Having spent some years living with the consequences of our first major home renovation to include adaptations for my new wheelchair-user lifestyle, I’m anxious to both repeat my successes and
correct minimise my failures as we embark on our first huge update to what’s become our access-my-home lifetime project.
On review, it actually didn’t take too long to pick out our successes and failures to date – as they are both boon and bane of every single day that we live our life.
Here, in the hope of spreading my pleasures and saving your pain, I’m sharing my Top Ten Tips for Access in My Home, for your consideration in adapting your own.
With the multiplicity of variance in need for assistive devices, homes and finances, I can make no better recommendation than: this is what works for me.
Here are my Top Tips 1 to 4 (I decided ten were too many in one go so Top Tips 6 to 10 will follow in a subsequent blog):
(Note that I am a high-dependency, non-standing, power wheelchair user.)
1. Easy Access: In and Out
The fundamentals are simple – are you able to get in and out of your own home, easily and safely, even on your worst days when vision, weather, body and equipment hate you?
If it’s not as comfortable to roll as it is to walk, spend and adapt or move. Life is too short and full of pain to be outside/trapped in your own home thinking, “Oh crap, now I’ve got to manage this …”
I do have completely level access, front and back, into/out of my home. My rear garden tiles are smooth – lovely for my wheels – but the tiles in my front garden are more … characterful. Not road-drill-like cobblestones but something we’ll do better this time.
2. Easy Access: Up and Down
Need access to more than one floor? Need to move across a split level or uneven floor? Me too.
Lifts and ramps are your friends for this but do note that solutions for up/down wheelchair access need space, investment and maintenance.
If you don’t have space, aren’t prepared for initial costs and ongoing maintenance, or want a more hassle-free life (and who doesn’t), lateral living has got to be the way to go.
But, it’s not for me. I’m the crazy person who loves the sky, high buildings and my Victorian home so I have a side extension that houses a three-floor (it does up to eight) platform lift. My maintenance contract includes 24/7 call-out. An essential cost.
Being stuck in a lift is no fun if someone isn’t coming to let you out … even if it only happens a handful of times in 17 years.
We do look after my lift very well but digital technology has moved on and a major upgrade of the lift mechanics will be happening as part of our project … more on this to follow.
We have no ramps in our home as we decided, in 2001, that levelling the mezzanine on the first and second floor of our narrow house was too big an issue to fix especially because it barred me only from our dressing room and top floor balcony. The lift gave me access everywhere else, other than the storage space in the loft. Like I needed to get up there!
Project 2018 gives me mezzanine Access and new spaces to play with. Exciting. Details will be forthcoming.
We do have one tiled internal slope over the split level between kitchen and dining room which is a permanent fixture and levelling that is in the 2018 project.
All I’d say on ramps, is make any ramp you use a lot, strong, stable, as wide as possible and safe. Factor in weather, weight and width and please don’t forego the aesthetics. Two planks of wood straddling steps does not a ramp make. Not under any circumstance. Ever.
3. Hard Surfaces
We’ve learnt the hard way that wheels do not like carpets – I’m including sofa’s, chairs, beds, wheelchairs, mobile hoists, bath chairs, commode chairs, anything on wheels (and for a chronically ill wheelchair user that can be a lot). It can be back/arm/finger breaking to push and pull wheeled assistive devices across carpets and rugs.
Wheels sink in and catch on edges, corners, raised floor patterns … anything that’s not hard and smooth.
Daisy print rubber flooring in our bathroom: out. The carpet in our bedroom: out. Rugs with pile or propensity to slip and slide: out.
Even our wooden floors are scratched and chipped with the constant rolling and wear … though maybe we should be better at maintenance of these. Wood: use with caution in areas of high use.
For project 2018, we are using high quality stone in high use areas – our huge slabs of kitchen tiles (also in the back garden) have been brilliant. Beautiful wood for moderate/low use areas and better selected rugs for warmth.
In our bathrooms, we will stick with rubber, or similar, as the wheels love it and so do we (so warm, soft and easy to clean) – just no raised patterns this time.
4. Wheel Space
Please, please give yourself wiggle room in anything you design/purpose for your wheels – assistive devices themselves, door widths, door openings, ramps, corner turning, storage and so on.
I see so many suppliers, and non-wheelie people, carefully measuring the width and length of a wheelchair then looking at a space and saying, “That’s fine. It will fit in/through there.”
Well, yeah, if every wheelchair user were more perfect than anyone else, maybe, but …
Driving a wheelchair’s like driving a car. You know how some days you hit the pavement or go up on it or into the car behind. Duh. That’s us too, probably with more actual reason for error. Just a few inches of wiggle room will really keep your Decor looking fresher, longer.
Wheelchairs are like shopping trolleys – mind of their own and mechanics to go with that attitude. If the damn thing is in the wrong position, we need the wiggle room to get right. Turning circles; wheelchair fishtails; insensitive controls. They are what they are.
Those of us in wheelchairs don’t have the physical wherewithal of those who aren’t. If I can’t manage it easily, I will destroy whatever confines me. My wheelchair is built like a ten ton lorry. Tight storage: not a good idea.
Project 2018 for me will include sliding doors, widening doors, pivoting doors, protecting walls, softening corners, creating space for living and storing.
Wiggle room. Need it. Love the wheel space.
And, wheeling on, I’ll be back with Access My Home: Top Tips 6 to 10 in my next blog.
I hope you’ll click to it when it’s up and I wish you good luck, smiles and happiness in adapting your home.
Click the link to see more posts in the Access My Home series.