Designing Houses for the Disabled Resident
- 1). Determine which disabilities need accommodation.
Different disabilities will require different design approaches. For example, a person with a visual disability will have very different accessibility needs from a person with a hearing impairment. However, if you want to design a house that will accommodate disabilities in general, there are several safety and access features that will benefit almost every disability, as well as children, older adults or the temporarily disabled.
- 2). Read the ADA Accessibility Guidelines.
As part of the Americans with Disabilities Act, a manual outlining requirements for public buildings was created. Find this detailed collection of guidelines for everything from kitchens to bathrooms online on the ADA website. Though residential builders are not under legal mandate to conform to these regulations, these rules are excellent guidelines for designing a safe and accessible home.
- 3). Create your design with ease of use in mind.
Entrances and exits to houses for the disabled are particularly important to design for safety and ease of use. For example, many mobility-impaired people are unable to climb up or down steps and need a ramp to enter or exit their houses. The ADA guidelines have very specific rules for these ramps, which include building them at least 36 inches wide, with a slope of no more than one inch to one foot. Designing a house with gently sloping ramps and curb cuts will help both people with low to no vision and those using canes, crutches and wheelchairs.
Place sinks, towel racks, toilet paper dispensers, soap dispensers and countertops within easy reach. This may necessitate lowering counters in some instances (in the food preparation areas of the kitchen, for example).
- 4). Design the house with safety in mind.
Designing a one-story house with smooth transitions from one room to the other (no sunken living rooms or interior staircases) will benefit both the mobility- and vision-impaired resident. If you are designing a modification, consider adding an elevator or a stair-lift. Make sure floors are smooth (but not slippery) and level. Make doorways at least 36 inches wide to allow a standard wheelchair to pass through. Design bathrooms with hand grips and handrails to assist the disabled to move in and out of showers and baths easily and to negotiate toilet facilities safely.
- 5). Include assistive devices in your design.
For residents with significant hearing loss, install visual alerts for doorbells and telephones instead of audible ringers or buzzers. Braille, large-print or recorded instructions on alarm systems, fuse boxes and home appliances are good design choices for the vision-impaired, while easy-to-manipulate remote control devices for unlocking and opening doors will help many mobility-impaired residents.