7 Things That Make Our Home Accessible

Wooden house jigsaw piece cupped in open palms upon an oak tabletop

Welcome to another installment in my blog’s ‘Accessible Living‘ series, created to give readers the knowledge I’ve learned through trial and error along the way after near a decade of fighting for an accessible family home. 

In this post, you’ll find the top ‘7 things that make our home accessible’ and if you’re a wheelchair user, either full or part-time, these adaptations could be the very things to turn your life around too! It’s crazy to think that a few bits of equipment can be so life-changing, yet the truth is many people overlook how important independence is. Having the right adaptations can turn the place you live, into a home. With only 1% of housing outside London being deemed to any degree as ‘accessible,’ disabled people of Britain are facing extraordinary difficult times when it comes to flying the nest and creating a life for themselves.

While charities like Habinteg fight alongside campaigners like myself #ForAccessibleHomes, the following list of equipment can be installed into most properties in an effort to restore independence to the highest degree possible in houses otherwise not designed for somebody with limited mobility.

1. Electric door opener

Collage infographic. Photo on the left is of the 7 parts needed for the power door opener to be installed. The photo on the right is of a metal "arm" attached to the top of a door that is controlled by a key fob to open and close.

Being able to get in and out of your own home yourself is essential, however many disabled people find accomplishing the basic task of opening/closing a door and unlocking/locking it as insanely difficult or even impossible. This can affect people  who lack arm strength or hand co-ordination to use a standard handle and/or key, people who rely on a walking frames or crutches to mobilise and therefore would need to grow some extra arms to negotiate and wheelchair users, who not all have the capability of a Paralympian to tackle manoeuvering their chair around a heavy door, while keeping it open and having your arm stretched out its socket in doing so.

Whatever your difficulty is when it comes to the invention of the door, the electric door opener is a game changer! Operated by a key fob or large wall-mounted button, the door opener is user-friendly and gives greater independence at the push of a button without the need for a traditional key. Using the button provided, they automatically lock upon closing, giving you the same reassurance against burglaries. Many even come with an intercom system, where an additional button for the door is on the intercom phone. Giving you optimal control when it comes to answering the door and needing to open it for the postman or to have a parcel handed to you. This clever, yet simple bit of kit is your ticket to freedom!

2. Wetroom vs specialist bath

Comparison photos, on the left a white wet room with drop down seat and seat level shower control, on the right - a specialist rise and fall bathtub with a multitude of other functions such as jacuzzi jets

Everybody with a mobility impairment has different access needs, and this couldn’t be truer when talking about bath vs shower. Many independent living organizations and even healthcare ‘professionals’ believe a wet room to be the answer for everyone, but really needs as well as personal preference needs to be taken into account.

There are pros and cons to both. A wetroom gives more room to work in where carers are needed, if the individual has anything on their person that cannot be submerged in water (such as a tracheostomy tube or PICC line) it can be better protected in a shower and there are more seating options with shower chairs for wetroom use for disabled people who have precise postural needs than there is for bath supports. On the other hand, baths can be very therapeutic and being submerged in warm water can aid in relaxing tight muscles, reduce spasms and a whole wealth of other health benefits, they’re perfect for those who need to be in a reclined position to be comfortable when paired with an overhead ceiling track hoist and there’s a range of adapted baths you can obtain funding for that have a rise and fall feature, jacuzzi functions, even ones with doors and seats built-in for those who do have some mobility but can’t necessarily climb over a standard bath side. These are just some examples of the pros of each option, it is really about self-evaluating what’s best for you and going from there.

Personally, I have had many different options through several properties over my lifetime. My needs changed throughout, at one point a bath was the only option for me as I needed to be reclined most of the time due to chronic pain, plus my youngest daughter was a baby then so we had to think of our needs as a family unit too. Now we’re back to a wetroom and thankfully I have a reclining shower chair with extra padding, lateral supports etc that have ironed out past problems and this enabled us to go back to the wetroom option, as it is the quickest and easier for my care needs.

3. Ceiling track hoist

Image of a ceiling track hoist. Resembles a clothes hanger, hanging from a battery box attached to a track it runs across on the ceiling. The straps of the users sling are attached to each end of the "hanger" hooks and a red emergency pull cord is visibly dangling from the battery box

Ceiling track hoists are far more mainstream in the homes of disabled children and adults nowadays. More focus is on prevention, rather than waiting for a carer to inevitably develop back trouble or the disabled person have a fall. Progress in the right direction! Here’s where the ceiling track hoist comes in.

