How to Make Your Home Handicap Accessible

A Handicap-accessible Interior

Clear paths of travel through doors and hallways are integral to providing a livable space. Many of the laws and recommendations for doors and hallways are based on the needs of those in wheelchairs. For this reason, it's important to have doors with at least a 32-inch (approximately 813-mm) wide opening. Just as on the entry door, thresholds should be rounded and no more than one-half inch (approximately 13 mm) higher than the floor [source: Bode]. High thresholds can be difficult for not only wheelchair users, but those with canes and walkers.

Hallways should be at least 36 inches (approximately 915) wide [source: U.S. Department of Justice, Americans with Disabilities Act]. If a hallway requires a wheelchair user to turn sharply, it may need to be wider.

All homes have doors and hallways, yet some have another potential limitation: stairs. To make stairs more accessible, all treads, or horizontal parts of the stairs, should be at least 11 inches (almost 28 centimeters) wide, and the edges should be rounded [source: U.S. Department of Justice, Americans with Disabilities Act]. Handrails offer added stability; it's recommended to have handrails on both sides of the stairway and for the rails to extend beyond the first and last stair [source: Bode].

Walk-in closets should have doorways of at least 32 inches (approximately 813 mm) in width, similar to doorways to other rooms [source: Fair Housing Accessibility First]. Inside the closet, adjustable rods can offer the homeowner more options for storage. Pull-down rods on hydraulic hinges allow the homeowner to store clothes high, but bring them down to a lower level easily [source: AARP].

Extra plush carpeting might seem like a great idea, but a wheelchair user can have difficulty maneuvering on it. The Americans with Disabilities Act Standards for Accessible Design recommends that pile should be no more than one-half-inch (approximately 13 mm) thick. Throw rugs aren't recommended because of their ability to shift [source: AARP].

Along with correct flooring choices, tweaks to the electrical workings in a home can offer residents more independence. Outlets should be placed at least 15 inches (381 mm) above a finished floor, while light switches and thermostats should be placed no higher than 48 inches (approximately 1,219 mm) above the floor [source: Fair Housing Accessibility First].