There are several adjustments you can make to ensure your home is safe, comfortable and accessible.
Your home is a place where you should feel safe and comfortable. But when you or a loved one is living with a disability or an injury, home can become a challenging place. It may be difficult to move around, open doors, reach things you need or complete everyday activities.
Thankfully, there are several adjustments you can make to ensure your home is safe, comfortable and accessible.
Tips for Making Your Home Safe and Accessible
AARP’s HomeFit Guide offers detailed solutions for making your home more accessible for people of all abilities and ages. The guide covers topics such as electrical work, kitchen and bathroom modifications, entryways, closets and much more. Find the tips that work best for you. Some require a good deal of time and money, while others are simpler fixes that can be done with little to no money at all.
- Know the law. There are several federal laws that require private and federally assisted housing to be accessible to persons with disabilities, including the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Fair Housing Act and more. If you live in a multi-family dwelling, public housing or another situation where you may be protected by law, it’s important to know your rights for accommodations and modifications.
- Think about your furniture placement. This is one of the easiest, least expensive ways to make your home more accessible. Take a look at the way the furniture is set up around your home and try to make it more accommodating. For example, people using walkers or wheelchairs need plenty of room to move and turn around safely. People with vision problems may benefit from open spaces and uncluttered hallways.
- Remove rugs or other slippery surfaces. Test the surfaces around your house. For example, rugs that slide or move, thick rugs that buckle or can be tripped over, and slippery hardwood floors all present challenges and may increase the likelihood of a serious fall or injury. Secure area rugs with double-sided carpet tape, place nonslip mats in slippery areas, and remove rugs with corners that can turn up and become hazardous.
- Reduce clutter. Cluttered, tight spaces can be challenging. Do a visual inspection of your home and remove things that take up space that you don’t want or need anymore. This may help the space be more open, safe and accessible.
- Switch out your doorknobs for door handles. When a person has arthritis or difficulty grasping or turning a knob, switching the knob to a longer door handle can make a big difference, making it easier to open and close doors.
- Install handrails or grab bars. You can make bedrooms, bathrooms and other areas of your home safer and easier to use by adding handrails or grab bars. For example, installing a grab bar might be helpful for getting in and out of bed safely. A handrail in the bathroom may make bathing and going to the bathroom safer as well.
- Brighten your spaces. Dim or dark spaces can be difficult for people with a wide range of disabilities. Well-lit, bright spaces can make it safer to go upstairs, into the bathroom and more. Consider using motion-activated lighting outside your home, as well as in the hallways and bathroom.
- Create a ramp. Having a permanent ramp installed can be expensive, but it’s a great way to make entering your home more accessible. Check out the resources below to find out if you qualify for assistance. In addition, you can look into a portable, folding ramp as a short-term, less expensive option.
- Make changes to the kitchen. A kitchen is often the most inaccessible place in the home because of the many fixed, permanent pieces. To start, you can move important everyday items to the lower cabinets or areas of your kitchen. More expensive, long-term solutions include lowering your countertops or purchasing accessible appliances like a microwave drawer instead of an above-the-counter one.
- Lower your closet rods. Typically, a closet rod is up high, often five feet or higher off the ground. If you lower your closet rods, they’re easier to use for those in a wheelchair or who may have difficulty reaching up high. You can also try to use low-profile dressers or open bins to make clothes easier to access.
- Make the bathroom safer. Bathrooms are another space that can be very challenging for those living with disabilities. Consider removing unnecessary clutter to make it easier to maneuver, place nonslip mats in the tub or shower, and install a safety handrail in the tub or near the toilet. In addition, a toilet riser can make it easier to get up and down.
- Take advantage of technology. More and more of our home devices can be programmed to make them easier to use. Depending on your comfort with technology, consider using voice-activated light switches, programmable heating and cooling, voice-activated commands for your TV, and much more. Mobility Works shares several helpful smart devices for people living with disabilities.
- Widen doorways. According to AARP’s HomeFit Guide, doorways should be at least 32 inches wide to allow for a wheelchair to pass through. If you have a doorway that’s just an inch or two short, AARP recommends using swing-clear or offset hinges. A quick internet search can show you what these hinges look like.
- Consider ways to make everyday activities easier. How difficult is it to access and remove the trash from your home? How easy is it to reach everything that’s necessary to do laundry or cook dinner? Think about daily tasks and ways to make them easier. Can you move cooking utensils and everyday foods to an easy-to-reach location? Can you replace a top-loading washing machine with a front-loading one?
- Benefits.gov has information about Rural Housing Repair loans and grants, which are offered to rural homeowners with “very low income” for help removing health and safety hazards in the home, as well as other repairs and improvements. Learn more about the Rural Housing Repair program and eligibility requirements.
- The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) offers several disability housing grants to help military members and Veterans modify their homes for qualifying Service-related disabilities. These grants can help with the types of changes mentioned above, such as widening doorways, installing a ramp and more.
- VA’s Home Improvements and Structural Alterations benefit provides funds for medically necessary home improvements, including accessibility updates to home entrances and bathrooms.
- VA’s Independent Living Services may include housing-related benefits and adaptations to the home to improve independence for Veterans who can’t follow their employment goals because of Service-connected disabilities.
- The National Rehabilitation Information Center has a lot of great disability resources, including resources for military members and Veterans, housing and independent living resources, and much more.
- Your state and local agencies may be able to help as well. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has a state information page that lists housing and home ownership resources for each state, which may include grants and assistance for home repairs. Your city or county government may also have programs that help with home modifications.
You and your loved ones should feel safe, comfortable and confident at home. Start making the changes you need to make your home safer and more accessible for everyone.