By Ernie Williamson
I have written in past columns about the Americans with Disabilities Act and how it makes life easier for those of us with disabilities.
But, while the ADA regulates everything from table heights in restaurants to parking requirements at public buildings, ADA regulations don’t apply to individually owned homes in the private sector.
With that in mind, I ask this question: How many of you could live in your current home if you were stricken with a disability and had to use a wheelchair?
Are you in a two-story house with everything you might need on the first floor?
Are the doors in the house wide enough for a wheelchair?
Would you have access to a full bathroom with grab bars and access to a shower?
I doubt many of you thought about this when buying your home.
And, while I am not suggesting that a young couple with children make a house’s accessibility a top priority, I do offer my story as a cautionary tale for those of you getting up in years.
Accessibility certainly wasn’t on my mind when we bought a two-story home in Clear Lake.
After all, I was healthy and still thought of myself as bulletproof.
Then, out of nowhere, I was stricken with a rare disorder that put me in a wheelchair for life.
Immediately, our residence became a house of horrors.
The house had three bedrooms, all upstairs. We had to convert a downstairs room into a bedroom.
The only bathroom downstairs was too small for my wheelchair, and it didn’t have a shower. I ended up showering in the backyard with a hose.
We had to move. You can only scoot up and down the stairs on your bottom so many times.
We moved to a one-story house in Pearland. We made it more accessible by replacing the entrance steps with a brick ramp, improved the bathroom by adding grab bars and putting a bench in the shower.
For easier rolling, we replaced carpeting throughout the house with tile or laminate flooring.
The changes allowed me greater independence and somewhat eased the burden on my wife.
Still, there are some things I wish I had paid more attention to in our Pearland house. There is a big pantry, but the door is so narrow I need a reaching device to get food out of it. Even then, I can’t reach some items. And my wife and I have to dance around the island kitchen.
And some hallways and doorways - although wide enough for my wheelchair- aren’t wide enough that I don’t occasionally damage a baseboard if my steering is off.
Although ADA regulations don’t apply to private homes, various standards have developed over the years for making a home more accessible. Here are some of those:
STAIRWAYS: Ramps should be used for exterior entrances. Inside, residential elevators are an option if the budget allows. Stairlifts are safe and comfortable.
BATHROOMS: Accessible bathrooms should have grab bars and a toilet that is higher and more elongated than standard. Low-threshold showers allow wheelchairs access without any curbs. A portable or fixed seat and a handheld shower head are important.
HALLWAYS and DOORWAYS: These should be a minimum of 32” wide but 36” is better.
INTERCOM SYSTEMS: A safety feature that allows immediate assistance throughout the home.
LIGHT SWITCHES: Low enough to reach.
USER-FRIENDLY KITCHENS: Countertops should be low enough to use as a work space and sinks, cooktops and appliances need to be reachable. I use my reaching device to grab things out of the cabinets.
The CDC estimates one in four Americans has a disability that affects major life activities. Even if you are fortunate enough to avoid a major disability, one thing is certain: You will get older.
Some of the above items can be used to “age-proof” your home.
(Contact Ernie at firstname.lastname@example.org. Or, send letters in care of The Bulletin, PO Box 2426, Angleton, TX. 77516)