Accessible Home Checklist

Creating an Accessible Home

Clear Pathways

We all like getting from one place to another without any trouble, without any barriers. We even have special names to describe this freedom. Some call it “smooth sailing.” Others refer to it as “a walk in the park.” Those who love sweets say it is “a cakewalk.” And those who build accessible homes call it “clear pathways.”

A clear pathway lets your relatives and friends get out of a car and into your home without running into any barriers. Visitors will also be able to get into all your important rooms: the living room, the kitchen, a full bathroom, and a bedroom. This will be true even for those guests who use a wheelchair or a walker.

Barrier-free Entrance

Does your home pass the “clear pathways” test? To find out, imagine that a person in a wheelchair has just arrived in your neighborhood. How will he or she get from the car to your door?

A smooth, wide sidewalk can take you or a guest from the curb to your house. Make sure the walkway follows the contour of your property. Is your house on a slope? Don’t take guests over the steepest part of that slope. Instead, let the path make a gradual approach to the front door, even if this means taking a longer route.

The path should be 36 inches wide. Cut back shrubs on the side of the pathway. Trim branches that hang over it. Get rid of trees that drop leaves or berries that could become slippery when wet. Fix any holes in the paving. Make sure the path is even, but not slippery. A gravel pathway isn’t a good idea. A slightly textured surface is safer.

It goes without saying that steps don’t allow a clear pathway. Even one small step will stop the person in a wheelchair. So if you have stairs, you’ll need to find a way around them. A ramp to the front door can help. Or, you can bring the person into your house through a garage door. You may need to install a small ramp if you have a step between the garage and your house.

Don’t ignore your steps, even if you have a ramp. Make sure every step has a non-slip surface. Put a railing next to every set of stairs – even if it has only one step.

Keep in mind that darkness can also be a barrier. Make sure that the path to your front door has plenty of light. Put up lights that turn on when someone moves in front of them.

Getting Inside the House

Don’t strand your visitors once they get to your porch. Is the front door is wide enough for a wheelchair or walker to pass through? There should be at least 32 inches of space when the door is open. The door needs lever handles that are easy to open. And the threshold should not be any higher than ½ inch.

First Floor Living

Congratulations! Now you and your guest are inside the house. But can you get where you want to go? Can you reach the living room or dining room without going up steps? Can someone in a wheelchair roll into the kitchen, or is the doorway too narrow? It should be at least 32 inches wide.

Is there a full bathroom and bedroom on the first floor? This is critical. A guest in a wheelchair will not be able to get upstairs.

Start planning now for the day when you or an older relative won’t be able to use the stairs safely. That’s when your house will need a bedroom and a full bathroom on the ground floor. You’ll also need a washer and dryer on the same floor as your bedroom. Without these simple features, you may not be able to stay in your home for as long as you had planned.

Tips for Keeping Pathways Clear

Try these additional tips to keep your pathways clear:

  • Clear clutter from the floor. Get rid of magazine racks, plants and other things that people can trip over or that can stop a wheelchair.
  • Move furniture out of the way. Create a path so you can move easily between and through rooms.
  • Get rid of area rugs. If you can’t do that, secure them to the floor with non-skid tape.
  • Make sure your flooring is smooth and slip-resistant. If you have a carpet, choose a low pile and a firm pad. The pile should be less than half an inch. Anything higher will stop wheelchairs in their tracks. It could also cause you to trip.
  • Keep electric cords out of your path. They present a tripping hazard too.

Handrails

  • One out of three older adults falls each year. Many of them fall at home. Some of them die. There are many ways to prevent people from falling in your home. Installing handrails on stairs is one of them. The more handrails you have, the lower your risk of falling with be.
  • You don’t have to be old to use a handrail. Children who are new to walking would be lost without them. So would teens who bound up the stairs, taking two steps at a time. Handrails are a good friend to those who have back or knee trouble. They have literally saved the lives of many older people who have poor balance.
  • Put handrails on every stairway you have. Be sure to put handrails on both sides of those stairways. Even one step needs a handrail. If you have a very wide stairway, put a single handrail in the center.
  • What kind?
  • Choose a handrail that is rounded. These rails will fit your hand better than other designs. Make sure the rail isn’t too big. The part you grab should be no more than 1½ inches around. A rail that is 1¼ inch around will be even easier to grab. Make sure your handrail is strong enough to hold you. It should be able to support 250 pounds at any point.
  • Installing Handrails
  • Don’t skimp when installing a handrail. Extend the handrail about 12 inches beyond the top and the bottom step. This way, the handrail will support you as you get on and off the last step. Make sure the handrail is rounded off at the end. Or end the handrail at a post.
  • Does your staircase have a landing where it changes direction? Continue the handrail around the landing. That way, you’ll have something to grab as long as you’re on the stairs.
  • A handrail isn’t going to work well unless you attach it securely to the wall. Screw the handrail right into the wall studs. Make sure the fittings are tight. Check them every so often to make sure they haven’t become loose.
  • Mount your handrails about 34 inches from the floor. This is a good height for adults. Children may need a lower rail.
  • Handrails should be 1½ inches from the wall. This will give you the room you need to grab the rail. Plus, you won’t bang your fingers into the wall. Protect your fingers from splinters by painting your handrails with a wood finish.

Lever Door Handles

  • Doors can let you into a room or a home. They can also keep you out. Think about this the next time you finish a messy outdoor project. You want to get inside and clean up as fast as possible. But the round door knob on your back door stands between you and your kitchen sink. You can’t turn that knob with hands that are covered with garden dirt or engine grease.
  • Many people are throwing away their round door knobs. That’s because they are so hard to use. Young people with small hands can’t grab them. Older people with weak hands can’t turn them. People who love to work on cars or weed the garden think they are a slippery nuisance.
  • These people are using lever handles instead. You don’t have to twist or turn lever handles. You don’t even have to grab them. All you do is press down on the handle’s flat surface and push. The door opens. It takes only the touch of a closed fist or a finger. You can even open doors with an elbow if your hands are messy or full of packages.
  • Installing Lever Handles
  • Put lever handles on all your doors, inside and outside. Buy two lever handles for each door. You’ll need one lever for the outside of the door and one lever for the inside.
  • Do you want the door to lock? Then choose “freewheeling” or “clutch” lever handles. These will be more secure. An intruder won’t be able to jar the lock open and get into your house. This might happen with other lever handles.
  • Choose a handle that curves back toward the door. You’ll be less likely to catch a sleeve or purse strap on this kind of handle. Be sure to look for a handle that is at least five inches long. Longer handles are even better. You won’t need as much force to open a door with a long handle.
  • Put your handles at the right height. They will be easier to use. They should be no higher than 44 inches from the finished floor.
  • Don’t feel like replacing your door knobs? Think about buying a lever handle adapter. This handle fits over your existing knob. Some of these handles are portable. This means you can move them from room to room. You can also take them when you travel.

