task! My older relatives are starting to use canes, walkers and in one case a wheelchair plus we have friends with mobility issues, too. A welcoming home is welcoming to all and I wish more people would consider this when building/buying houses. Thanks for including accessibility here — after figuring out accessibility, its great to make it as beautiful as the non-accessible interiors!

  • This is a very helpful post. We are looking to make our home more accessible and have included some of these features. I appreciate hearing about the things I never would’ve thought about. Thanks.

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