Keeping Your Home Safe and Accessible

Without spending a fortune

by Jan Blaustone on September 1, 2006 - 3:10pm

QUEST Vol. 13, No. 5

If you aren’t ready just yet to design and build that dream home with perfect accessibility, there are a lot of things you can do in the meantime to solve everyday dilemmas.

Besides providing low-cost solutions to some of your home accessibility problems, these suggestions are also geared to safety. The Centers for Disease Control reported that in 2003, more than 1.8 million seniors (age 65 and older) were treated in emergency facilities for fall-related injuries, and more than 421,000 were hospitalized. Of those who fell, 20 percent to 30 percent suffered moderate to severe injuries, reducing mobility and independence.

This problem isn’t limited to seniors. Unsafe home configurations can lead to falls for people with neuromuscular diseases, which can lead to injury or further loss of independence. These solutions may help you address some common challenges and help you stay as healthy and independent as possible.

Although Medicare and private insurance don’t cover most of the assistive devices and techniques listed here, they’re often inexpensive to buy or replicate at home. Rather than waiting to make changes after an injury, or when your mobility becomes limited by disease progression, consider implementing some of these ideas right now.

And be sure to check the ads, articles and Product Peeks in Quest for sources and other ideas.

Let’s take a tour around the house and see what we can do.


A hammock in a backyard

Need a safe, secure ramp into the house without making a costly, permanent change that may devalue your home’s worth? Consider a prebuilt, portable ramp.

One seamless 36-inch-wide, lightweight aluminum ramp with a nonskid surface and (optional) powder-coated handrails runs about $230. Ramps that can easily be added to or removed from your home are available from several companies for $80 and up.

For easier access into and around your back yard, consider adding a stone pathway. Pavers require no cement and come in a variety of shapes and colors from your local home improvement or garden store, starting around 50 cents each. For a wiggle-free installation, embed them slightly in the ground … a quick job for the neighborhood teen.


Have a doorway you can’t fit through now that you’re using a wheelchair? Before you hire a demolition crew, try replacing your door hinges with wrap-around or swing-clear specialty hinges. They’re reversible for left or right opening doors, and add a few inches to your clearance. Available in a variety of finishes at hardware stores, the hinges range from $20 to $25 each.

Speaking of doors, do you find your round doorknob difficult to turn, especially when using one hand? You can replace such knobs with L-shaped lever handles or, for about the same cost, you can buy an easy-to-install knob adapter. Adapters that fit over most round doorknobs sell for only $12 to $25. (Lever handles make much easier work for your service dog, too!)


Hard-surfaced flooring is best. But whether you have tile, wood, concrete or carpeted floors, be sure to eliminate throw rugs and move exposed electrical cords. They can trip up your step or get caught in your wheels.

Bathroom and hallways

Grab bars are a sensible addition to any home, but not all walls were built with the necessary reinforcement to install a common grab bar.

Instead, try a portable grab bar like the Grabit (great for traveling), a 13-inch bar you can position anywhere — even in a car. It mounts by flipping two levers that provide a powerful suction cup hold to any smooth surface; it sells for $65.

A second option is a unique fastening system that permanently installs a grab bar into any wall without the need for additional structural support. This one-of-a-kind fastening hardware called WingIt installs in minutes and exceeds applicable federal regulations, national building codes and ADA guidelines. Price per WingIt is $12 to $25.


Yes, there are toilet options other than portable buckets. The universal, raised toilet seat is most economical and lightweight, selling for as low as $20, and it’s great for traveling. It’s dishwasher-safe, and will raise existing seat height by 2 inches to 13 inches.

If you want to install a toilet (go for the tall 18-inch elongated style) in a new location without drilling into your flooring and incurring expensive plumbing costs, there’s a solution for you, too. The motorized Qwik Jon pump system by Zoeller is used with a variety of toilet styles without the need to destroy flooring, thereby reducing construction costs.


It pumps in any direction, is leak-proof and odorless, and fits just about anywhere. All you need is a level surface for this freestanding system that can be hidden; approximate dimensions are 42-inch height, 18-inch depth and 24-inch width. The cost is about $600.

Other than grab bars, there are three key ingredients to safe and accessible Showering 101:

  • a hand-held showerhead
  • a shower transfer seat
  • a nonslip rubber shower mat

Hand-held showerhead packages can even include a vertical slide bar. They range from $16 to $300 (most are under $100) at your local home improvement store and on the Internet. They’re easy to install, and the pulsating models are wonderful for hands-free hair rinsing.

A sturdy transfer shower bench with backrest and reversible armrest is indispensable for use in a tub or shower stall. Many types are offered, starting at retail stores from $65 to $150. More specialized or long-lasting ones, made of rust-proof stainless steel, with sliding bench and toileting features, go for several hundred dollars.

For mats, look for a half-inch thick rubber floor mat; it’s ideal for heavy wheelchairs and provides a secure hold in slippery environments. A 2-by-3-foot model sells for $18.

Safety tip: Don’t forget to keep a cell phone attached to your wheelchair, especially while in the bathroom.


Bed too tall?

Many beds today are very tall — 24 to 30 inches including an 18-inch mattress set — and, without an elevator seat, they can be difficult to transfer to from an 18- or 19-inch wheelchair seat. A common $50 metal bed frame is lower than a modern bed-room set frame.

Bed too short?


If you have an older 12-to-15-inch mattress set and need to make your bed taller for an easier transfer, furniture risers are your answer. They come in wood or heavy-duty plastic, and you can stack them to achieve your desired bed height. Available at home improvement stores or online, they sell for $10 to $25 for a set of four. They also work great on sofas, tables and large chairs.

Another common problem in transferring to or rising from a bed or sofa is having nothing to grab onto for support. A portable handrail can be your solution. Several designs are on the market; some include a caddy for remotes, books and such. They usually have a frame that fits between your mattresses, making a secure, firm hold for gripping. Very abundant online, they sell for around $50.

Kitchen and study

Whether you’re working in the kitchen, working at a desk, reading in bed, or simply eating a casual meal, a portable table is a must-have. There are a variety on the market that tilt in either direction, raise and lower easily, move on wheels, and aren’t bad-looking. Prices begin around $45.

Kitchen and bathroom

Reaching kitchen or bathroom faucets and then being able to work the levers can be frustrating when your motor skills are impaired and/or you’re at standard wheelchair level.


First, try getting closer to the faucet by simply removing that little vertical bar in between your kitchen cabinets. (Be sure to wrap your plumbing with insulation tape so you won’t nudge your knees up against a hot pipe.) You should be able to get considerably closer by putting your feet into the cabinet.

If hand dexterity is an issue, replace your faucet with a lever faucet, single handle or even a touch-free faucet. While most lever faucet handles ($30 to $80) are relatively inexpensive, a touch-free faucet costs about $350. But you can get an adapter for about $100 from your home improvement store or online to make most existing faucets touch-free.



(800) 542-5076
(877) 894-6448

Qwik Jon
(800) 928-PUMP

Roomba & Scooba
(800) 727-9077

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