Ramps

Ramps aren’t just for wheelchairs anymore. Sure, wheelchair users need ramps to get in and out of buildings. But ramps also help lots of other people. It doesn’t matter how old you are. It doesn’t matter how strong you are.

Maybe your knees are bad and you can’t climb stairs. You might use a walker. Perhaps you broke a leg and are using crutches for a few weeks. You could be taking care of a grandchild who is still in a baby carriage. Whatever the reasons, there are days when all of us are glad to use a ramp instead of taking the stairs.

It seems that no two ramps are alike. Some are made of wood. Others are concrete, asphalt or metal. “Straight-shot” ramps make no turns. “L-shaped” ramps make a 90-degree turn. “Switchback” ramps make a 180-degree turn.

Ramps aren’t easy to build. That’s why you should hire a professional to do the job right. If your builder doesn’t know very much about ramps, give him or her these guidelines.

General Design

A steep ramp is more dangerous than having no ramp at all. So build yours with a gentle slope. The higher your ramp is, the longer it needs to be. You should have at least 12 inches of ramp for every 1 inch that the ramp has to climb. It would be better to have 20 inches for every 1 inch of vertical rise.

Let’s say your front porch is 18 inches above the ground – that means your ramp should be 216 inches – or 18 feet – long (18 inches times 12 inches = 216 inches divided by 12 = 18 feet). Want to have 20 inches of ramp for each inch of vertical rise? Then your ramp should be about 30 feet long (18 x 20 = 360 inches divided by 12 = 30 feet).

Don’t build a ramp this long as a “straight shot” into your front yard. It won’t look very attractive. And it will be hard to use. Ramps look better if they are close to the house. A ramp that is 30 feet long will be easier to use if it has a flat landing in the middle where the user can take a rest.

Landings are an important part of every ramp. You need to build a landing every time the ramp changes direction. Make this landing 60 inches long and 60 inches wide. You will also need one landing at the top of the ramp and one at the bottom. The top landing will keep you from rolling or falling backwards when you open the door to your house. The bottom landing will let you move safely from the ramp to level ground. Landings should be at least as wide as the ramp. They should also be at least 60 inches long.

Your ramp and all its landings must be level from side to side. A ramp that slopes even a little is hard to use. It upsets the balance of a person with a walker. It makes a wheelchair hard to steer.

Ramps in Bad Weather

Keep in mind that you’ll use a ramp in all kinds of weather – sun, rain and snow. Make sure it is safe no matter what the season.

Design your ramp so water doesn’t pool on its surface. Put gutters on your house so rainwater doesn’t fall from the roof onto the ramp.

Make sure the surface of the ramp won’t be slippery when wet. Attach “grit” tapes to the ramp. They will give more traction. Add sand to a can of polyurethane and use that to paint the ramp. Create a rough texture on a concrete ramp by brushing the surface with a broom before it hardens.

Don’t put the ramp near trees that drop leaves or pods. These droppings could become very slippery if it rains. Build the ramp so it faces south, if possible. The way, the sun can help dry the ramp surface after it rains or snows.

Ramp Accessories

Once your ramp is built, spice it up with these important accessories:

  • Mount guardrails along the side of the ramp. Put them about 18 inches from the ramp floor. This rail will help keep people and wheelchairs safely on the ramp.
  • Install edging along the floor of the ramp so no one will slide off. The edging should be 2 inches high.
  • Put handrails on both sides of the ramp. Use wood. Metal could be hard to hold in winter. Handrails should extend at least 12 inches beyond the ramp at both ends.
  • Build a set of stairs off the top landing of the ramp. This way, friends and relatives can use the stairs if they don’t want to use the ramp.
  • Stair Safety Guidelines
  • People often fall on stairways that have only one or two steps. This is usually because they don’t know the steps are there. These steps may be the same color and texture as the area around them. Lighting in the area may be poor. The stairs may not be marked in any way. All this makes them hard to see.
  • Make sure people can easily tell where your steps are. Paint the edge of each step in a color that stands out. Make the steps a different color than the surrounding area. Put up a handrail. A handrail helps the person climb the steps. It also provides a visual clue that the steps are there.
  • Make sure that no one will slip on your steps. If your staircase has carpeting, attach that carpet securely. Put slip-resistant pads on wooden steps. Paint a white strip at the end of each tread so it is easier to see at night. If you paint the steps, add some sand to the paint to give traction. Install handrails on both sides of the staircase. Train children from a young age to always use the handrail.
  • People walking on the stairs should be able to hit the tip of their shoe against the riser as they climb. Don’t leave this space between the treads open. This is a hazard.
  • Make sure all stairways are well lit. Put a light switch at the top and the bottom of each staircase. This way, you can turn on the lights before you going up or down.

The Front Door

Wouldn’t it be nice to have a butler and a maid waiting for you when you came home each day? They would stand at the front door ready to fulfill your every need. He would open the door for you. She could take your packages. He might hold an umbrella to keep you dry. If you used a wheelchair, they would be there to wheel you inside.

Very few of us can afford this luxury. But you can design your front door so it works for you. Here’s how.

  • Make sure the doorway is wide enough. You’ll breeze right through a doorway that gives you 32 inches of clear space. A friend in a wheelchair also can roll in easily. Want extra space to move big items in and out? Make the front doorway 36 inches wide.
  • Buy lever handles for your doors. Press down on the flat surface of these handles and your door opens. No need to twist or grab.
  • Leave an open space just inside and outside of your front door. The area should measure at least 5 feet by 5 feet. This space is useful to people who use a cane, walker or wheelchair. It gives them plenty of room to move up to and through the front door. Leave two feet of open floor space on the side of the door where the lock and lever handle are. That way, someone in a wheelchair can reach the door handle.
  • Build an overhang above the door. Once you are out of the rain or snow, you can take your time opening the door. A roof also keeps ice and snow from building up outside the front door.
  • Build an outside shelf near the door. Put your packages on the shelf before you start fishing for your keys.

