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Disability Friendly Home Improvements

Reviewed by: MySeniorCare Staff
Last Updated: 4/13/2010 6:43:26 PM

Most homes just aren't built with the disabled in mind. Unless you are planning on building from scratch and you're a person with a disability then you'll need to retrofit your existing home with renovations that will make your home more accessible to your needs.

While the idea sounds simple enough, it can be a daunting if not impossible challenge for some. Your true comfort level is only defined by your bank account, but retrofitting an entire house can be very expensive for some and out of reach for others.

However, it is possible to receive federal money to help offset the cost and in some cases, completely eliminate costs.

Federal Grant Eligibility

According to the United States Department of Veterans Affairs website, veterans are eligible for a grant to pay for retrofitting of their homes. While this is a great benefit for our veterans, not all are eligible.

The PHFA has a loan and grants available for buying a home and purchasing home improvements in the state of Pennsylvania for handicap accessibility. They also have a wide variety of home loans and other benefits for disabled persons.

Although there are many different programs for many different people and places, most federal, state and even county programs are out there for people in need of economic relief. Once the funds have been allocated, set a budget for each area of your home.

Common Disability Friendly Home Improvements

While a few of the renovations are easy to do, it's probably a good idea to have a professional handicap retrofitting service do the work for you. You'll need to write up a list of must haves before you call a contractor.

Ramps. Begin with deciding what areas need ramps. Not only will the porches need ramps, but sometimes entries to garages, sheds, sunken rooms, step-ups and stairs also need ramps. Also take into mind any humps, dips, cracks or crevices that may need to be repaired, replaced or covered.

Be careful when choosing materials for ramp coverings. An example would be using 5/4 deck board to cover a ramp. While it looks nice, if it gets wet and mold grows, it will become a slick accident waiting to happen. Use only suitable flooring material that provides excellent traction when both wet and dry should be used.

Flooring. Thick carpets, loose rugs and irregular surfaces are a big no-no. Replace thick carpeting with a thinner material. Hardwood floors are generally good, but just be careful of throw rugs that may slide. Use rugs with a rubber backing to prevent slipping.

Around wet surfaces like bathtubs or outdoor walkways, caution needs to be taken. Placing wet/dry grip stickers on many of these surfaces helps to reduce slippage. Use extra care for surfaces that transfer weight from one surface to another. For instance, where a deck transfers through a doorway or when a shower floor opens to a tile floor. These surfaces need to be made to have as much traction as possible.

Kitchen. The kitchen is one of the most overlooked areas when installing home improvements. The most overlooked area in the kitchen: height. It's also one of the most expensive areas to remodel. Kitchen countertops are built to a minimum height of 3 feet tall. But most wheelchairs are restricted to a height of 25-30 inches. This means you'll need to reinstall all of the cabinets in the kitchen to a height of 28 inches.

It also means no more dishes in the upper cabinets. With the upper cabinets eliminated, the lower area is going to be cramped. Use plenty of storage solution hardware such as lazy Susan's and slide out shelves as these help for people in wheelchairs who may have limited reach. And don't forget to have lowered appliances. Knobs on stoves, ovens, microwaves and refrigerators should be within reach. Since the appliances are lowered, don't forget the outlets will need to be lowered too!

Bathroom. The bathroom is a great area to begin home improvements for the disabled. Besides the gripping tape on the flooring for your feet, you also need traction for your hands. Installing grab bars around the tub, toilet and sink help ease the transition between wet areas.

Wheelchairs may not have access in conventional bathrooms. You may need to widen the areas leading to the toilet and bath and wheelchair accessible fixtures also need to be installed. The toilet should be raised, the sink lowered and lower cabinetry should be installed.

While this list covers a broad spectrum of ideas and advice for renovation, it does not cover everything. However, this basic outline should help you get your own home improvement project for the disabled on the right track.

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