Our guest writer today is Paul Denikin. After finding out his daughter would have disabilities, Paul and his wife went right to work making their home safe and accessible. Paul offers much wisdom on the ins and outs of DIY home modifications and navigating preparations needed for a child with disabilities. We are so excited to share his valuable experiences!
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Tips on preparing your home for a child with disabilities
Accessibility and ease of movement are essential for children with disabilities. But their requirements go beyond using the bathroom or getting in and out of bed. Children with disabilities need a living environment that’s conducive to learning and creativity, a place where they can pursue new interests and follow their dreams. Your home modifications will depend on the nature of your child’s disability, but the good news is that many are easily doable upgrades that can make a real difference in your child’s quality of life and wellbeing. Begin with the essentials, modifications you know are necessary, and continue looking for ways to enhance your home’s interior based on your budget and long-term goals.
Identify what you can do yourself, and what your budget will allow when it comes to hiring a contractor. You’ll need a readily accessible entrance and exit; hallways wide enough to accommodate a wheelchair or walker; bedroom and bathroom closets that can be entered and reached easily; a modified toilet, sink and shower/bathtub; and the ability to use kitchen counters and appliances. Remember that any modifications you make should be safe, simple and intuitive for your child.
Easy in and out
A home with stairs leading to the front and back door needs an electric lift or ramp (the less expensive option), and handrails to enhance accessibility. Note that a threshold ramp in a doorway could cost as little as $100 but larger ramps, depending on material and size, can cost from $1,000 to $15,000. Exterior and interior doorways should be at least 36 inches wide to accommodate a wheelchair or other mobility aid. If you have a service dog, entryways may need to be a bit wider. A curbless, walk-in shower enables an individual to bathe with little or no assistance, based on their disability. Don’t forget that cabinets and drawers must be easy to get in and out of as well.
Thick plush carpeting and area rugs make it difficult for a child with mobility issues to move around easily. Hardwood or tile floors are much easier to move across in a wheelchair or walker, and reduce the likelihood of falling or getting snagged. Installing new flooring can be a DIY project, though it’s a good idea to consult a contractor or flooring professional before launching into an upgrade that may prove too expensive and require a level of expertise you may not have.
A maneuverable bathroom can do a lot to boost your child’s confidence and self-esteem. Widening the doorway is a good start but most bathrooms are too small for a disabled child to move around in easily. There should be ample room for bathing, performing daily hygiene routines, and using the toilet with ease. If you have a large vanity, it could be an impediment that makes it impossible or difficult for your child to use. Consider replacing it with a smaller fixture, one with leg space and room enough to move around. Make sure that commodes are at an accessible height to minimize the risk of falling from a toilet that sits too high or low. A handicap-accessible bathroom should always include grab bars to prevent falls and aid mobility.
A usable kitchen
The kitchen is the heart of most homes, a space where families talk about events of the day and work together to prepare meals. A few structural upgrades can allow your child to take part in cooking, help with chores and enjoy other activities that your family enjoys doing together. At least one counter should be wheelchair-accessible with enough leg space for free and easy movement, and kitchen cabinets should be set at an accessible height.
A safe, utilitarian space can give your child the self reliance he or she needs to grow into a successful and confident adult. A few well-conceived modifications can make the difference between a frustrating dependence on others and a fully functional and independent lifestyle. Ultimately, self-enablement is the best gift you can give your child.
Written by: Paul Denikin