Look Ma, No Key!

It would be a lot easier to get into your front door if you didn’t have to unlock the door. Imagine. No stopping to find your keys. No struggling to fit the key into the keyhole. No straining your hands to turn a stiff lock. Of course, nowadays you can’t leave your doors unlocked. But you can lock your door without a key. All you need is a keyless locking system.

Not all keyless systems are the same. Some run on batteries. Others are wired into your home’s electric current. How you actually unlock the door will depend on the keyless model you choose. You might punch a code into a keypad. On some, you press a remote control button on your key ring. Others open the door when you stick a plastic card into a slot.

Mount your system where everyone can reach it. And, make sure you can use a regular key if the system isn’t working.

Who’s at the Door?

Don’t open your front door until you know who rang the bell. There are a few ways to find this out.

  • You could take a peek at your visitor through small windows that you install on the side of the door.
  • You could get a glimpse of your guest by looking through small peep holes in the door. Put these peep holes at two levels so both children and adults – and someone who is sitting down – can reach them.
  • You could also install a doorbell that works like an intercom. Intercom doorbells let you talk to your visitor without opening the door. You use a speaker/receiver inside the house. Your visitor uses one that is outside the front door. You answer the doorbell by pushing a button on your unit. This lets you talk to the visitor. The visitor pushes a button that lets him or her talk back to you. Some units even have a camera so you can also see who is at the door.

Buy two or three intercom units for inside your home. Put one on each floor. That way, you’ll always be near a unit when someone comes to the front door. You only need one intercom unit outside. You can also buy an intercom doorbell that work through your phones. These intercoms send a special ring to every phone in your house. Pick up the phone nearest you, and start talking to your guest. Some intercom units even let you unlock the door and let your guest into the house. This is helpful if you can’t get to the door.

Other Safety Features

Make sure your front door is as safe as it can be. Shine plenty of lights on the doorway, lock, porch, and walkway. Prune shrubs and trees so your neighbors can see your front door. This will help them see – and report – any suspicious activity.

Bathroom Telephones

A bathroom telephone isn’t a luxury. A phone can bring help fast if you slip and fall in the bathroom. That makes it a necessity.

Make sure you have a telephone in your bathroom. Choose a phone that will be there for you in any emergency. Don’t pick a portable phone. You might be tempted to carry it out of the bathroom and leave it somewhere else in the house. When you need it most, it could be far out of reach.

A wall phone is your best bet. Be sure to hang the phone near your shower, tub or toilet. Choose a place that you can reach even if you are lying on the floor.

Buy a phone with a touch-tone dialing pad. Get the largest touch-tone keys you can find. You’ll be able to see better and dial faster. And don’t forget to store important numbers in the phone. This will make dialing even easier. You’ll be able to call for help by pushing only one button.

Make sure you don’t use the phone while you are in the bathtub or standing in water. Remember, it’s electric! Get it wet and you could give yourself a quite a shock.

Anti-Scald Devices

It’s not hard to get burned in the bathroom. It only takes a few seconds – and about 130 degrees.

Water burns can happen to anyone. Your mother could slip and fall in the shower. If she breaks a bone and can’t move, she could get trapped under running hot water. Your grandson might climb into a tub of water that is hotter than he thought. Or he could run his hand under burning tap water. The result could be very painful. It could also leave scars.

The danger is very real. Thousands of children and older adults are burned each year in kitchens and bathrooms. You can take two steps to keep your family safe.

First, check your water heater. Is it set at 140 degrees? Most water heaters are. And that’s way too hot. Turn your heater down to 120 degrees.

Second, look for an anti-scald device. You can put these gadgets on your sink, tub and shower. They make sure your water doesn’t get too hot. Set your device so it takes action if your water gets hotter than 115 degrees.

Many Ways to Prevent Burns

Some anti-scald devices are very simple. One device locks your tap so that kids can’t move the handle too far toward “hot.” Other devices turn off the water when it gets too hot. You can install these devices on your own.

A few models are more complex. One keeps track of how hot your last shower was. It gives you the same water hotness for your next shower. Another system starts working when there is a drop in the force of the cold water coming out of your tap. When this happens, the device makes the force of the hot water drop too. This keeps your shower from getting too hot.

Don’t buy a complex device just for the sake of it. Be sure that everyone in the house will feel comfortable using it. A simple device might work just as well. And it will cost you less money.

Buying a New Tub

Is climbing over the tub wall a problem for you? Look for a tub that makes this task easier. Some tubs have a ledge – or transfer bench – built right into the side. To get into the bathtub safely, you sit on this ledge and swing your legs into the tub. Then you can use grab bars and rails to lower yourself into the water. The ledge also gives that young parent a place to sit while bathing a youngster. The best thing about these tubs? They look like they belong in a model home, not a nursing home.

Can’t use a transfer bench? Consider buying an accessible bathtub. These bathtubs let you walk into the tub through a door in the tub wall. When the door closes, it seals the opening so you can fill the tub with water. You can’t put water into these tubs unless the door is tightly sealed. This means you have to sit in the tub while the water runs.

Make sure your new bathtub comes with a non-slip surface. You might want to go one step further and get a tub with a soft surface. The makers of these tubs line them with foam and cover them with a special material called polyurethane. The foam lining makes these tubs feel soft to the touch. This foam is easy on your muscles when you soak in the tub. And it will cushion you if you happen to fall. The flexible surface keeps you from slipping and is easy to clean.

Look for a tub that has the water controls on the outside tub wall. That way, you’ll be able to turn on the water while you stand in the bathroom or sit back in the tub. No need to bend over to reach controls at the far end of the tub.

Using Your Old Tub More Safely

Not ready to buy a new tub? There are many ways to make your old tub safer. First, install some grab bars and hand rails. No tub is safe without them. Does your tub have a non-slip surface? If not, put a non-slip mat on the floor of the tub. And make sure there’s a place to put your towel and shampoo so you can reach them without getting up.

Having trouble climbing into the tub? Try using a portable transfer bench to help you get over the tub wall. This bench has a long seat and backrest. One side of the bench rests in the tub. The other side rests outside the tub. You sit down outside the tub. Slide your body across the seat and swing your legs over the tub wall.

