When we think of disability, we think of physical ailments. This may be accurate in many cases, but we have to bear in mind that disabilities take many forms, some of which are invisible. If you, a friend or family members are among the 54 million Americans currently living with a disability, you may need to take steps to ensure your home is suitable. This guide will direct you in how you can undertake this process.
Property Access and Legal Rights
It’s becoming increasingly commonplace for wheelchair or walking aid access to be taken into consideration when designing a property, as the number of users continues to escalate.
- The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) outlines the minimum standards required to make a business or public property accessible to a disabled person. Businesses and public places should pay particular attention to these checklists, which will ensure compliance.
- The ADA has very concise guidelines on the suitable dimensions of a wheelchair ramp outside a home or building. Ramps must have a minimum width between arm bars of 36”, with runs of no more than 30” – though is no legal limit on the number of runs that you incorporate. The ramp must have flat access at both entry and exit points.
- Platforms or elevator lifts are alternatives to ramps, and be easier for a manual wheelchair user to negotiate, but are considerably more expensive to install and maintain, and come with a significant number of size restrictions.
- Doors must open to a minimum least 32” wide to meet ADA standards. Automatic doors are not a legal requirement, but obviously make life significantly easier for a wheelchair user.
- The Fair Housing Act decrees that anybody looking to rent a home cannot be discriminated against due to a disability.
Within the Home
Making access to a home disability-friendly is one challenge, but it’s quite another to ensure that somebody can move freely once they have gained entry. The CareGiver Partnership offers a very detailed blog that explains how you can the interior of a home wheelchair-friendly, as do the UK-based charity Leonard Cheshire, but it may help to assess each room individually.
- Accessible Lifestyle can offer advice on how to meet ADA requirements in a residence’s kitchen, one of the most challenging rooms in any house for a disabled individual. They recommend that counter tops and appliances be around 32” from the ground, a shallow 5-6” sink, mounted cabinets 15” from the ground, and a wider kitchen floor space of around 42” to ensure that a wheelchair user can comfortable turn, and any guests are able to move around them.
- Living Made Easy is a UK-based website, but their suggestions on how to make a kitchen wheelchair- and disability-friendly shows that the above is considered universal advice.
- ADA Bathroom is pretty much we’d expect here; a helpful guide to how to make a bathroom compliant with ADA guidelines. Bathrooms come with a variety of suggestions and regulations, including:
- Affixed or removable shower seats to assist in washing and bathing, that can support a weight no less than 250lbs, and/or tub seats that are positioned around 18” from the ground.
- Mirrors and reflective surfaces positioned 40” from the floor.
- Grab bars located wherever possible. These are very strongly advisable in any bathroom if a disabled individual is likely to visit; grab bars are a cost-effective safety measure that greatly reduces the risk of somebody losing balance while showering.
- Public restrooms have their own regulations, including minimum standards on turning space and maximum heights on drinking fountains.
- The ADA has strict requirements in place regarding both conventional staircases and escalators. Stairs require a minimum width of 32”, and it is always advisable to include firmly fixed handrails on either side for the full length of the stairwell. Escalators must be clearly marked, and have a minimum of two and maximum of four flats steps at the bottom and top.
- Stairlifts follow the same requirements outlined in our Property and Access Also known as Inclined Platform Lifts, these devices can be open or enclosed (arm bars are strongly recommended in the case of the former as a safety measure), and cannot block access to any other point of a building. Stairlifts must not exceed 18 square feet in total size.
Making a home or workplace disability-friendly can be an expensive business, but try not to worry. There are a number of ways that this cost can be spread, or assisted by the government.
- Individual benefits are paid to people who have registered as disabled, following an individual assessment. There is no hard and fast rule as to how much you will receive from the state as that depends on your personal circumstances; Social Security Benefit Calculators will be able to summarize this information for you. You may also be eligible for Supplementary Security Income, which is not linked to your Social Security payments and is designed to ensure you have enough money to live on if you are unable to work.
- If you are on Medicaid, a donation may be made to any installation costs for disability-friendly ramps and bars.
- Tax breaks are available to small and large businesses that actively seek to improve access to wheelchair users.
Access Board – www.access-board.gov
Accessible Lifestyle – http://accessiblelifestyle.com
ADA Bathroom – www.adabathroom.com
American with Disabilities Act – www.ada.gov
Justice Department – www.justice.gov
Medicaid – www.medicaid.gov
Social Security Administration – www.ssa.gov