Home Modifications for People with Disabilities
According to data collected by the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP), 87% of Americans over the age of 65 indicated they would prefer to “age in place”, or remain in their home as they age. In 2017, the Senior Accessible Housing Act was introduced to the House of Representatives. This act would eventually become law and include a home modification credit for seniors, allowing people over 60 to receive tax credits for “enhancing their ability to remain living safely, independently, and comfortably in the residences.” Essentially, this bill would provide tax credits for people who wish to make modifications to their homes so they can “age in place.” However, there may be a catch - a 2015 survey indicated that only 31% of Americans over age 65 live in homes that are one-story. If you are part of the 69% of Americans who do not live in a one-story home and have a physical disability or limited mobility, aging in place may not be practical.
Aging in Place is an online resource that provides seniors and their caregivers with information on helping seniors stay in their homes as they age. They have put together a comprehensive guide to the Senior Accessible Housing Act. This guide addresses the high costs associated with out-of-home care, what type of expenses can be deducted with the Senior Accessible Housing Act, and home modifications you can make to increase the possibility of actually aging in place.
Are you a senior adult who is preparing to age in place, but haven’t needed to begin making home modifications yet? Have you recently had an aging parent or loved one who was unable to remain in their home because it wasn’t accessible? Wish you knew more about what accommodations could be made to keep your loved one in their home? Keep reading to find out more.
For people with physical disabilities, the following modifications may be helpful:
1. Adding grab rails in high-risk areas, such as bedrooms and bathrooms, provides additional support that may be helpful in preventing injuries associated with falls. As people age, sometimes mobility issues become more prevalent. Adding grab bars in the shower or bathtub is important, as these areas get slippery. Remember to install the bars into wall studs, not just sheetrock.
2. Adding outdoor/indoor ramps make it possible for wheelchair users to get in and out of their homes and move from room to room with ease, but they also eliminate the need to navigate stairs for people who do not use assistive devices, but have balance issues.
3. Replacing traditional faucets for a touchless option may be helpful for seniors with arthritis or with limited or no use of their hands.
4. Updating flooring to securely attached carpet and other slip-resistant flooring options helps prevents falls and other potentially life threatening injuries. The American with Disabilities Act (ADA) guidelines recommend carpet be no more than one half inch thick and that non-slip flooring options have gone through friction testing. Making sure flooring is ADA compliant will help eliminate falls.
5. Replacing round doorknobs with lever-style handles or installing push button door openers makes it possible for people with arthritis or limited or no use of their hands to easily open doors. Swapping out these handles on doors and kitchen cabinets makes things more accessible.
6. Widening doorways and hallways to accommodate walkers, wheelchairs, or other mobility devices automatically increases a home’s accessibility. The ADA provides guidance on the standards for accessible design.
7. Stair lifts may be a good option if you live in a multi-level home. They will allow you to utilize multiple levels in your home and not be subjected to one floor.
8. Adding transfer benches or walk-in showers/tubs allows a person to remain independent while performing self-care.
Adding pull out shelves in closets, kitchen and bathroom cabinets, and other storage areas allows for people to roll up to them and have easier access to items.
You may be wondering what you can do if you have a sensory disability, like a visual or hearing impairment. The same modifications listed above may not work for you. Consider the following instead.
Let’s address the varying degrees of sensory disabilities that may require home modifications – low vision, total blindness, hard of hearing, or total deafness. Low vision is classified as eyesight measured at 20/70 or lower. Typically, people with low vision are able to perceive the difference between light and dark and can recognize forms. The major difference between low vision and blindness is someone who has total blindness cannot see light or forms. Hard of hearing is the reduced ability to hear sounds, while deafness refers to a total lack of hearing.
Home modifications for people with low vision:
1. Adjust the lighting. Add floor or table lamps, use lighting that is 60-100 watts, use natural light where possible, keep flashlights handy.
2. Rearrange the furniture. Try to pick furniture with upholstery to help you differentiate between different pieces, use brightly colored objects near furniture to locate it more easily, keep chairs near windows to utilize as much natural light as possible.
3. Remove hazards to prevent falls. Use non-skid, non-glare products to polish floors, remove low-lying objects, tack down area rugs, install grab bars or rails, mark step edges with yellow reflective tape, make sure all exits are marked with large letters, keep furniture pushed out of walkways.
4. Use contrasting colors. Paint door knobs and door frames a bright color, use solid rugs with no patterns to differentiate between different areas, color-code household items, use color to indicate changes in surface level, avoid using clear glass dishes.
5. Create an organized environment. By keeping your home tidy and everything having its own place, you can eliminate falling or tripping hazards. Using drawer dividers and large, brightly colored labels help keep bills, important documents, and clothing organized.
Home modifications for people with total blindness:
1. Remove hazards and obstacles. Consider installing a voice activated phone system so visitors can announce themselves, keep furniture in same place and avoid redecorating too often, label all medicines and cleaning products with braille letters, update your stove to have different textures to distinguish when a burner is on, and keep anything that can be easily knocked off a table away from edges.
2. Install safe, non-slick flooring.
3. Learn to identify items by their weight, location, or sound.
4. In the kitchen, store spices in wide mouth jars for easy measuring, use measuring cups that hold exact amount and label them, label shelves and drawers for ease, load the dishwasher from front to back with knives and forks facing down, and keep everything in its place.
5. If needed, modify your home to accommodate a service animal. Store toxic items away from the animal’s reach, widening entryways, and installing a self-feeding system may be helpful to help your service animal better navigate his/her new environment.
Home modifications for people who are hard of hearing or deaf:
1. Door lights or door signalers light up to let you know someone is at the door.
2. Carbon monoxide detectors and smoke alarms work similarly by making extremely loud sounds or flashing colored lights.
3. Phone signalers work by connecting to lamps and making loud noises or flashing lights.
4. The Home Modification Checklist provides a comprehensive checklist of ways to assess your home for modifications.
Some of these modifications are low-cost, and can be done easily at little or no cost to you. Some, however, may require additional funds. Home Advisor provides a list of grants for home modifications for homeowners with disabilities.