Can’t lower yourself into the water? You might like to have a bath stool or chair. Put these seats right inside your bathtub. Sit down and you can soak your legs in the bath water. You’ll need a washcloth and a hand-held shower to wash the rest of your body.

Can’t get into the tub at all? You could install a bath lift in your tub. This is a high-tech device for people who can’t use a transfer bench. The lift has a chair that lowers you into and out of the water. A doctor or physical therapist can help you choose a bath lift that is right for you.

Safety First

It takes only 130 degrees to give you a water burn you will never forget. Turn your water heater down to 120 degrees. Think about buying an anti-scald device for the tub. Ask your plumber for details.

Grab Bars

Grab bars were not always as trendy as they are today. Ten years ago, you could only find them in hospitals and nursing homes. They all looked alike. And, if truth be told, they were all pretty ugly.

Times have changed. Today, you’ll find grab bars in fancy private homes and hotels. And you’ll swear that no two look alike. Some are straight, while others are curvy. Some attach to the wall at both ends. You can move others out of the way when you’re done with them. And grab bars now come in enough colors to satisfy every decorator.

Grab bars can help anyone stay safer in the bathroom. You don’t have to be old. You don’t have to have physical limitations. You might be a prize-winning athlete. Or a well-known ballerina. Grab bars don’t care who you are. They will still help you climb into the tub or stand in the shower. They will steady you while you reach for the hand-held shower. They help you get on and off the toilet. They can even keep you from slipping on wet tile.

The Three Types of Grab Bars

  • Wall mounted grab bars are the most stable. They attach to the wall at both ends. You can position them any way you want. Some people like grab bars to be vertical – pointing up and down. Other people feel more secure when they grab a bar that is horizontal – stretching from side to side.
  • Some grab bars attach to the wall at only one end. They connect to a hinge right at the wall. When you’re not using these grab bars, they rest against the wall. When you need support, just pull them out to where you need them most.
  • Sheltering arm grab bars provide the best support for getting up and sitting down on the toilet. These grab bars come around both sides of the toilet. They look a little like the armrests on a chair.

Will it Hold You?

A grab bar won’t be much use if it doesn’t hold you up when you need it most. Don’t buy a bar unless it will hold up to 250 pounds. And be sure you install the bar correctly so it can do its job.

You must attach a grab bar to your wall studs or to blocking in your walls. If your walls don’t have blocking, add it by nailing a piece of plywood into the studs. The plywood should be ¾ inches thick and 6 to 12 inches wide.

Don’t screw a grab bar into sheet rock. It will pull away from the wall. If you are holding onto the grab bar when this happens, you could be seriously injured.

Can you grab it easily?

Your grab bar should have a diameter that is 1¼ inches to 1½ inches. Choose a bar that has a textured surface. This will make it easier to grip.

The amount of space you leave between the grab bar and the wall is also important. That space will be 1½ inches for most people. You should be able to fit your fist to fit between the grab bar and the wall. Don’t make the space too large, though. You don’t want your arm to become wedged between the wall and the bar.

Hand-Held Showers

A hand-held shower gives you a lot of options when it comes to washing. This device looks like a regular showerhead, with one important difference. It has a 60-inch hose that connects it to the plumbing in your tub or shower. Hold the device in your hand and take control of your bathing experience.

There’s no end to the things you can do with a hand-held shower. Use it so you can sit down when you take a shower. Point it between your toes to rinse all the soap from your feet. Bring it close so you can get all the soap out of your hair after a shampoo. Let it rinse you off while you sit on a bath chair in the tub. Spray off a youngster after she’s enjoyed her bubble bath. You can even use your hand-held shower to rinse your shower walls after their weekly cleaning.

Your hand-held shower will be easier to use if you can turn on and off by pushing a switch on the handle. Pick the largest switch you can find. Then you can shut off the water by pressing the switch against your body. Look for a unit that shuts off when you drop it. This keeps water from squirting all over the bathroom – and all over you.

One Showerhead or Two?

You don’t have to choose between the showerhead you have now and a hand-held model. You can have both! Keep your current showerhead where it is. Ask a plumber to hook up a hand-held unit, too. You can hook the hand-held device anywhere your shower wall. Then use a special valve to switch your water supply from one showerhead to the other. The valve is easy to use. You could even make the switch in the middle of your shower.

Are two showerheads a bit too much? No problem. Just replace your regular shower with a hand-held model. Mount your new shower right on the wall where your old one was. Connect it to your plumbing and you’re in business. You can use your new showerhead like your old shower – hands free. When you want to hold the shower in your hand, just take it down from its hook.

Be sure that you put the showerhead at a good height for you. You want to be able to reach it easily. You shouldn’t have to strain when you are taking the shower off its hook or putting it back. Be sure to attach the shower unit to a wall stud. It will be more secure.

Look for a hand-held shower that can be mounted on a bar on the wall. That way, you can slide the showerhead up or down. Kids – and short people – love these. They get a shower at the right height for them, not six feet up the wall. And people who want to sit while showering will find this showerhead is easier to reach.

If you don’t want to change your plumbing, buy a spray unit that fits right on your tub faucet. This device is easy to put on and take off. It will work fine if you’re washing while you sit in the tub. You may not have enough water pressure to take a hands-free shower.

Pocket Doors

Pocket doors are a little like the sliding doors that lead to a deck or sun porch. But they have one important feature that sliding doors don’t have. When the pocket doors open, they disappear inside your wall.

Pocket doors give you more room, especially in small rooms. A regular door takes up about 10 square feet of floor space when it swings open. Pocket doors don’t take up any space. And they are easy to open for people who use wheelchairs or walkers.

How Do They Work?

To install a pocket door, you’ll need to have wall space right next to the doorway where the pocket door will go. The wall space should be the same size, or a bit larger, than the doorway you want to cover. That’s because the door will go inside that wall. The space inside that wall must be free of barriers like plumbing, electrical outlets, and heating ducts.

Install the frame for your pocket door before you put up the drywall in your bathroom. If it’s too late for that, you could mount the door on the outside of your wall. This door will still work fine. It just won’t disappear from sight when you open it.

The cage for your pocket door includes the track that your door will slide on as it moves in and out of the wall. It also has nylon wheels – about 8 or 10 of them – that help the door slide smoothly on the track.

When you go to the store, ask for a pocket door kit. This kit will include the frame and hardware you need to hang the door. You buy the door separately. Any door will do, as long as it’s at least one inch thick and not thicker than 1¾ inches.

