Being able to breathe, watch and listen, walk, run, and feel the world around you is an incredible gift we are given. I think I’m right when I say that the majority of us don’t realize how lucky we are just because we were able to wake up in the morning and get up on our own. This gift can be easily taken back and it is sometimes carelessness that deprive us of the ability to fully experience and live our lives.
Illnesses or accidents that are caused by a careless lifestyle are the most common source of permanent heath problems. We seldom realize how fragile we are and how easy it is to get hurt. Careless driving with a lack of focus and concentration have caused many deaths and fatal injuries. Knowing we will spend the rest of our lives in a wheelchair can be traumatic.
Support and love from family and friends are the most important. Even though things will never be the same, we as a family can try and return to a normal life as smoothly as possible.
The disabled in general might have a feeling of being left out, especially in the first weeks and months. They think of themselves as not good enough or not as good as before. They worry they won’t be able to perform their usual duties as before. Men are usually more emotionally unstable then women, they have harder time facing the changes and getting used to the new situation. A feeling of failure and defeat is among the most common feelings. Fear of losing a job is another big issue as well.
It is very important that those feelings and emotions are temporary and will sooner or later go away. As a family member or a friend, the best we can do is keep going, accepting the changes without forgetting that the person is still essentially the same. The most common mistake we make is that we stop treating the person equally. We see him as someone who is unable to function on his own and needs us to help him. The person might need a little help at the beginning but just because he can’t walk it doesn’t mean he can’t cook or play games.
Disabled people need constant encouragement that they are doing well and that they are still valuable company even though they have lost some ability. They need to feel that nothing has changed and we still love them and respect them. These steps are more important than anything else but often forgotten. Make sure that with wheelchair-proofing your home, you also make the life of your disabled family member valuable and happy.
In this section we look closer at what adjustment we need to make to turn our home into a pleasant and comfortable place to be for a wheelchair user. There are things that will come to our minds naturally but some are rather specific and even though they are not necessary they can contribute to an easier life of our disabled family member.
Installing ramps is the first thing that comes to mind. If we live in a house where the doors are accessed by a staircase, we need to have a ramp constructed that a wheelchair user can easily use and therefore come and leave the house on his own without asking other family members for help. The ramp should be build at no more than a 1 to 12 gradient. For every inch in height, you need a 12-inch ramp. The ramp or pathway should be between 36 and 48 inches wide and the railing should rise as high as 32 to 36 inches. It is also essential to make sure that an emergency exit is wide enough for a wheelchair user to use it as well.
Rugs and carpets should be either stuck to a floor using double-sided tape or removed. They are slippery and can cause problems to a wheelchair user when maneuvering around the house. Non-slip flooring should be installed throughout the house to add extra comfort. Wooden or tiled floors are listed among the most comfortable by wheelchair users.
Recently I came across an article written by a wheelchair user in which he listed some of the tips and tricks that he used in his home to make his life on a wheelchair easier. As with everything else, practice makes perfect and each family will find its way around and its own tricks how to help a disabled family member. One of the best and easiest solutions mentioned in the article was tying approximately 63- inch strings to door handles from each side. This will help the wheelchair user to close the door behind him or just slightly pull them without additional maneuvering and turning. It is a little step that costs nothing but made his life much easier.
The kitchen is together with the living room the most actively used place in the house and it therefore needs extra adjustments and improvements. Many kitchens are tiny and it takes some skill for a healthy individual to learn how not to bump into every corner. A kitchen like this would be completely unsuitable to a wheelchair user. He needs at least five feet by five feet of space to turn around . Having an open-space kitchen is the best option, as the disabled person has plenty of space to turn around and move. If you’re planning to invest more into reconstructing your house, it’s worth investing in new kitchen appliances. Go for a model offering a front control panel, as it would be much easier for a wheelchair user to access it. Washing machines and dishwashers with front loading is another option and possibility for improvement. When choosing a refrigerator, buy the side-by-side model. For a better sense, try and sit down on a chair and imagine everything from that perspective. When a disabled family member loves cooking, put kitchen utensils and pans in the lower part of the cupboard and less-used things higher up. Make sure groceries are in shelves easily reachable from a chair as well. If you plan to rebuild your kitchen and you are willing to make the sacrifice of adjusting all measurements according to the disabled family member, bare in mind that the countertop should not be higher than 30 to 33 inches from the floor.
The living room is often a passage to other rooms as well. It is therefore very important to make sure it is always clean and everything is tidied up. We might not realize it but toys or magazines left on the floor or on the side of a sofa can stop a wheelchair user from passing through. Since there is no one actually sleeping and living in the living room it would be best to leave it without doors. Doors can be pretty complicated and they take up a lot of space. Usually a 32-inch minimum distance between frames is advised , although some chairs can negotiate a 28-inch doorway; it depends on the width of the chair. When living in a house where the doorway is small, try removing doors and door frames as well. They can save you one to three inches on both sides. If you decide to keep the doors, change knobs for levers. They are easier to manipulate. They should be approximately 36 inches from the floor.
When you’ve made sure the wheelchair user can easily come in and leave the room, see if she can move freely in the room as well. The same applies here as in the kitchen: a wheelchair user needs five feet square to turn around and at least 32 inches to pass . You should remove all fragile and breakable objects from reach of the wheelchair. Even those who can use it perfectly slip sometimes and bump into something.
Living with a wheelchair user that works from home, make sure the table she uses is appropriate and comfortable. It should have at least 29-inch leg clearance underneath and should not be higher than 33 inches from the floor.
The bathroom is definitely the trickiest room in the house. It is usually very small and the actions performed there require slightly more space than what we have, so when you plan to reconstruct a bathroom, act wisely and strategically. It’s advised to start with a toilet first. It should be around 16 to 18 inches high from the floor and an additional two to three feet of space on one side is needed as well. Various knobs and handles might prove useful as well. The sink should be no higher than 34 inches and preferably open underneath. One lever control is an absolutely perfect solution. The bathtub requires again two to three inches on one side for transfer or a bench. When you live in a wooden house, make sure the wall behind the bathtub can withstand 300 pounds of pressure in any direction. A handle must be placed here and we want to be sure it won’t break. A hand-held shower head would be a very comfortable solution here.
It’s important that you measure the specific wheelchair your family member is getting and adjust the measurements accordingly. There are many different types on the market and therefore the numbers and measures mentioned here might not work for you. They are guidelines.
If one of your family members becomes a wheelchair user, I would advise visiting a wheelchair association. They can help you with everything you might need. Reconstructing or buying a home is a frequent step in families with a disabled member. As far as I know, there are no companies specializing in wheelchair home proofing in Vancouver, but every building company is capable of executing all the changes that needs to be done. It is very important to listen to a wheelchair user: she knows best what would work for her. There is no need for reconstructing a kitchen if the person never comes there and doesn’t cook.
The changes you and your family are going through are significant. Make sure you always talk things through and decide accordingly. Remember, everything gets better and time heals even the deepest of our scars. Stay strong and hope for the best always.