To plan a handicapped-accessible home, take a “universal design” approach. The majority of features that make a house safe and usable for people with disabilities also benefit residents of all ages and stages of life, from small children to the elderly. Though you will need to include specific structural elements for the disability you are accommodating, you may be surprised at how similar handicapped-accessible home-building plans are to those suitable for the general public.
Entries and Exits
The most essential feature of entryways and exits is safety. For disabilities that decrease mobility (such as the need to use wheelchairs, crutches or canes, along with vision impairments), ramps are usually the best option. Accessibility guidelines developed under the Americans with Disabilities Act give specifics on length, slope and safety features such as handrails, flooring and landings size. For example, the slope of a concrete, aluminum or wooden ramp should not be greater than a one-inch rise to each foot of run, landings should be place at the top of the ramp and at every turn the ramp must take, and handrails need to be smooth, about 34 inches from the floor, and easy to grasp. See the ADA Guidelines for more details.
All exterior and interior doorways should be at least 36 inches wide, and doors should swing in or out easily. Installing lever-style handles instead of conventional doorknobs will help both the mobility-impaired and the homemaker with armloads of laundry. If even more door-opening assistance is needed, a remote-control button may be added on either side of the door.
Kitchens and Bathrooms
Plans for these heavily used areas should also revolve around safety and usability. Flooring should be smooth, level and continuous, without rising or dropping from one area to another. Design kitchen appliances with reachable, easy-to-manipulate, easy-to-read controls. For the vision-impaired or those who have restricted range of motion or little muscle strength in their hands or fingers, touch-screen controls are usually unusable. Installing microwaves, ovens, dishwashers and laundry appliances with knobs and push buttons will make household chores easier.
Place cupboards, sinks, towel racks, paper towel or toilet paper dispensers within easy reach, and install grab bars, spacious showers with low or no thresholds, and baths that can be easily and safely entered and exited.
Include assistive devices in your plans for a handicapped-accessible home. Assess the specific needs of the disabled resident and introduce elements that will help make living in the home easier. This might include audible driveway alerts so the vision-impaired will know when someone comes near the house, along with side windows at entryways low enough for wheelchair users to see who is at the door. Residents with impaired hearing may require visual alerts instead of doorbells and telephones that ring for the same purposes. Grab bars in showers, tubs and entryways help everyone stay safe.
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