Popular Features

A pocket door is only as reliable as its parts. So pay attention to these features:

  • Ask for ball-bearing wheels. These make a pocket door easier to open and close.
  • Make sure you can replace your wheel tracks and wheels without opening up the wall.
  • Make sure the kit you buy will fit the door you choose. Most hardware can handle doors that are up to 9 feet high and don’t weight more than 150 pounds.
  • Look for a kit that has a quick-release device. This will let you take the door off easily if you want to paint or repair it.
  • Get pull handles for the door. They will be easy to grab when you slide the door in and out of its pocket.

Showers

  • There are many people who can’t recall the last time they took a bath. They don’t plan on taking another one anytime soon, either.
  • These people aren’t dirty. They don’t smell bad. And they actually do wash each day. But they are not soakers. They are shower people. And, they’re proud of it.
  • There is one problem, though. Most shower people still own bathtubs. Most of them still take showers in those bathtubs. And those bathtubs aren’t always the safest places to be.
  • Are you a shower person? Does the rest of your family feel the same way? Then maybe it’s time to get rid of that old bathtub once and for all.
  • Ready-to-Install Showers
  • Trading in your tub for a walk-in shower is easier than you think. Most bath stores sell showers that come in one ready-to-install unit. Buy one shower and you get everything you need. The shower walls and floor are already there. They are molded from one piece of fiberglass. All the plumbing fixtures are right where they should be. You just add the plumber.
  • Some of the newer shower models will fit in the space where your bathtub used to be. They even have a drain that lines up with the drain on your bathtub. This means your plumber won’t have to move your pipes. Other shower models will need more space than your bathtub takes up now. A shower that is made for a person in a wheelchair will take up even more space.
  • Safety First
  • Shower units have a low lip that keeps water from running onto your floor. This low lip means that it’s easier to get in and out of the shower. You don’t have to step over a high wall like you do in a tub. That’s easier on your legs. And it lowers your chances of falling or losing your balance. Roll-in models don’t have a lip. That’s so people in wheelchairs can get in and out easily. These showers have other devices that keep water off your floor.
  • You can fill your new shower unit with many tools that will help every family member stay safe. Grab bars are a must, of course. In addition, make sure your shower unit comes with a seat. This seat attaches securely to the wall of the shower. Pull the seat down and you can sit while you shower. Push the seat up against the wall and it will be out of the way if a family member wants to stand.
  • And don’t forget to add a hand-held shower. This device looks like a regular showerhead, but you hold it in your hand. It connects to your water supply with a long hose. You can use this shower to wash while you sit in your shower seat.
  • Fixing Up an Old Shower
  • Do you already have a shower in your bathroom? Fix it up to make it safer to use. Install grab bars. Add a shelf in an easy-to-reach place to hold shampoo and soap. Get a hand-held shower. And consider buying a seat that you can mount on the wall of the shower. Just be sure that you attach the shower seat to the wall studs. Otherwise, it may pull away from the wall when you sit on it.

Sinks and Vanities

  • It’s hard to improve on the plain old bathroom sink that you find in most public rest rooms. They’re not fancy like most of the sinks you see these days. They mount on the wall and have a very simple design. And that’s why most people can use them easily.
  • Put one of these sinks in your home and you can hang it at any height that is right for you. That’s usually about 34 inches above the floor. This lets every family member to use the sink, even if they have to sit down when they wash. You’ll have plenty of open floor space under this sink. That makes it easy to keep the area clean. It also helps people in wheelchairs pull up close to the sink so they can use it better.
  • Plain sinks aren’t perfect, or course. In fact, they have one big problem. They give you very little space to rest soap or other toiletries while you wash. You’ll play a daily game to see how much “stuff” you can crowd onto the little ledge at the back of these sinks. Sometimes, that stuff will fall into the sink with a crash.
  • Bathroom designers have worked hard to solve this space problem. That’s how they came up with the vanity. A vanity is a sink that sits in a small countertop. This counter lets you spread out your toiletries for easy reach. A cabinet under the sink lets you store even more.
  • But guess what? Vanities aren’t perfect either. Their biggest drawback? They have no open space under the sink. That means people in wheelchairs can’t get near them.
  • New Sink Designs
  • New designs are starting to combine the open space of the sink with the storage space of the vanity. One model has a sink and counter that mounts on the wall. You put this unit at a height you like. It provides clear space underneath for a wheelchair user. And you’ll be able to spread out all your bathroom gear on the counter.
  • Another new model looks a lot like a desk. It has a counter and clear space under the sink. Plus, there are drawers on either side of the open space to store your gear. Use pull handles instead of knobs and those drawers will slide open with ease.
  • All the Trimmings
  • No matter what sink you choose, you’ll need to buy sink fixtures like faucets and handles. Keep the number “one” in mind when you go to the store. Choose one faucet, not two. And pick one handle to turn on the tap, not two. That way, you can turn on both the hot and cold water with one hand. Use a handle that has a lever. It will be easier to grab. Choose an extra long lever handle and you will be able to turn on the tap with an elbow or an arm.
  • Want to get fancy? You could add a motion-sensing faucet. A sensor on this device turns on the water when you put your hands under the faucet. Move your hands away, and the water turns off. There’s no need to reach or grasp.
  • Take steps now to make sure that no one gets burned at the bathroom sink. Turn down your water heater to 120 degrees. Buy an anti-scald device. These devices make sure your water never gets too hot. Ask your plumber for details.
  • The Sink Area
  • Put your sink or vanity next to a wall. Use the wall to mount a medicine chest, towel rack and a few electric outlets. Make sure all of these items are easy to reach for a person who is sitting down.
  • You can also improve your sink area by adding a mirror that tilts. Stand in front of the sink and you can tilt this mirror upward for a good view. Sit down in a chair and tilt the mirror downward to shave or put on makeup.

