How to Make Your Home Handicap Accessible

Handicap-accessible Bathrooms and Kitchens

­Replacing bathtubs with showers is one of the most common changes made. While walk-in tubs are available, a wheelchair usually can't roll into them. Showers, on the other hand, can be used for those with limited mobility as well as those in wheelchairs. A seat is recommended, and an easy fix for added versatility is installing a hand-held shower head.

For shower or sink faucets, it's a good safety precaution to set the water heater to 120 degrees Fahrenheit (48.8 degrees Celsius) to avoid scalding [source: AARP]. When choosing the type of faucet, think about lever-operated, push-type and electronically controlled options [source: U.S. Department of Justice, Americans with Disabilities Act].

To add stability, install grab bars in both the bathing area and near the toilet. Grab bars are recommended to be able to withstand 250 lbs. (approximately 113 kg) of stress and force [source: U.S. Department of Justice, Americans with Disabilities Act]. This usually requires reinforced walls.

Along with grab bars, a taller toilet can make it easier for those with limited mobility. But be sure to leave enough room around the toilet and sink for the wheelchair. In order to be able to use a sink properly, a wheelchair user needs to have 30 inches by 48 inches (approximately 762 mm by 1,219mm) of clear floor area [source: Fair Housing Accessibility First].

Clear floor space is also a consideration in the kitchen. Kitchen sinks and ranges need the same amount of clear floor area to allow a wheelchair user to roll up and use them with ease. Another accessibility idea is to install multi-level countertops with one level at a height for seated workers and another for those that are standing [source: AARP].

The kitchen appliance industry also offers more accessible design options. Since wheelchair users might not be able to reach the top freezer, a side-by-side refrigerator is a better option [source: AARP]. Ranges with front controls can be helpful for seated operators, but this could be a safety concern for homes with small children. For those with vision impairment, a range with touch or color-contrasted controls might be helpful. Finally, when everyone is ready to clean up, a raised dishwasher can reduce bending when filling [source: GE].

From roll-in showers and multi-level countertops to backyard paths and step-free entries, there are many ways for homeowners to incorporate safe measures into their homes.

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