Smart Ways to Make Your Home More Accessible

Smart Ways to Make Your Home More Accessible

Additions and Remodels
By Mateos Glen Hayes August 22, 2022

Although we may be living our best lives, and not just materialistically, there are always places to improve. For example, the media has helped us become very aware of issues that our friends, neighbors, and other groups in our communities may be facing that affect their quality of life. However, minority groups exist beyond the colors of race as well; and home designs with accessibility for the disabled should be a conversation we’re “woke” about too.

Reforms and increased awareness are still required to enable the disabled to engage in the fair pursuit of a happy, productive life. For example, April is World Autism Awareness Month, and each year December 3 marks the International Day of People with Disability, but these are also a reminders that we should strive every month to make our world more welcoming to those with varying needs. While certain schools, states, and service centers may be a haven for those living with disabilities, we are still a ways away from equal opportunity and accessibility for disabled individuals to even some of the more basic comforts in life. Many public spaces like restaurants and libraries around the country have gone through disability remodeling aimed at making these spaces accessible to the blind, deaf, those with physical impairments, and children with developmental differences. However, there is still a lot of room for improvement in our private spaces, where disability, aging in place, and autism remodeling are comparatively rare.

Home designs that account for those with disabilities are not as common as they should be.

Home designs that account for those with disabilities are not as common as they should be.

If you’re not drawing up the plans for your home yourself, chances are standard designs do not take disability accessibility into account. A home should be a place of comfort and ease for everyone, regardless of their needs. So we thought we’d share some great suggestions for accessible home design, or simply for your shopping list if you want to make an accessible kitchen or home modifications for your loved ones.

How to Improve Accessibility for the Disabled

Universal Design

Doorways

Fortunately, there has been some headway in accessible home design, and universal design language is a good example of this. Thanks to universal design, many everyday parts of homes — such as door handles, windows, trip-hazard-free flooring, etc. — are being designed to increase disability accessibility

Levi Geadelmann, the senior product manager at Marvin, a building materials company in Minnesota echoed this sentiment: “Universal design is increasingly a mainstay in everything we do, especially when it comes to designing doors and windows that work for anyone in any home. All contractors should consider accessibility in every project knowing it means spaces are more functional and add incredible value both in home equity and occupant wellbeing.” 

Geadelmann also recommended the use of doors frames that allow for larger entryways and low-profile door sills as these would eliminate tripping hazards and make these doorways wheelchair-friendly. He also reminded contractors to consider automatic smart doors when designing a home to be accessible for the disabled. These electrically powered doors are now coming onto the market and can be controlled by voice assistants like Siri and Alexa. 

Automatic smart doors are a primary example of accessible home designs.

Automatic smart doors are a primary example of accessible home designs.

Limit Stairs

Step-free designs are quickly becoming the cornerstone of new public works that incorporate accommodations for disability accessibility. It is becoming increasingly common to see this design featured in public facilities such as airports, train stations, and the like. However, it is also crucial that this feature be carried over to private residences, especially if you want a wheelchair-accessible home. David McCombs, a California-based occupational therapist who writes a blog about his field had some good pointers about how to incorporate step-free features into home designs: 

“The first thing I always tell my patients is to build a home that has no steps getting into the house, no steps into the shower, and no steps throughout the house. Homeowners and remodelers need to plan for the future. That means making doors, hallways, bathrooms, and showers large enough to accommodate a walker, wheelchair, or power wheelchair.”

Curbless showers allow those with mobility issues to navigate the bathroom more easily.

Curbless showers allow those with mobility issues to navigate the bathroom more easily.

Seamless passages are not only a precaution for the elderly but for anyone with sight issues or muscular diseases as well. Even if there is only a slight risk that your loved one may trip due to a rare muscle spasm, mitigating that risk is more than worth it.

Adjustable Furniture

The marketplace of accessible furniture has also greatly expanded in recent years, and there are now many more options available than ever before. As can be expected, easy adjustability is key for furniture to be accessible for the disabled. Accessible furniture should be easy for people to adjust on their own with little to no difficulty. For example, an accessible desk cannot be at a fixed height, but rather must be able to be raised and lowered to accommodate a wheelchair or those with mobility impairments. 

Desks with adjustable heights can comfortably accommodate those in wheelchairs.

Desks with adjustable heights can comfortably accommodate those in wheelchairs.

Ashleigh Saunders, a product specialist at Yassa, a company that produces ergonomic furniture also gave us another great example of how furniture can be designed to be more accessible for the disabled

“Adjustable beds can also be used to improve accessibility for disabilities. The adjustable bed offered by Yaasa is of high quality and offers memory positions, USB ports, and wall-hugging technology. Having a bed that can adjust to one’s needs at the touch of a button eliminates the need for lifting poles, aids posture and support, and can make climbing in and out of bed more accessible. The remote is wireless allowing an individual to keep it near them, removing any possibility of loose cords. Products that can be used to make accessibility easier are needed and important.”

Adjustable beds enhance accessibility for PWD while minimizing the risk of accidents.

Adjustable beds enhance accessibility for PWD while minimizing the risk of accidents.

Accessible Home Design and Autism 

Beyond how accessible for the disabled all parts of a home are, the design, sound, and functionality features of a home (and not only) play a large role in how individuals on the spectrum might feel in their own home. Things like the sound of shutters going up and down may seem insignificant to many but can cause unsettling bouts of anxiety and discomfort to others. The answer then is to design a home that minimizes sensory stimulus in everyday life to avoid overwhelming a child (or adult) on the autism spectrum. Fortunately, making a home design friendly to a child on the spectrum needn’t be difficult or expensive. 