Usually, ceiling track hoists are the recommended transfer method for disabled people who have moderate to severely limited mobility, where using a transfer board isn’t do-able, who is a high fall risk and/or the person cannot weight bear at all. A moving and handling assessment is conducted by an Occupational therapist to establish the safest and most efficient way of transferring from wheelchair to bed, to toilet etc given that persons specific condition. If the individual has a degenerative disability, e.g Muscular Dystrophy like myself where they may be able to weight bear upon assessment, but will lose that ability, O.T’s discuss future-proofing by getting the ball rolling with the installation of a ceiling track hoist in advance.

I love ceiling track hoists and have had them, thankfully, installed in everywhere I’ve lived since the age of 12. As I can no longer weight bear in my legs, the track hoist allows my PAs to transfer me safely and comfortably from a to b. When not in use the hoist is reeled back out of the way and you forget it’s there. In my opinion, they are 100% better than having to manage with a manual hoist which often needs 2 carers and a lot of floor space to operate.

4. Inclusive kitchen design

Photo of our wheelchair accessible kitchen. Includes rise and fall worktops, side-opening oven and carousel cupboard lower shelvings.

Many people see kitchen adaptations as a luxury that not a lot of disabled people can afford, instead of the necessity that it is. Coping in your bog-standard kitchen when you’re a wheelchair user or have limited mobility has a significant impact on your health. We are not the first family who barely used our kitchens in past unsuitable homes because we found it so inaccessible, therefore relying heavily on ready meals, and we won’t be the last either. You can find out how an inclusive kitchen design was life-changing for us and could be for you too in another post in the Accessible Living series titled ‘Inclusive Kitchen Features the DFG Can Make a Reality.

5. VI-friendly lighting fixtures

Photo of different lighting options e.g ceiling light with no shade, with shade and very bright desk lamp

Lighting has long been a struggle in previous unsuitable properties coping with standard ceiling lights or at best, old fashioned strip lights which used the be the most highly recommended for people with visual impairments. Not having adequate sources of light in the home, made daily life for my partner and 6-year-old daughter, who both have Retinitis Pigmentosa, much harder than it needed to be! It affected my partner’s ability to cook, keep the house tidy, identify trip hazards and my daughter used to tell us that indoors was very dungeon-like from her perspective.

When considering lighting in the home of someone with a visual impairment, it is important to take the individuals specific task lighting into account. Do they need better ceiling lighting, desk lighting for working, under the cupboards while preparing food? Just a few examples. Lighting that needs to be specific to a VI individuals sight loss CAN be sought FREE through an assessment via your Occupational Therapist. Ours consulted ‘Lighting Guides’ such as the one from the Thomas Pocklington Trust or RNIB, which she admitted to being invaluable in her search to determine what would be best long term. For us it was about maximum light exposure in every room, then some months down the line we added motion sensor under cupboard lights and similar in wardrobes/ other nucks and crannies where my partner or daughter struggled visually.

6. Accessible light switch & plug sockets

Designers sketch of a male wheelchair user reaching light switch, dimensions are shown as examples of where sockets and switches should be height wise for accessibility.
Drawing courtesy of the Building and Construction Authority

Light switches and plug sockets have always been a source of irritation to me as I’ve been unable to access them in my own home up until now. When my O.T asked me if raised plug sockets and lowered light switches would be beneficial to us as a family, I jumped at the chance. Not only has being able to plug/unplug things myself been a newfound independence, but we were also granted extra sockets to accommodate my equipment.

If you really think about it, some disabled individuals do require more sockets for things like wheelchair chargers, phone charger within reach, ceiling/manual hoist, profiling beds, air mattresses, CPAP/BiPAP ventilators, as well as other respiratory devices, etc. After reveling in the additional independence they gave me away from home, a big thumbs up👍 to Travelodge’s accessible rooms, I am so grateful the DFG gave me that same freedom in our new home.

7. Sliding doors

MDF sliding door in action on runners

Standard doors can prove a great obstacle for wheelchair users. Getting the knack right of wheeling backward, arm twisted painfully, gripping firmly on the handle whilst trying not to let the door win as you try and swing your chair around it before it smacks into you is quite an ordeal every time you want to move from one room to another. This is where sliding doors can really make a huge difference!

We were skeptical at first on how these doors would survive in a home with 2 young children, including a toddler with (at times) superhuman strength! Imagining little Miss monkey would have them repeatedly off there runners with unintentional heavy-handedness. Okay, our prediction ended up being accurate, however, the freedom these doors give me in moving around the house, far outweighs the need to realign them from time to time.

Do you agree with what made the top 7 or maybe there’s something you’d like to add? Sharing your knowledge of things that can improve independence in the home could inspire others to take action to improve the accessibility in their own.

Other posts in the ‘Accessible Living’ series –
Inclusive Kitchen Features the DFG Can Make a Reality

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