Toilets

  • Right now, everyone in your house can probably use the toilet by themselves. But that may not always be the case. Your teenager could sprain his back. Some day, you might have pelvic surgery. Your mother could break a hip. All these events could make it hard for someone to use the toilet alone.
  • Do you feel ill at ease just thinking about needing help to use the toilet? Then plan ahead. Make some changes now so that your bathroom will remain the private place you want it to be.
  • Elevated Toilets
  • First, take a tape measure into your bathroom. Measure the distance from the top of the toilet seat to the floor. Is it 14 inches? Many are. That toilet may be too low for you. A toilet that sits 17 inches from the floor is easier to use.
  • Toilets that sit high off the ground aren’t just for public rest rooms. They are now showing up in private homes too. These toilets put less strain on your legs, knees, and back. Tall people find them easier to use. And some people say that they work better. The water in the toilet is deeper, so it flushes better.
  • If you think raised toilets feel a little too high, check out new toilets that hang on the wall. You’ll be happy to put these toilets at a height that works best for you. The new design will also please the person who cleans your bathroom. Having the toilet off the floor makes cleaning this area a breeze.
  • When you buy your new toilet, pick up some grab bars at the same time. Put these grab bars around the toilet area. The grab bars will help you sit down on the toilet and get up again. Look for grab bars that pivot on a hinge. You can pull these grab bars close to the toilet for a family member who needs support. Then, push them away so they don’t get in the way of another family member.
  • Redoing your bathroom? Leave at least 18 inches of free space at the front of the toilet. Leave at least 42 inches of floor space on the side of the toilet. This extra space will help a person in a wheelchair move to and from the toilet.
  • Living with the Toilet You Have
  • Not in the market for a new toilet? Ask your plumber to put a small platform under the toilet you have. This will make it higher. You can also buy a seat that raises the height of your toilet. The seat rests on top of the toilet you have. Look for a seat that attaches to your toilet with plastic screws. This seat won’t move or slip when someone sits down. And, you can take it off the toilet if another family member doesn’t need it. This kind of seat can raise your toilet seat by 4-6 inches.
  • Some people have trouble reaching certain areas of their body. This makes it hard for them to clean themselves after they use the toilet. Buying a special bidet seat for your toilet can help. These seats fit under the toilet seat. Push a button to turn them on. They’ll deliver a warm water wash and air dry to private areas.

Cabinets and Drawers

Imagine you need something from the top shelf of your kitchen cabinet. If you don’t get it down – and do it soon – dinner will be ruined.

What will you do? Climb on a step ladder? Stand on your tip toes? Stretch your arms as far as they will go? Wait for someone who can help? Sounds like you could be asking for a bad fall – a broken dish – or a very late supper.

There is a better way. But you’ll have to start looking at your storage space in a whole new way.

Breaking the Rules

There’s no magic rule that says kitchen cabinets have to be out of reach. In fact, the cabinets that hang above your counters should only be 48 inches from the floor. That’s 12 or 15 inches above your countertop.

How do your cabinets measure up? Are they too high? If they are, don’t let it get you down. You don’t have to replace them. Instead, take some simple steps to bring them – or at least what’s in them – within your reach.

First, move items that are hard to reach. Store pans, mixing bowls and platters in the cabinets that are below your counters. Put up a peg board on your kitchen wall. Use hooks to hang your pots and pans there.

Get a rolling cart with pull-out drawers. Use it to store items you use all the time. Roll this cart around the kitchen so your tools are always close at hand.

Put a shelf right below one of your upper cabinets. Use this shelf to store some of the things you want to move from your upper cupboards.

Still not enough space? Then think about buying a device that actually brings a whole set of shelves right to you. These shelves rest in your upper cabinet until you grab a handle on the shelf frame. Then, a set of three or four shelves swings out of the cabinet and down toward you. The shelves lock in place so you can get the item you need. Give them a tug and the whole unit swings back into place. Ask for “pull-down shelves” at your hardware store.

Make Your Cabinets Work for You

Think about removing the doors on your cabinets. Or replace the doors you have now with glass. You’ll be able to see clearly where you stored everything. You won’t waste any more time or strength looking for things in all the wrong places. If you can’t replace your doors, then replace the handles. Handles that look like a “D” are easier to grab than round knobs.

Add a Lazy-Susan to a deep shelf or a corner cabinet. This flat, round tray spins around easily. Give it a turn and you can easily bring items from the back of your cabinet to the front.

Are you Remodeling?

If you’re planning to replace your kitchen cabinets, keep these things in mind:

  • Hang your upper cupboards 48 inches above the floor. Place your lower cabinets six inches above the floor. This way you’ll do less stretching and bending.
  • Check out some new cupboard designs. Motorized cabinets move up and down the wall with the flick of a switch. Height-adjustable models attach with hooks to a rail that you screw into the wall. Put the cabinets right where you want them. Move them later on if you want them higher, or need them lower.
  • Make sure your cabinet shelves are no more than 10 inches deep. Otherwise, you may have trouble reaching the back.
  • Try cabinets with magnetic latches. People with weak hands and arms can push on the outside of these doors to open the cabinet.
  • Choose shelves that slide out of your lower cabinets. And, ask for “full extension” drawers” that pull out further than standard drawers. With these helpers, you’ll be able to reach whatever you need. You may even find things that have been hidden for years!

Cooktops and Wall Ovens

Betty Crocker first put on her apron in 1921. Back then, no one had ever heard of universal design. So Betty didn’t think twice about stirring her sauces on a stove that was 36 inches off the floor. She thought everyone was strong enough to slide heavy pans into ovens that were no higher than their knees.

Things are different now. You don’t have to settle for the kind of stove your mother used. Instead, you can buy a cooktop and a separate oven and put them where they work best for you.

A cooktop consists of two or four electric burners. Install it on a counter that is 32 inches from the floor. Would you like to sit down while you cook? Leave knee space below the counter so you can pull a chair in close. That space should be 30 inches wide and 27 inches high. You can also put your cooktop on a kitchen island. Then, you’ll be able to reach it from both sides.

Your oven doesn’t have to be right near your cooktop. Mount it in a kitchen wall so you won’t have to bend or stretch. Get rid of the type of oven door that you open from the top. Choose a door that swings to the side like a microwave. This door will help you get closer to the oven when you take foods in and out. And, you won’t have to lean across a hot door to test a cake or baste a turkey.

Problem Design

Chances are the controls on your stove are all at the back. This means you have to reach across hot burners whenever you want to change the heat level. You’ll burn yourself if you’re not careful. Don’t wear a robe or other bulky clothes when you cook. You could catch a sleeve on fire.

Take a good look at the knobs that you use to turn on your burners. You probably have to grasp and turn these knobs at the same time. That’s not an easy task for someone with arthritis – or even someone with greasy hands.