Clutter-Free and Ultraorganized

The first thing you can do is declutter your home. An easy way to do this is to organize the stuff in your home into the things that are “must-haves”, and the things you “can live without”. “Must-have” in this context means something that is used every day and is therefore needed in your home, whereas “can live without” refers to the various trinkets and items that sit in your home and are rarely if ever used. By simply filtering out the “can live without” you can drastically declutter your home. This often requires being strict when it comes to throwing stuff away, but the results speak for themselves. A clutter-free home is crucial for both reducing stress for those on the autism spectrum and improving accessibility for the disabled.

A clutter-free living space reduces stress for family members on the spectrum.

A clutter-free living space reduces stress for family members on the spectrum.

To go the extra mile in your decluttering efforts, the items left behind after your purge should be stored neatly. Some unimposing cubbies and storage boxes are excellent examples of accessibility for PWD because they allow you to both declutter and store your stuff in pleasant little compartments. Remove hanging objects from the walls of the child’s bedroom, and try to keep neutral decor and colors throughout your home. When it comes to home aesthetics, a minimalist look is generally what you're aiming for. For a child on the autism spectrum, these changes make a major difference because they reduce overstimulation.

Soundproofing and Reducing Light

Many children on the autism spectrum are especially sensitive to noise. For this reason, loud appliances and loud street noise are both things that must be abated to reduce stress and anxiety. Happily, the solutions here are also simple and affordable. Installing heavier doors, as well as quieter washing machines and dishwashers can reduce overstimulation, as well as putting in soundproofing in your home.

Sensitivity to light is another thing that must be considered since this also affects many children on the autism spectrum. This is the reason you should have neutral, soothing colors in your house, especially in the bedroom of a child with autism. Remove excessive lighting from their bedroom as well, and if the bedroom has a window, install shades so you can keep the sun out — preferably automated to allow for accessibility for the disabled. Any harsh fluorescent bulbs should be replaced with LEDs designed to provide a warmer, softer glow.

Keeping the brightness at a moderate level is important as those on the spectrum tend to be sensitive to light.

Keeping the brightness at a moderate level is important as those on the spectrum tend to be sensitive to light.

A Safe Space

When all is said and done, a child with hypersensitivity to sound and light will need a space where those two things are muted. So, create a nook for your tyke that is essentially a safe space with activities, games, and relaxation items that have textures, sounds, and colors that are pleasant to your child. This can be a place where your child can go if they become overstimulated, and it can even be a place where you can hang out together. We’re not talking about anything especially complicated here. For a child on the autism spectrum, a safe space can mean something as simple as their bedroom, or even a tepee they can crawl into. But it can also be an activity room with a cushioned surface, a sandpit, a crafts table for textured fun, and more.

Activity rooms for children on the spectrum can be excellent for sensory development.

Activity rooms for children on the spectrum can be excellent for sensory development.

Accessible Home Design and Adults on the Spectrum

As with a child, an adult on the spectrum will require similar accommodations to avoid overstimulation. That means restrained lighting and muted sound but on a bigger scale. Accommodating an adult on the spectrum means designing the entirety of a home to suit this purpose, rather than just a bedroom or safe space. The majority of adults on the spectrum do not currently live independently and receive residential care from family members. But family members can’t live forever, so a home must be designed to account for this eventuality — as with accessibility for the disabled. A home that accommodates adults on the spectrum needs to be one that they can use every day without being overstimulated. They need to be able to cook a meal without feeling under siege in their kitchen and use a bathroom without becoming stressed out due to the buzzing of a loud fan. 

As with children, there is no one-size-fits-all accessible home design that will fit every adult on the autism spectrum. Everyone is unique, and this is even more so the case for those on the spectrum. Instead of an umbrella approach, an ADA-compliant home must be designed on a case-by-case basis to properly accommodate an adult on the spectrum. Unfortunately, we do not currently live in a world where every community (or even most communities) sports plenty of homes with accessibility for the disabled

Nevertheless, we can and should do more so that there are more ADA-compliant homes in communities throughout the United States. We can start by having a more thorough question-and-answer stage with your contractors: your contractor should take a lot of personalization into account when building a home according to the specific preferences of your loved one. 

Designing ADA-compliant homes on a case-by-case basis is preferable to an umbrella approach.

Designing ADA-compliant homes on a case-by-case basis is preferable to an umbrella approach.

A home that is designed to accommodate those on the spectrum should have several qualities. It must reduce overstimulation for those that are sensitive, be predictable in how its appliances and devices function, and must also be ergonomic and intuitive.

Home designers should refrain from giving a home a fortress-like or institutional look by avoiding tall imposing walls. For those on the spectrum that are sensory-seeking, facilities that encourage physical interaction should be provided. Other examples of accessibility for PWD have raised garden beds since they give sensory-seeking people with autism the chance to touch, smell, and work with plants. Storage solutions in accommodating houses should be designed to be simple unobtrusive compartments. 

A home security system is a great example of facilities that promotes comfort and quality of life.

A home security system is a great example of facilities that promotes comfort and quality of life.

We have a real need for residential facilities that accommodate these requirements. The availability of such homes for an adult on the spectrum could greatly increase their independence, comfort, and quality of life. So as we continue to raise awareness about autism, let us also raise awareness about the need for housing solutions that take the needs of those on the spectrum into account in addition to accessibility for the disabled.

MG

Written by
Mateos Glen Hayes

Written by Mateos Glen Hayes

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