For a child with disabilities and mobility issues, an ordinary house can be an obstacle course. Therefore it’s essential that your home is as accommodating to your child as it is to you.
It should be a free space where they are able to go anywhere, and do what they want, without being stopped or fearing injury.
And as your child grows up, it is natural that family routine and even privacy needs change. This will again affect how your family uses the space that is available in your home, explains occupational therapist Salli-Ann Wilson.
So it’s great that there are plenty of products and home modifications that can makes life a lot easier for the whole family. Home modifications simply address environmental barriers that might prevent a person with disability from utilizing, accessing or even entering space (source).Read also: Assistive Devices to Help Make Everyday Life Easier
Three pathways to make your home easier for children with disability
1) Make it wheel-friendly
If your child requires a wheelchair, or other wheeled support devices, the first thing to do is to ensure that your home and its access works for those on wheels as well as feet. Here are some tips:
- Get rid of raised thresholds. In homes where a step down from one part of the house to another is a part of the house design, you can use a triangular step to help fill in this space (source).
- Install access ramps from a parking area, to and from the garden, and around the house.
- If on several floors, think about installing a chair lift (sometimes known as stair glides).
- If you’re rebuilding, or building a new house, think about installing a lift inside your home.
- Choose hard floors, or short carpets – never thick rugs.
- Look at light switches, door knobs, shelving and faucets (taps) – are they reachable from a wheelchair?
- Remember that wheelchairs are wider than most people, so measure up and find out if it’s necessary to widen the doorways.
- Think about your child’s bedroom – the place where he or she really needs to relax in privacy.
2) Adapt your bathroom
The bathroom is the place that often presents the most challenges for children with disability. If your child has trouble sitting or standing on its own, it might be necessary with aids to support the child.
A chair could be the remedy – in particular, an adjustable bath chair, possibly with straps if needed, where your child can sit without fear of slipping. On some chairs, their backs recline, enabling the child to lie down and relax.
For children with greater mobility, installing handles may be enough so they can get in and out of the bathtub on their own. For more affected children, there are advanced options such as bath transfer systems and barrier-free showers – where the child wheels straight into the shower - which remove the need for help and allows him or her to go straight into the shower or bathtub. This is more important when your child grows older and heavier – and also allows them more privacy.
Assess whether you need a free-standing toilet or a raised toilet seat. And anticipate your needs too – lifting a child with disabilities can become increasingly tougher the older they become.
3) Consider the details
The devil is often in the details – but at least this means that they normally can be modified quite easily. Here are some things to consider:
- Install push/pull faucet (tap) handles that are easy to use, not ones that require lots of effort.
- Think about easy grip doorknobs or even automatic door openers in your doors.
- Do you need ‘alert’ devices? Enhanced lighting?
- Look at how hand bars and other standing equipment could help your child stand upright in certain parts of the house – an exercise that helps promote stability and independence.
Consider professional advice. There are now plenty of specialist architects and agencies who will be able to survey your needs and advise on which home modifications and assistive technology, as all individuals with disabilities have unique needs.