Accessible Housing

Accessible Housing

I have never lived in an accessible home, but increasingly I daydream about it. What if I could find a home perfectly equipped to minimize my disabilities from rheumatoid arthritis? What would this mean and what would it look like?

Growing up, my parents updated our home along with my changing abilities:

such as putting in a shower chair and a stairlift to get to the upstairs bedrooms. All these changes were great as they helped me to adapt and be comfortable at home.

While in college, we carted adaptive equipment to make my dorm room and assigned bathroom more accessible. The shower was already large, it just needed a chair. And we also brought a raised toilet seat and raised the height of my bed by placing bricks under the feet to make it easier for me.

When I moved to my first apartment, adaptive equipment came with me and has moved with me a couple times. During the last number of years, my equipment has remained about the same with no new exciting additions.

When we moved into our current apartment I had requested some small changes for accessibility but was denied (which I suspect was illegal, if not inflexible and unfriendly). I had wanted a lever handle for the front door and lever handles to replace the kitchen and bathroom faucets. Thankfully, they did agree to take out the glass shower door when I explained I wouldn’t be able to use it at all if I could not move in my shower bench. When the bathroom sink faucet broke a couple years ago, I was able to persuade them to order lever handles as a replacement. Why not take advantage of the opportunity!

But lately I have been daydreaming about what an accessible home would be like—how it might be nice to really have my home set up without add-on equipment, but rather tailored to my needs. My dream would be a place with universal design, which is the concept of design that embraces the ease of use for all people without needing additional adaptations.

Would universal design help?

Universal design is based on seven principles, encompassing simplicity, ease of use, flexibility, reducing physical effort, enhancing sensory cues, and more. The idea is a beautiful design that is more accessible for all people, from children to older adults and including people with a variety of disabilities or physical limitations.

While my theoretical dream home may have more specific design ideas unique to my needs and interests, I largely think that universal design would solve many of my accessibility challenges in the home.

Features of universal design that most appeal to me, include:

  • Lever handles—For making it easier to open doors and turn on faucets. No gripping (ouch!) required just some pressure that can be applied with even a forearm.
  • Lower (or accessible) light switches—Most homes older than recent construction have highlight switches that are out of reach for children (or people in wheelchairs like myself). Universal design recommends lowering them to a more accessible height and installing dimmers to make lighting more adaptable.
  • Wider doorways—Lots of older homes have narrower doorways, especially for closets and bathrooms. But newer standards recommend wider doorways to allow for wheelchairs and other mobility devices.
  • Plentiful turning space for my wheelchair—I love a little turning room! We picked our current apartment because of the open spaces for turning that give me room to accommodate my wheelchair. But once you have a little room, don’t you often crave a little bit more? Especially in the bathroom—would be so great to have a little more rolling space.
  • Lower counters and accessible kitchen features—Universal design often applies some creative solutions for kitchens, such as counters at multiple heights to suit both people standing and sitting. You could also see a lower height for the stovetop and a roll-under sink that allows for a wheelchair user.
  • Roll-in shower with bench—My dream bathroom would have a large roll-in shower with no step or threshold and a comfortable bench to sit. The best design I have seen installs flat drains strategically and slopes gently to help the water flow.
  • No stairs (or accessible alternatives)—Stairs are difficult and often unnecessary in modern multifamily homes, so I imagine I wouldn’t need them at all! Elevators, lifts or even ground floor living suits me just fine.

As I’ve learned to use adaptive equipment for my rheumatoid arthritis and related disabilities, I’ve experienced first hand how these accessibility tools make life easy and help me to spend less energy. A home with accessible features, like universal design, is another level in making life easier and saving energy.

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