Keeping those knobs clean is no picnic either. The grease gets into places that a sponge just cannot reach. You’ll have the same problem cleaning around your electric coils.

New Features Offer Solutions

New cooktops and ovens come with many features that make them safer to use – and easier to clean.

  • Look for cooktop burners that sit below a smooth, glass top. These burners look at lot better than your old electric coils. You clean the glass top – not the coils. That’s much easier to do.
  • Choose controls that sit at the front or side of the cooktop. And look for burners that aren’t set in a straight line. With these features, you won’t have to reach across hot burners to turn up the heat or stir a pot at the back of the stove.
  • Ask about push-button controls. It’s much easier to push a button than to turn a knob. These buttons are also easier to clean.
  • Buy a cooktop with a heat indicator. This light reminds you when the burner is still hot. The light goes out when the burner cools down.
  • Make sure your cooktop and stove are easy to read. Find a model that uses different colors to tell you which parts are hot and which parts are cool. Look for displays that use big numbers that you can see from across the room. And, check out the instruction book. Large type and simple sentences can help you find answers quickly.

Countertops

  • It’s hard to make a good meal without a good kitchen countertop. So why do we settle for counters that don’t help us do our best work? Small or cluttered counters don’t give us the room we need to be creative. Bad lighting makes it easy to make mistakes. And when counters are too high, some cooks can’t use them at all. There are ways to make your counters bigger, brighter, and safer.
  • Counter Height
  • You want everyone to chip in and help with dinner, right? That includes your grandchildren and your parents too. So, do yourself a favor. Give everyone a work space that fits them to a tee.
  • It’s okay to keep most of your counters where they are. That’s about 36 inches from the floor. But add at least one counter that is 28″-32″ high. Children will love working here. You’ll find it easier to chop and bake at this height. And someone who needs to sit while they cook will be thrilled to have a nice place to work. Just make sure there’s enough knee space under the counter to pull up a chair or wheelchair. That knee space should be 30 inches wide and 27 inches high.
  • Not ready for a new counter? Get a pull-out cutting board. Install the board in your lower cabinet. Push it into your cabinet area when you’re not using it. Pull it out and you’ll have great place to chop an onion. It’s also a good place to work while you sit down.
  • Have some extra money to spend? Try an adjustable countertop. These counters move up and down at the push of a button. Some move when you turn a crank. Every cook can quickly move this counter to the height that is best for them.
  • Clutter
  • You don’t have to spend much money to clear the clutter on your counters. But you will need to be ruthless.
  • It’s simple, really. Pick up every item on your counter. Then, find someplace else to put it. Get rid of the clock that’s taking up counter space. Buy a new clock and hang it on the wall. Get a coffeemaker that hangs right under your cupboard. Put up shelves to hold mixers and other bulky tools. Move recipe books to their own bookcase. You’ll soon be surprised at how roomy your counters really are.
  • Safety Issues
  • Countertops that have a good design can help you steer clear of many kitchen hazards. Poor lighting is one of them. It can lead to eye strain and accidents. Are you working in the shadows most of the time? Install lights under all your cabinets. You’ll brighten up your whole work area. Your eyes will feel better. And your work space will be safer.
  • Be sure to choose counter edges that are rounded, not sharp. This will help reduce the injuries if someone falls in the kitchen. In addition, the edge of your countertop should be a different color than the rest of the counter. Pick a color that really stands out. That way, people with poor vision will be able to see clearly where the counter ends. Fewer dishes will spill and break.
  • The type of surface that covers your counters can also make them safer to use. Choose countertops that are smooth enough to let you slide heavy pots and pans from your cooktop to your sink and back again. And put a heat resistant surface on the counters that are near your microwave and cooktop. You can rest hot dishes on this surface when you take them from the oven. You won’t melt the counter – or burn yourself.

Dishwashers

  • How much would it take to make dish washing easier? Only about eight inches!
  • It’s simple. Raise your dishwasher eight inches off the floor and you’ll feel like you have cut your dish chores in half. You won’t have to bend and stoop so much, and that will make all the difference. While you’re at it, leave a space next to the dishwasher where you can pull up a chair. Then, an older relative can sit down to load and unload dishes. Or, a family member who uses a wheelchair will be able to help with kitchen chores.
  • Are you shopping for a new dishwasher? Keep these ideas in mind when you go to the store:
  • Look for button controls. Some dishwashers have a large knob that you have to turn to start the wash cycle. These knobs are hard to handle for people with small hands. They can be impossible for those who have arthritis. A plastic pad with push buttons is a better choice.
  • Take your dishwasher shelves out for a spin before you hand over your money. Make sure you can slide them in and out without any trouble. You need to be able to pull each shelf all the way out, even when it is full. That’s the only way you’ll reach every dish.
  • Go for a quiet dishwasher. Buy an “ultra quiet” one if you can find it. These washers won’t get on your nerves. You’ll still be able to talk on the phone while they do their thing. Is there a family member who has trouble hearing over background noise? He or she will like the quiet model too.
  • Why Settle for Average?
  • Try thinking “outside the box” when you go shopping for a dishwasher. It might help you find a unit that’s best for you.
  • Have all the kids moved out of the house? If so, why not buy a smaller dishwasher? It will use less water and power. It will take up less space. And, you can put it wherever you want. Try it on a countertop. Or, mount it on the wall at a comfortable height. You’ll never have to bend over to get a clean fork.
  • Some dishwashers fit into what looks like a regular kitchen drawer. You load these “dish drawers” by sliding them out of your cabinet. If one is too small, buy two! A unit that has two drawers holds as many dishes as your old washer.

Kitchen Sinks

It’s pretty easy to get used to a bad design. The kitchen sink is a perfect example.

We don’t yell when we have to fill a pasta pot with water and then lug it to the stove. We’re used to hanging on to a soup pot in one hand while we turn on the tap with the other. We don’t even complain when we can’t turn round faucet knobs with soapy hands.

It doesn’t pay to get mad about these flaws. But taking a good look at what’s wrong with your sink might help you fix it.

Stop the Bends (and Stretches)

How deep is your sink? Did you know the sink should be no more than 6½ inches deep? If it’s deeper, you may be bending over a lot more than you need to.

You may also be stretching too much if your faucet is still at the back of your sink. Think about moving your water controls to the side of your sink instead. Your grandkids will be able to help with the dishes. And so will someone who uses a wheelchair.

