Social media marker Disabled-Friendly Homes - Forme Homes

Disabled-Friendly Homes

Woman in wheel chair working at a desk

Full exterior view of lavish custom home with garden bed- Custom design on sloping block YOUR IDEAS. DESIGNED. MANAGED. BUILT. Left side White bracket shape two angles Right side White bracket shape two angles

Disabled-Friendly Homes

One of the biggest challenges for those with a disability is finding a disabled-friendly home that is tailored for people living with a mobility impairment. Known also as accessible or adaptable homes, they can be lived in by anyone, regardless of their disability. Disabled-friendly or accessible homes can be custom-designed or modified to accommodate wheelchairs and mobility issues. Adaptable homes are slightly different as they are built with features in mind that will adapt to become accessible for wheelchair users. Customised or modified homes are giving people with disabilities empowerment, greater choice and control. In this article, we will examine the features of disability-friendly homes, technological improvements and how they can be custom-built or renovated to create a liveable environment for someone with a disability.

Woman in wheel chair working at a desk

What is a Disabled-Friendly Home?

Disabled-friendly homes are homes specifically designed for the needs of someone who has a wheelchair or mobility issue to live independently and safely. These homes have features allowing a wheelchair, or other mobility assisting solutions, to manoeuvre around the home’s interior and have unimpeded access to the external areas. Accessibility features like oversized doors and hallways, ramps, and open-plan living allow those with disabilities to manage independent living and accomplish everyday tasks.

How To Design a Disabled-Friendly Home

Designing a disabled-friendly home means considering everything from the driveway to the interior and backyard area to create a space that is conducive to living with a disability. When building from scratch, thorough thought should be given to all areas to design an accessible home. Here are some things to consider when designing a disabled-friendly home.

Exterior

  • Driveways. Keeping driveways as level as possible will provide easy access from both the street and driveway. Asphalt or cement is easier for a wheelchair to wheel across than loose stones, gravel or tiles. It is worth considering adding about a metre in width to the driveway to accommodate a wheelchair or other mobility aid. Allow extra room for wheelchair access both in front of and behind the vehicle as well. The path from the driveway to the front door must be wide and level for a smooth transition from the driveway to the home entrance.
  • Garages. A wheelchair-friendly garage should have a remote control door and automatic lights. It should be large enough to accommodate a wheelchair-friendly vehicle and access to and from the car. An internal door will need to be wider than standard, and the internal entrance will need to be level or have a ramp built in.
  • Entrance/Ramps. If the home is elevated, the entrance and other external doors will need ramps. Any steps are impractical for those with mobility issues, and ramps provide an effective solution.
  • Paths. Make sure paths around the property are wide enough to accommodate a wheelchair comfortably and unobstructed for clear passage. Make sure paths are well-lit and constructed from solid and non-slip surfaces.
  • Yards. Linking the yard and interior of the home must be done by creating a level transition from inside to outside. Indoor-outdoor living is a growing trend, and some strategies, like keeping the interior and exterior floors at the same level, can also be used to create disability-friendly areas. You can also install ramps if needed to connect the indoors and the yard. Concrete or asphalt is ideal for the yard floor, but you can also have pockets of garden beds and wide, seamless pathways through the gardens.
  • Decks and porches. Make decks or porches accessible from the interior using threshold ramps or a streamlined transition with the same level of flooring inside and out. A glass sliding door, with embedded rails is ideal between the two areas as it is easier to open and close. Traditional wood decking can become slippery, so consider using non-slip decking. Run the planks perpendicular to the chair’s wheels so the wheels don’t get stuck in the decking.

