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Magee Rehabilitation offers the following general suggestions for home modifications to enhance independence for individuals with disabilities.

Please note that the ideas stated here present a range of options. Specific recommendations will need to be addressed by a qualified rehabilitation professional

How to improve home accessibility in the:

Kitchen

General Information

An open area of at least five feet should be left in front of each major appliance to allow room for maneuvering a wheelchair.

A portion of the counter should be lowered and clear of cabinetry underneath in order to allow for wheelchair acess to a countertop work area. The height of the counter from the floor should not exceed 30 inches, and it should be 30 inches deep.

Pull-out lapboards or cutting boards at several locations around the kitchen can help bring the countertop out to the wheelchair user.

Electric switches and plugs should be set into the kitchen counter or brought to the front of the lower cabinet face; this will allow easier reach from the wheelchair.

The kitchen table should be about 30 inches high, which is a little lower than the standard but high enough to accommodate a wheelchair. A pedestal base makes it easier to wheel under the table.

Kitchen Appliances

A microwave oven is preferred for safety reasons. If you use a regular oven, it should be hung on the wall at least four feet from the floor.

The stove should be electric with control knobs in the front along the side. An angled mirror should be mounted above the stove so the person using a wheelchair can see into the pots and pans.

The refrigerator should be a side-by-side model, or a freezer-on -top model with a reversible door.

Kitchen Cabinets

Overhead shelves and cabinets should be hung no higher than 4 1/2 feet from the floor. Cabinets should have adjustable shelving, and door pulls should be located in the lower corner of the cabinet doors.

Cabinets below counters should have pull-out drawers and shelves.

Store frequently used and/or heavier items at the user's waist-shoulder height in the front of the cabinet on lower shelves.

Kitchen Sink

The sink should not be more than 5 1/2 inches deep. The garbage disposal should not be below the center of the sink, but should be set off to one side. A single lever control faucet with controls that prevent water from becoming too hot is also recommended.

Bathroom

General Information

How best to make a bathroom accessible depends on the specific physical needs of the user, structural constraints of the building and the financial resources available for remodeling. Ideally, an accessible bathroom should be located near an accessible bedroom.

Doorway
Changes to standard doorways may not be necessary for people who can walk. People who use a wheelchair or other devices for assistance may find some adjustments to be helpful.

Doorways can be made wider by use of fold-back hinges or installation of pocket doors. Moldings can be removed to widen access. Long-levered door handles may be easier to operate for people who have trouble using their hands.

Bathroom Sink

To allow leg room under the sink, most wheelchair-users benefit from removal of the vanity cabinet. A counter-top mounted sink is preferred to provide the needed counter space for frequently used items.

All exposed piping should be insulated to prevent burns and scrapes.

People who have trouble using their hands usually find single-lever or long-lever faucet handles easier to operate. A high-arc spigot may also be preferred.

Faucets that operate with a sensor eye are available and eliminate the need for handles entirely.

Mirrors should be mounted no higher than 3 inches above the sink or counter top for people who use wheelchairs.

Toilet

There is a variety of equipment available to enhance safety when using the toilet. These items range from simple grab bars to specially designed commode chairs.

Each individual needs to work with his or her therapist to determine the most appropriate devices.

Tub/Shower

Commonly used items to enhance safety and independence during bathing include hand-held shower heads and long-handled sponges.

Adaptive bathroom equipment needs range from use of simple tub benches to "roll-in" shower commode chairs. A wooden stool or kitchen chair placed on a rubber mat may suffice for certain individuals.

A shower curtain is usually recommended instead of shower doors.

Controls that prevent water from becoming too hot may be necessary for individuals with limited ability to feel a change in temperature.

Garden

Gardening is one of America's favorite hobbies. A good way to bring the pleasures and therapeutic benefits of gardening to a person with a disability is through container gardening.

Almost anything that you would normally grow in the ground can be grown in a container. Using your imagination, you can recycle containers such as barrels, buckets, beverage cartons or cement blocks. Gardening need not be an expensive pastime.

Plants

The variety of plants that can be grown in containers is endless. Herbs are ideal for containers, as they tolerate hot and dry conditions and do not require much space.

Many seed companies feature miniature or bush varieties of fruits and vegetables that are adaptable to container gardening. Remember, though, that plants dry out more quickly in containers so they will need to be watered on a daily basis during the summer.

Plants requiring lower maintenance, such as flowering perennials and succulents are preferable to annuals and roses which require a tremendous amount of work.

Planting Beds

For outdoor or greenhouse gardening, it is important that no part of the garden be difficult to reach.

Ground beds are quite difficult to manage for persons with most disabilities. Raised beds can be made in varying heights to suit the individual gardener's needs. Raised beds tended from a wheelchair should be about two feet high and no more than four feet wide if reachable from both sides, or two feet wide if reachable from one side.

The greenhouse, tool or potting sheds should be accessible by paths and ramps. Paths should be three to four feet wide and constructed from a non-slip material, such as brushed concrete.

Tools

Short-handled tools are easier to use when tending to raised beds. Rubber-grip handles are preferable. A backpack makes carrying hand tools convenient. For the avid gardener, a wheelchair could be equipped just for gardening.

Many companies make adaptive gardening tools for people with disabilities. They include:

W. Atlee Burpee, 215-674-4915
Clapper's Garden Catalog, 617-244-7909
Gardener's Eden, 415-421-4242
E.C. Geiger, Inc., 215-256-6511
Smith&Hawken, 415-383-4050