By the way, wheelchair users will need some clear space below the sink so they can pull up close to the sink. That knee space should be 30″ wide and 27″ high. You may also need to move the hot water pipes back toward the wall. Otherwise, the person could burn his or her legs.

Stop Heavy Lifting

Tired of carrying pots full of water from the sink to the stove? Ask your plumber to put a spray hose next to the faucet. Buy an extra long hose – one that will reach all the way to the stove. Put the pot on the stove. Then, fill it with your sprayer. You’ll never lift heavy pots again!

Consider getting a garbage disposal that rinses food waste down your sink. You might like to have a trash compactor too. These kitchen helpers will cut down on the amount of garbage you have to haul to the trash can and the curb. Just make sure all the switches are easy to reach.

Look Ma. No Hands!

There’s hardly anything you do in a kitchen that doesn’t involve your hands. It’s time to give those hands a break.

First, change your faucets. If you have two faucets at the sink, tell your plumber that you want just one. Then you can turn on both the hot and cold water with one hand. Ask the plumber to put a lever handle on the faucet so it is easier to grasp. Put an extra long handle on that faucet and you can turn on the tap with an elbow or an arm.

If you need both hands free at the sink, get a pedal valve. This valve sits on the floor. It lets you turn on the water with your foot. This device comes in handy when you’re already using both hands to hold a pot.

Some Don’t Like it Hot

More than 5,000 children and older adults are burned each year from water that’s too hot. It takes only 130 degrees to give you a water burn you will never forget. Most water heaters are set at 140 degrees.

Test your water today. If the temperature is more than 140 degrees, you need to act. First, turn your water heater down to 120 degrees. Second, think about buying an anti-scald device for your sink.

Anti-scald devices make sure your water stays only as hot as you want it. Some devices shut off your water if the water temperature gets too hot. Others adjust the mix of hot and cold water coming from your tap. This way, your water temperature will always stay at a safe level. Ask your plumber for details.

Microwave Ovens

Who could live without a microwave? Not many of us. They heat foods quickly. They are easy to use. They are cheaper to run than a regular oven. And they are very useful for people who need extra help in the kitchen.

Do you know a forgetful cook? Buy him a microwave. These ovens turn themselves off, so your friend won’t burn a meal that slipped his mind. Does someone you know use a wheelchair? She’ll like the fact that her microwave sits on a low counter where it is easy to reach. Does a family member have weak arms or hands? He or she will be pleased to find out how easy it is to use a microwave’s side-swing door.

Where’s your microwave?

Buy a new home and you’re sure to find a microwave inside. But chances are someone has put the oven in the wrong place. Builders love to mount microwaves above the stove or high on a wall. These ovens are hard to reach. And they can be a hazard. They force you to reach above your head to get hot foods out of the oven. Lose your balance and you could burn yourself, break a dish, or both.

Get the most from your microwave. Put it where you can reach it without stretching or bending. The oven should be no higher than 48 inches above the floor. Is your microwave on the wall? Then put a shelf under the oven where you can rest hot foods after they finish cooking. Better yet, put your microwave on a counter that won’t melt if it gets hot. Leave plenty of room on the counter to place hot dishes.

Get an oven with a touchpad control. But don’t get carried away with lots of special buttons and features. Keep your microwave simple. It will be much easier to use.

Safety Tips

Use your microwave with care. Read the manual to learn about common safety hazards. For example, don’t turn your oven on when it is empty. This could damage the inside of the oven. Don’t use your microwave to dry or heat clothing. Those clothes could catch on fire. And don’t use metal or aluminum in your oven. You might see sparks.

Side-by Side Refrigerators and Freezers

Do you need a new place to hide things from your grandchildren? A place to stash small birthday presents until the special day is here? A place to hide candy and other goodies? A place that kids will never find?

Try the freezer.

Your freezer sits on top of your refrigerator, right? Then it’s a perfect hiding place. The children will never be able to reach it. Put your goodies in the back of the freezer and they could stay hidden for years – even from you.

The same features that make freezers good hiding places also make them bad for storing food. Because freezers sit on top of the fridge, some adults simply can’t get to them. A number of these adults are short. Others can’t raise their arms. Many use wheelchairs. And all need a better way to store their food.

Side by Side

Fortunately, not all refrigerators come with a freezer on top. Some units have the refrigerator on one side and the freezer on the other. They are called side-by-side refrigerator/freezers. Side-by-sides, for short.

Each section of a side-by-side has shelves that sit at many heights. The lowest shelf might be a foot or two off the floor. The highest shelf could stand five feet from your toes. This mix gives everyone a chance to reach their food. Children and short adults can use lower shelves. So can people who have trouble lifting their arms. People who have trouble bending can use upper shelves.

Side-by-sides are also easy to use if you’re in a wheelchair. You can open the smaller doors without moving your chair too far away from the fridge. You can reach your food from where you sit. And, the freezer is no longer so far above your head.

Food Storage Features

Having food at the right height doesn’t solve every fridge problem. Small items still get stuck in the back. And large items are still hard to squeeze in. But some new fridges have neat features that make it easy to store food and find it later.

Look for shelves that slide in and out of the fridge. These help you see – and reach – every item you put on the shelf. Folding shelves help you make room for foods that come in all shapes and sizes. Fold a shelf up to make a space for the Thanksgiving turkey. Fold another shelf down to find room for that small dish of cranberry sauce. You make these changes at a moment’s notice. No need to clear off the shelf and then re-hang it.

Shelves that you find on the door of the fridge have always been the easiest to reach. Now they are getting even easier to use. Some doors have special holders for oversized gallon jugs. Others use dividers to keep your food from sliding around or falling out. Have fun with these shelves. But don’t overdo it. The more you store on a door, the harder it will be to open.

Consider buying an ice and water dispenser for the outside of your freezer door. Push a button and you or your grandchild can get a drink at any time of the day or night. Be sure you choose a dispenser that lights up. It will help you see what you’re doing at night or when your kitchen light is dim.

Other Ideas

Side by sides aren’t for everyone. They cost more. They also use more power. And, their shelves may be too narrow to fit a sheet cake or pizza box. If this is important to you, consider some alternatives, like:

  • A refrigerator that has the freezer on the bottom.
  • A smaller fridge or freezer. If the unit is small enough, you could put it on a counter.
  • A stand-alone freezer. Keep the fridge you have and use the second unit to store your frozen foods.
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