How to keep your home accessible and up to date with your needs

It’s five years now since I started this blog (thanks for reading, can’t believe it’s been going this long!) I thought I’d share a little about how Mr Wheel Chic’s Home’s condition has changed in those years and how we’re dealing with it in the home, the changes that we’re continuing to make and how we’re conscious of changes we will need to make in future.

So, what’s changed and how have we dealt with it?  

When we met, he was walking without any real problem. Perhaps slightly wobbly and he fell over on our third date and again a couple of months later. We just presumed he was a clumsy and his left leg that he broke a couple of years earlier was still weak. Luckily for him I’m not a great walker or hiker so walking didn’t really feature in our lives too much!

When we went on our first trip abroad to Venice we did have to take frequent breaks as he complained of his legs being tired and heavy but it was December and any excuse to stop for a hot chocolate!

He started going to the gym and worked with a personal trainer to strengthen his left leg and get fitter generally. His balance appeared off but that was all. We didn’t think too much about it for the next couple of years, we got married, bought a house together and after a couple more falls and his restless legs getting more restless, he went to the hospital and had an MRI scan.

The preliminary diagnosis, the week before Christmas 2009, was Primary Progressive Multiple Sclerosis. The full diagnosis was a couple of months later after more invasive tests.

The house we lived in was a small traditional two-bedroom, bay fronted Victorian semi-detached house.  It had a narrow, steep stairwell, additional steps up into the bedroom and two steps down into the bathroom.  It was sufficient for a while, we had one handrail up the stairs, then we added another one for him to use.

We positioned the furniture so that he was able to ‘furniture surf’ his way through the house, there was always something to hang onto.  

In 2010, whilst on holiday in Cornwall with friends, he was struggling to walk long distances and our friends bought him a walking stick. At first I was furious but it helped a lot and he used a stick for next few years.

He received an NHS wheelchair and we first used that in 2014 on holiday in Washington, DC.

He started to struggle with the stairs at home, and started to fall down them, a stairlift wouldn’t help so we put the house on the market and looked for a bungalow.  

When we moved in here he was using a wheelchair for longer trips outside of the house and we realised we’d have to start adapting things for him. The first job was to widen the bathroom door so the chair could get in. Then we added grab rails to the front of the house, then we added the grab rails inside the house.

He got his spangly new wheelchair customised for him by RGK and this allowed us to travel without worry.  It’s also small enough to squeeze through our narrow doors at home.  

We added bath boards to the bathroom to make showering easy whilst sitting down, and we’ve moved furniture out of the way to make space for the chair.  We’ve also recently had the garden made accessible. And in amongst all this, we’ve tried to maintain a fabulous home without looking like a hospital.  

But what’s next for us?  Well, he’s in the chair full time now, so the house has to move with that.  We’ve done little things, like move the crockery down low so he can reach, sold rugs that cause issues with the chair, looking at new flooring to make it easier and we recently bought a new sofa that’s easier for him to get in and out of.  

We know that his condition will continue to progress and it’s possible we’ll need more grab rails, we will probably have to convert the bathroom to a wetroom, we may even need a hoist or an electric profiling bed.  There’s lots of great ideas out there for beds, and hoists that are almost invisible so I know we’ll be able to find something if we need to.  

Our #inclusivechic hashtag has some great examples of profiling beds, hoists, wetrooms and accessible bathing that shows me we’ll be able to find.

When we bought our house it came with (now expired) planning permission for a large kitchen diner extension.

We are seriously considering rescurrecting the planning permission so we can get a wheelchair friendly kitchen with rise and fall worktops, and we would end up with a larger bedroom and an ensuite. The thought of the build fills me with a little horror, we can’t move to a friend’s or family’s house, due to the bathing situation. But it’s something we’d really like to do once the bank balance allows.

When thinking of future proofing your home you need to think about the scenario that might require the most work, the longer term vision, as painful as that sounds.  I don’t want a hoist in my home, and I know he doesn’t want to use one, but if that’s what we need to stay at home and be independent then that’s what we do. There’s some interesting and small hoists that we will look at if and when the time comes.