Interior

  • Doors. All doors need to be wider than standard for comfortable wheelchair access. This means ensuring doorways measure approximately 900mm to allow ample room. The wider the door, the better. Traditional swing-hinged doors can be limiting for wheelchair users, so consider using sliding doors with floor-embedded rails for a disability-friendly home. Swing doors open wide and encroach on a room, but sliding doors are streamlined and can have a push button or sensor to open them.
  • Lighting. Good lighting in the proper location makes homes easier to navigate, so consider lighting placement and sources carefully. Types of lighting that are effective for disability-friendly homes are track lighting running on the ground for the length of hallways and motion sensor lighting both inside and outside the home. Supplemental lighting placed around door handles and near grab rails helps those with visual impairment to see essential features more easily. Ensure light switches are placed in accessible locations and at a height of approximately 910mm so the wheelchair user can reach them.
  • Flooring. Flooring is one of the most essential features to get right as it is the foundation that the person with a disability has to manoeuvre. Whichever flooring you choose, ensure it is firm, stable, non-slip, and durable, and helps to avoid potential fall and slip scenarios. Remember that wheelchairs can cause wear and tear, so the flooring must be tough and durable. Some great choices for flooring for disabled-friendly homes include laminate, vinyl, ceramic, cork, and engineered timber. Carpet is one to avoid unless you can find a wheelchair-friendly carpet with a tight weave and low pile. Flooring possibilities for disabled-friendly homes include:
    • Laminate: This flooring has a hard surface fibreboard with a resin top coat. It is budget-friendly, durable, and has a smooth, hard surface for wheelchairs to roll over. The downside is that it is as hard as a ceramic tile and not forgiving if a fall occurs.
    • Vinyl: This flooring is constructed of several layers and is water-resistant and affordable. Vinyl is hard and smooth, making it suitable for those in wheelchairs and with mobility issues. Vinyl flooring is softer than laminate and more forgiving if a fall occurs.
    • Ceramic: The rugged and durable nature of ceramic tiles makes it specifically ideal for wheelchairs and can be a popular choice. However, the hard surface also means no impact absorption, so would be unforgiving. Tiles can also become extremely slippery. So if there is a fall risk, ceramic would not be recommended.
    • Cork: With its soft and pliable nature, cork flooring is excellent for potential falls or slips as it is one of the most resilient materials. It is hard enough for wheelchairs to travel over it. The downside is cork can be damaged easily and is not water resistant.
  • Engineered Timber. The hardwood veneer of engineered timber makes it a good option for flooring for wheelchairs. It is slip-resistant and has good traction but can scratch and dent over time.
  • Hallways. To accommodate wheelchairs, the ideal minimum measurement for a hallway is 1.2m wide. Hallways can be wider if you have the space and want more manoeuvrability in the corridors. With hallways, ensure they are clear of obstacles like tables and coat racks.
  • Bathrooms. Ensure the bathroom has plenty of space to manoeuvre a wheelchair. An accessible bathroom needs to be approximately 1.5m x 1.4m. The floor should be non-slip and level. The toilet should sit at about 460-480mm in height, and the washbasin should measure between 800mm and 830mm above the floor level. Taps and fittings need to be easy to manipulate and within reach. Make sure there are no cupboards underneath the vanity so someone in a wheelchair can use it without difficulty. Install a roll-in shower or a frameless shower with a shower seat. Ensure grab rails are in the bathroom, particularly near the toilet and shower.
  • Bedrooms. Bedrooms for disability-friendly living need to be larger than standard to allow plenty of room for a wheelchair to navigate. When designing bedrooms, remember to ensure the door is wide enough and cupboards are easily accessible in a wheelchair. Built-in shelving and cupboards need to be at the appropriate height for someone sitting in a wheelchair.
  • Kitchen. There are many options for making a disability-friendly kitchen. For one, benchtops need to be lowered to the right height for the person in the wheelchair. Usually, this will measure between 710mm and 860mm. There should be open spaces under the benchtop for the wheelchair to fit underneath. Sinks will also need space underneath for wheelchair users’ legs. Taps can be mounted on the side of the sink for convenience, or you can go for the option of ‘hands-free’ sinks. Any appliances like ovens, cooktops and microwaves need to be built in at a suitable height. Power points must be easily reachable.
  • Living area. As with the other rooms, living areas must also be larger than standard to accommodate wheelchair access. If you are going to have built-in furniture, make sure that it is not going to be a hazard and block room access.
Carpenter leveling the floorboards

Renovating your Home to be Accessible

Renovating is another way to create an accessible home. Instead of building from scratch, you modify your existing home to make it wheelchair and mobility accessible. Follow these examples of how to modify a home to make it disability-friendly.

