How to future proof your home when you have a disability

As regular readers to the blog will know, Mr Wheel Chic Home has Primary Progressive Multiple Sclerosis.  This is the form of MS that starts and just gets worse, with gradual changes over the years.

We started to think about adjustments after his diagnosis, but he was still walking without an aid at that time and not much needed to be done apart from a clever arrangement of furniture that he could use to hang onto and ‘furniture surf’ his way through the house.

As the years have gone on we’ve had to increase the adjustments and being a realist, we’ll have to continue to make ever increasingly intrusive adjustments to our house and we’re starting to think about future proofing the house for his needs.  And to keep it looking fabulous, of course!

 

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Be brutally honest about your current home

We used to live in a traditional 2-bed Victorian Semi-detached house.  It was clear to us fairly early on that we probably could only stay in that house for a couple of years.  We loved that house, we’d done significant upgrades to it, going back to the brickwork in some rooms, installing new fireplaces, completely gutting the garden, and decorating top to toe.

But we knew in our hearts we could never stay there.  The staircase was narrow and steep, and whilst we could have added a stair lift in time, there was a turn and additional steps up to the bedrooms and then two steps down into the bathroom.  So a stairlift was a waste of money.

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So be brutally honest about your home – is it a long term solution?  Think about what you might need:

Will you be able to put a ramp in place, are the doors wide enough for a chair, and is there space for a hoist or a shower chair?  Is it on a noisy road which could disturb sleep or make it a safety issue for those with learning difficulties? Is the garden safe and secure? Lots of things to think about, it’s different for everyone.

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Moving isn’t always an option for everyone (renting is particularly difficult when you have a disability), and so sometimes we have to make the best of what we have and the home we live in.

Look for places to put handrails to help with mobility if you’re still on your feet

This is a quick and relatively easy solution – and be creative about where you put the rails.  I’ve mentioned before the toilet roll holder, but we also have a rail inside the wardrobe to help with standing and hanging clothes, it’s hidden inside the door and it’s used every day.

Put them by the bed, in the bathroom, by the front and back doors, next to the fridge, wherever you think they’ll be needed.  Remember you can buy rails in many colours (see my recent collaboration with Rails Direct for example) – or in some cases you may want to stick with the traditional white plastic, if you have white walls for example.  Make them fit with your décor.

Perhaps add an extra handrail to the staircase so there are two to hold onto as you make your way up and down, paint it the same colour as the wall to blend it in, or for those with visual issues, make it a real statement with a bold colour clash against the wall and make it part of your design!

Change or move furniture to support wheelchair use, hoists or wobbly legs

We’ve made changes to our furniture since we’ve been living in our bungalow.  I’ve written a lot about furniture but there are some easy options that would help make life a little easier.  Sometimes it’s as simple as moving things around to make more space for wheels to get through, change the aspect of the sofa for example, give your room a new feel by changing the furniture around.

Think about height of the sofa to make it easier to get up and down, if you can’t afford a new sofa, think about adding height to the seating area with some foam on top of the seats, cover it in a fabulous fabric, make a real statement of it!

 

If you have a hoist or a wheelchair in the house you’ll need as much space as you can get.  We’ve moved the bed so it’s no longer in the centre of the room, to give Mr WCH as much chair space as possible (and sadly I have very little space next to my side of the bed thanks to pesky British room sizes!).

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Think of changing from a bed frame to a divan, this could give you an extra few inches of space that all helps in a small room. I’ve written a little about storage beds here and my other thoughts on buying the right bed here.

You might need to remove the coffee table to create space, so look at side tables, or coffee tables on wheels so they can be easily moved out of the way.

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Photo Credit: Lavenders Longshot

Think about the storage in your home and make changes

The most recent changes we’ve been making in our home have been around storage.  When Mr WCH is in the wheelchair, the top shelf of the wardrobe, the fridge, the upper kitchen cabinets have all been a challenge for him.  He was getting upset that the Crunchy Nut Cornflakes were just out of reach!

We’ve made some very quick changes around this that don’t cost any money.  We’ve moved the plates, bowls and cups and glasses to the lower cabinets in the kitchen and moved some of the lesser used items (salad bowls or serving platters or the ‘posh china’) to the upper cabinets.  Such a simple change!  Seems obvious now we’ve done it.

Similarly with the fridge and food cupboard, we’ve moved certain things to the lower shelves so he can reach them.  No more cereal complaints!

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In his wardrobe we’ve moved all the lesser worn or seasonal things to the top shelf (that he can’t reach now but I can) and moved everything else down to the level that he can reach (and it means he might actually put clothes away rather than waiting for the clothes fairy to do it!)

We’ve also rearranged the coat cupboard and the cupboards in the bathroom.  The cabinet under the sink now has most of his things, and the medicine cabinet on the wall has most of mine.

Making adaptations

In many cases where there’s a mobility issue in a house, it can be as simple as installing a stair lift, and as per the fantastic upgrade recently from Pati Robins, a stairlift can be made to look brilliant.  You can paint it, cover it in fabric to match your style, make it “You”. See how fabulous this stairlift looks, you can barely see it!

Photo Credit: Both photos – Pati Robins

Making the doors accessible is a big, but noticeable improvement.  We’ve installed a wheelchair friendly front door (with low threshold) so he doesn’t have to step over a large threshold and the chair wheels through nicely.  This is pricey though but you may be eligible to a grant or financing to help with this.  This is the single biggest thing we’ve done in the house that’s been useful for him and we really notice the difference when we go to other people’s homes and have to try and get him over the door threshold.

Also, review the width of the doors, we’ve had to widen the bathroom door and make adjustments to the kitchen so he can get through easily.  If you have space to widen the doors to 3ft minimum then that’s the way to go, although it’s best to go as wide as the space allows.  If you have the ability to add a sliding or barn door, then that’s the easiest option for wheelchairs:

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Photo Credit: Lavenders Longshot

Do you need to add space in the fridge for medication?  Perhaps add a fun little beer fridge, spray paint it to match your walls, or cover it in wallpaper or Contact Paper to match your décor…  If it’s for the children, let them have a go at decorating it for themselves!

Keep thinking ahead

Mr WCH’s condition is such that it will worsen and eventually what we’ve got in place now will need to change.  We’re constantly thinking about what will work ‘for now’ and what will work longer term.  Sometimes we will take the ‘for now’ option before deciding on the longer term option.  And that’s ok.  His condition changes and our home will have to change with it.

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In the back of our mind is access to the garden – and the office at the end of the garden (at the moment that’s a real challenge) and we’ve spoken to a couple of landscapers and gardeners about creative options to make it accessible for him.

The other big thing is a wet-room.  At the moment, with his current level of mobility we hope this will be a year or two off yet, he’s still able to use a bathboard and use his arms to pick up the legs and pull them into the bath while he sits on the board to shower.  It’s not glamorous but actually it’s a nice solution for now.

Ramps – this is probably the next most pressing thing on our list.  I’ve written more about ramps here and I’ll keep you all posted on our progress.

Is it feasible to extend your home or make changes to the layout to make it function for you?  Our bungalow came with planning permission for an extension and as time goes by we keep thinking that this is the way to go (finances permitting!).

Perhaps a rarely used dining room can become a ground floor bedroom, or the cupboard under the stairs could become a downstairs toilet, can you knock a wall down to make a room slightly bigger?

What other ideas do you have to future proof your home?  I’m aware that with so many differing needs I’ve only scratched the surface and would love to get your ideas!

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