Look at the space you have, the doorways, the flow round the house. How can you improve it for the future? What might you need now, in five years, in ten years? If you’re able to renovate, go for the long term option, build out what you’ll need in ten years to save it doing it twice. A wetroom, as I’ve talked about before, is brilliant inclusive design for everyone. build out the space you need now, the seating, the rails, the shower head locations, and should you need a ceiling hoist then that can be added later if the flow is right and you’ve discussed it with your architect in advance as a possible future need.

We will also need to think about the hallway and door openings in the house, at the moment they are quite narrow and if he needs a larger wheelchair (as he’s starting to lose the use of his left arm and left hand) he will struggle to get around the house because everything is a little tight getting around. But for now, we are fine – we are keeping an eye on it and once we need to do that, we will.

Think ahead, how do you live in your home now, and how will you need to live in it in future? What needs will you have? Plan it carefully, perhaps you have to knock down a wall to make more space in your bedroom, perhaps you can relocate a door to help with access. It might be useful to speak to an occupational therapist and an architect to help design your vision.

Think about redesiging a room, maybe your bedroom would better as a living room – perhaps you don’t need that dining room and you can knock through to make an ensuite, or a dressing room?

Put up grab rails where you need them. Paint your grab rails or your hoist a fabulous colour, make it a statement or make it blend in. The choice is yours! Be open, and think creatively.

If you live in a house with an upstairs, think about a stairlift instead of moving. You can do good things with paint and some creativity. Here, Pati Robins has painted her stair lift – it blends in beautifully with the decor in the room. Don’t be afraid of the adaptations, embrace them as Pati has done.

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Photo Credit: Pati Robins

In our home, we’re looking at the extension as giving us the amount of space we need for the chair to get around. It will allow us to plan a wheelchair friendly, inclusive kitchen.  We will be able to plan where we have grab rails, have all the doors widened and get wooden floors throughout so he can whizz around, doing handbrake turns in the kitchen!

Whatever we decide to do, you can be sure I’ll share my ideas and progress here, in the hope it’ll help someone else get inspiration.

What ideas do you have for future proofing your home?  Let me know!    

5 thoughts on “How to keep your home accessible and up to date with your needs

  1. Great article Vicki. We are moving to a new house which is a dormer bungalow and I have done that so we can future proof for our increasing years and issues. I do a lot of work with PIP disability benefits and know how people’s lives can change in the blink of an eye. We also have a disabled son and I have considers how this house will work for him too.

  2. Hello Vicky. I was browsing the net for accessibility ideas recently when I came across your blog. My husband was diagnosed with PPMS at the age of 64, following a similar period of stumbling, heavy legs and balance issues. Hence I really understand your story. Unfortunately my husband has not got much energy and lockdown has been difficult. Having taken out the bath to have an accessible bathroom we now need to completely rethink the bungalow we live in. He has a powered chair but now needs a smaller indoor self propelled one. Door frames are suffering with his large rollator!

    Our mission is to slim down ‘stuff’ and make our sloping garden more accessible. I haven’t seen handrails in your pictures in the lounge, for example, we are currently exploring rails for the hall, bedroom etc.

    Anyway, your site is very interesting and informative so thank you for that. Best wishes to you both. Sonia Brown

    1. Thank you! Thanks for sharing your story. There’s no grab rails in the living room at the moment. You can buy a frame that sits under the foot of the sofa if he needs a frame or handle to get out of the sofa.
      We have talked about rails in here but at the moment I get him off the sofa in the evening so we might not need a rail in there. I know how you feel about door frames. even with the Small chair indoors they are still covered in bangs and scratches! I appreciate the comments and I hope you can get out and about soon.

  3. The great American architect Frank Lloyd Wright (of Fallingwater fame) designed an accessible house for a WWII veteran who was in a wheelchair. This was several decades before the American Disability Act (1990), so Wright had to come up with all the solutions on his own. The Laurent House (named after Mr and Mrs Laurent) is a testament to his genius and his capacity to listen to and understand his clients’ needs. It took Wright two full years to come up with the design, but it is a masterpiece, and he was rightly proud of it. He stayed in touch with the Laurents for his entire life, and they lived in his house for many decades. It is now a museum visited by thousands, testimony to the enduring power and beauty of accessible design as Wright designed it.

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