  • Replace steps with a ramp. For houses with a step entrance, installing a ramp is an easy way to start the transition to an accessible home. You can install a temporary ramp or have a permanent ramp custom-made. Ramps can be used all around the home’s entry points where there are steps.
  • Widen doorways. Doors will need to be widened to accommodate a wheelchair. This means a couple of options. You can remove the door and frame and widen it that way, possibly requiring a registered builder and designer’s expertise. Another option is to install offset hinges and remove door trims, adding about 25 – 40mm of clearance. French doors or sliding doors are another option for a disability-friendly modification. When considering any structural modifications or renovations, consulting with a building specialist is always a good idea.
  • Install a lift. If your home is multiple storeys, the best solution is to install a lift. To create a disability-friendly home, you can choose from a stair lift, a platform lift, or an elevator. Stair lifts are attached to the stairs, but the user has to get out of the wheelchair to sit on the seat. A stair platform lift does the same thing, but the wheelchair actually fits on the platform. A vertical platform lift moves up and down like a traditional lift, while a residential elevator is enclosed and can be used by anyone in the home.
  • Add grab rails. Grab rails are great in bathrooms and kitchens but should ideally be placed in all areas of the home where a wheelchair user may need holding points.
  • Change the flooring. Wheelchair users and those with mobility issues rely on solid, even flooring, so changing the floor coverings will need to be considered if your home is all carpet. Laminate, cork, vinyl, ceramic and engineered timber are good options for an accessible home.
  • Adapt the bathroom. If the bathroom is small, it must be widened to allow for a wheelchair. This means it should be at least 1500mm wide to turn around comfortably and approximately 1200mm in front of the toilet. Install grab rails, non-slip flooring, and a large, frameless shower or shower seat. You may need to invest in a disability toilet which is higher off the ground, or an adjustable toilet frame. The door to the bathroom might need to be widened, and light switches may need to be lower for wheelchair users to access.
  • Adapt the kitchen. When adapting the kitchen, consider the height of benchtops, appliance location, light switch accessibility, cabinetry, sinks and taps. Benchtops may need to be lowered but not all of them. Having one section of the kitchen with lowered accessible benches is suitable. Sinks, taps and appliances will need to be reachable, and cabinetry and shelving may need to be lowered to a comfortable height for someone with mobility difficulties. Stovetop controls should be placed at the front of the stove to prevent the user from leaning across a potentially hot stovetop.

Technological Improvements

The rise of smart home living solutions makes disabled-friendly homes more accessible, comfortable and safe. Technological improvements like voice activation, smart lighting and smart blinds greatly assist individuals with disabilities. Some technologies that are improving disabled-friendly homes include:

  • Smart Thermostat. This is a wifi enabled device that automatically adjusts heating and cooling in the home. You can program heating, cooling, and zoned temperature control from a tablet or phone, which is a convenient addition to a disabled-friendly home.
  • Smart Light Bulbs. Smart light bulbs can be programmed to turn on and off at specified times. They can also be connected to the doorbell and will flash if it rings, which is ideal for someone with hearing or vision impairment.
  • Smart Appliances. Appliances connected to the internet, including refrigerators, ovens, dishwashers, and vacuums, can be operated remotely or with the touch of a button. These smart appliances are ideal for an accessible home as they can be turned on and off automatically. Smart dishwashers will modify the cycle according to the load and turn on automatically, and smart microwaves can be operated with voice commands.
  • Automatic Blinds. A voice command can control these blinds or be operated remotely or programmed to be opened and closed, which is great for anyone with a disability.
  • Smart Security. Devices like smart doorbells, smart locks, smart cameras, and smart smoke alarms are all connected to the wifi. Anyone with a disability can check the security cameras, door locks, and smoke alarms from their tablet or smartphone. Smart door locks can be locked and unlocked with a voice command or button push. There are even video doorbells where you can see the person at the front door and communicate without going outside.
  • Smart Toilets. Smart, accessible toilets are self-cleaning and self-flushing and can be operated via voice command, motion sensors or remote control.
  • Sensor Taps. These taps are non-touch and operated by motion sensors. This means the user does not have to touch the taps to turn on the water. Simply by moving the hands near the sensor, the water starts flowing. Doing this again, turns the water off. This is ideal for those with mobility issues, as there is no need to reach across and turn a tap on and off. Sensor taps can be used in the bathroom, kitchen and laundry.
  • Voice-activated shower. With voice commands, you can turn a shower on and off and adjust the water temperature.
Man on wheel chair using a remote to operate a roomba

New Home Accessibility Standards

In the past 12 months, more thought has been given to designing homes with accessibility features. The NCC (National Construction Code) for 2022 introduced stricter guidelines for liveable and accessible housing which specifies minimum design requirements to enable access for people with disabilities. The Australian Standard AS 1428 provides general guidance on what constitutes an adaptable and accessible home. According to the report, an adaptable and accessible home should:

  • Provide easy access from the car park and street.
  • Provide a step-free continuous path of travel from the car to the entrance.
  • Have at least one level entrance.
  • Have minimal stairs, and ramps where needed.
  • Make sure ramps are compliant with Australian standards.
  • Have access paths that are wide and non-slip.
  • Have a protected entrance from the elements.
  • Have no overhanging branches and plants outside.
  • Provide large enough rooms for manoeuvrability of wheelchairs in and between the living area, kitchen, bedroom, and bathroom.
  • Have easy-to-reach light switches, power points, taps, shelves, benches and cupboards.
  • Have laundry and bathroom facilities that are capable of adaptation to enable wheelchair access.

Disabled-friendly homes are having a profound impact on the independence and quality of life of those living with disabilities. Builders follow strict guidelines to build homes specifically designed for accessibility or modify existing homes with renovations. This article explains what constitutes a disabled-friendly home and how to design, build or modify a home for accessible living. For further information about building a disabled-friendly home, contact the team specialising in custom building at Forme Homes.