Advice on how to make your home safer and more accessible for people with mobility impairment.
by Illse du Preez, Occupational Therapist at CE Mobility
For many people, owning and maintaining a home is one of the most significant investments they ever make. But for aging people and people living with disabilities, the fact that much of the world outside is not built to accommodate their needs, magnifies the value of a comfortable home and practical home that one can move in freely. Here are a few aspects to look at to make your home more comfortable.
The first consideration should be how you will navigate into, out of, and through your home. Your rooms can be as comfortable and accommodating as possible, but this won’t matter if you or others can’t easily enter, exit and move around. A standard doorway is 76cm wide. This allows a standard 18” wheelchair to move through with ease. It is however better if the doorway is 82cm – 90cm wide to allow for easier turning in and out of the doorway, especially doors leading out of a corridor. If you are a wheelchair user, sliding doors are the easiest to open and close. You may also want to consider doors with handles and locks at lower heights and switching round door knobs for lever-handles. These lever-handles are user friendly for decreased hand strength/function.
For entrance and exit at doorways, minimize the size of doorstops and thresholds. Avoid doormats or anything that is too thick for the wheelchair to roll over with ease and that could pose a potential tripping hazard for walkers with poor mobility or impaired vision. Thick mats are also particularly difficult for wheelchairs to move on.
If there are steps, different ramps are available. Removable ramps will be needed if you are renting. There are 2 types of removable ramps – the telescopic type that consists of 2 separate ramps or a solid one piece ramp that folds in half for easier storage.
If you own the property, it is best to get permanent ramps made. These are safer as they cannot move around. It is very important that you measure the step/s in order to determine the length of the ramp needed. To walk up and down safely, a gradient of 1:8 is sufficient. For someone to push himself up/down a ramp in a wheelchair a gradient of 1:10 is sufficient but 1:12 is best. Rails next to a ramp are important.
If the height (elevation) of your entry/exit door is too high to accommodate a ramp, it will be necessary to install a lift.
This is one of the most important aspects. Find a material that is durable, smooth and firm. These features will provide a surface that wheelchairs can easily roll on, something that will not be likely to cause slips, trips or falls and a surface that is easy to clean. Ease of cleaning can be particularly important in the case of homes with service animals. Remove all small rugs and carpets that can cause you to slip or fall.
There are different options to make existing floor finishes non-slip and safe.
Once the doorway to the bathroom is made wide enough to allow a wheelchair to pass through, you need enough space to be able to move around freely. The flooring inside the bathroom is probably the most important as it can get slippery when wet.
Many people find showering the easiest but there are different options for baths too. Examples are bath lifts, swivel bathers, bath boards and bath seats.
If there is space, a roll-in shower is most practical. Commodes on wheels are available to use as a shower chair. If you are able to walk and just need to sit while showering, free-standing chairs or bolt-on seats are available. Make sure the seat is at a height that is easy to get up from. Rails to assist with balance when seated and to assist with getting up are important to prevent falls. A hand held shower will bring the water down to a comfortable level.
Ensure that the bathtub or shower floor has a non-slip surface to prevent slips and falls. Small bathroom rugs are dangerous and should be avoided completely.
For a wheelchair user, the washbasin should have enough space underneath to enable the user to roll straight up to the sink, rather than having to stretch over. The hot water pipe must be covered with insulating material or moved back out of the way to protect legs from scalding.
Ensure that the toilet can be easily reached e.g. has enough space beside it. The best position is to have a wall on one side in order to install a rail and an open side on the other. Toilet height is also important: if the toilet is too low, it’s difficult for many people to lower themselves down to it or to get back up. This can be remedied with portable toilet seats. Toilets that are too high are difficult to reach. The best height should be assessed on an individual basis.
In closing, while the challenges to make your home safe, accessible and comfortable at the same time are significant, they are not insurmountable. Creating a comfortable home is achievable with time and work and there are many resources available to assist you and your loved ones in getting there. If you are unsure of your needs, Occupational Therapists are available to do accessibility assessments and make recommendations accordingly.
CE Mobility had its humble beginnings in 1949 as a small, single retail outlet in Bree Street, central Johannesburg. Over the past 65 years they have led the way with pioneering wheelchair designs and innovations. Today, CE Mobility boasts 6 branches nationwide and a team of experts including Occupational Therapists, wheelchair users, Engineers and Seating Specialists to assist you in choosing the correct equipment to suit your needs and budget.
CE Mobility is the largest importer of wheelchairs and accessories as well as the largest local manufacturer providing employment to over 150 South Africans. Visit their showrooms in Industria, Rivonia, Pretoria, Durban, Cape Town or Port Elizabeth to view their extensive range of mobility equipment.
Visit CE Mobility for more information.