Making a home wheelchair accessible and getting a car that suits a wheelchair are usually the two biggest costs people face once a wheelchair becomes part of the family. We asked our Facebook community to share their cars and vans and to write a list of pros and cons which you can read about here. We also boldly asked them to share their bathroom modifications which they proudly did here. What we haven’t spoken about is all the bits in between that make life a bit easier.
We knocked down our house and built a brand new home which is accessible and suits our needs. It was a long process for us and in the hopes of helping others I’m sharing the process.
We were living in a 1960’s house with a tiny bathroom. A wheelchair couldn’t even turn in the space. It had a step into the shower and not much room for anyone to help BJ. As an aside, it was a beautiful pink and black colour palette. No matter the era, I wonder what they were thinking with pink and black? I can’t imagine that being fashionable at any point.
BJ wasn’t even at school when our Occupational Therapist started talking to us about modifying our home. I wanted to cover my ears and just scream, “La, La, La, I can’t hear you!” Yes, very mature, but I’d only just come to terms with the fact BJ needed a wheelchair. Modifying our whole home seemed extreme.
To this day I am so grateful she nudged (read pushed) me out of my denial. BJ was four when the discussion started and he was seven when we moved into the house. The process may not be that long for everyone but we had a house which was not easy to modify. The house had stairs at the front and although there were ramps at the back of the house they were so steep a wheelchair couldn’t possibly use them.
We were entitled to funding to modify the house but it wasn’t that simple. We had an architect draw up plans for how we could modify the house but it was expensive and included an internal lift and major structural work. The cost estimate was enormous and we still weren’t happy with the design. Day-to-day living would be easier with the design but we wouldn’t live with ease.
Every time we wanted to go out in the backyard we’d have to take the lift and one person would go with BJ and everyone else would go a different way.
We decided to look at a knock down rebuild scenario. This worked out a lot cheaper and we ended up with a level home, no lift and all the features we wanted in a family home including great access. We invited the powers that be that make funding decisions to our old house to see the existing issues, we shared the architects plans and the issues that we’d still have with that option and finally the knock-down rebuild design. They could see the benefits and granted a sum of money towards the process. This in no way covered the rebuild but it was a significant amount which made it possible.
The downside to this process is that you have to live elsewhere while the house is being built but the custom built house was worth it for us.
THE THINGS WE LOVE
Having a single storey house is wonderful. There is nowhere BJ can’t go in the house.
Internal access from the garage to the house means that everyone stays dry on a rainy day.
Our oversized bathroom is one of our favourite features. Fighting to have a bath was worth it because BJ loves a bath and we have a wide doored shower if that changes in the future.
Floating floor boards have been a good choice for falls. They are softer than hardwood floors.
Soft fall pavers (like you find in a playground) in our courtyard were great when the kids were younger. They would sit in the courtyard with their toys and it was softer and warmer than traditional pavers.
Raised pavers to make a seamless entry and exit from the house (well, as seamless as it gets with a wheelchair)
THINGS I’D INCORPORATE INTO ANY FUTURE HOUSE
I’d give BJ his own bathroom.
Given BJ’s early wake ups I’d have a closed off TV room/lounge room so the rest of the house could sleep more peacefully. He laughs loudly at funny movies.
I don’t take our house for granted. When it is pouring rain or boiling hot outside I am so grateful to have internal access. When someone visits and walks down the hall and comments on the width of the hallway I am reminded again of how lucky we are.
Your own home is the one place everyone should have easy access. It makes the world of difference.
I’d love to hear from you. What is the one thing in your home you wish you could modify or if you have gone through a renovation, what do you love and find you couldn’t do without now?
Don’t forget our bathroom modification post here and our car modification post here.
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We also have a lovely bunch of people over on our Facebook page and we’d love you to join in the fun.
We are about to do the same, and like you we think it is not only important to benefit our son but to benefit the ease in daily life for all. Some of the additional things to your home that we have been fortunate enough to incorporate are :
An internal accessed garage that will be 2 and 1/2 cars in width to allow for wheel chair maneuvering.
An interrupted Ceiling hoist tracking from bedroom to bathroom (we have been able to give our son his own bathroom).
Sensor lights in his bathroom
Wheel chair height power-points
And recessed door-frames /steps.
I doubt that we can fore plan every need (especially given the fact that our son’s condition is degenerative) but I do hope that our new home will make all our lives less of a struggle.
Thanks so much for sharing. Great points and it reminds me we made our garage wider than on plan to allow room for transferring too. Thanks for all the tips. I hope it will help many. Good luck with the house.
Thank you for saying that the entire house should be accessible to your son. The house I’m living in a tri level. It was built in 1928 and has a narrow hallway, 1 small bath and has small compartmental rooms. It needs to be razed and an efficient house built in its place but my husband is overwhelmed by the potential expense. There aren’t any programs here that could make a significant difference in our housing situation. But your story is an inspiration. Thank you for sharing.
I can understand your husband finding it overwhelming but depending on the amount of work you need done it is often much more cost effective which is why I think we are seeing more knock down rebuilds in general. I truly think that your own home should have no barriers. You expect some issues elsewhere but in your home where you live day-to-day it shouldn’t be that way. We need more financial support to ensure this is possible.
We’ve been in our renovated home now for 2 years… we took advice from an Architect (who specialised in accessible buildings) to assist in the restructure of the house to suit the needs of our daughter who’s now almost 21 years old.
She’s wheelchair/kwalker 60/40 at the moment. We modified the main family area, opening up the entry to accessible widths for wheelchair. New kitchen with 50/50 accessible draws & doors for ease of access. Wider laundry access, reconfigured bedroom with complete ‘wet’ ensuite, built in shower stool, accessible toilet etc.
Ramp only at rear of the home, with ease of access from side gate.
This has made a MAJOR impact on the care of our daughter and also built her confidence enabling her to move around more freely.
Would I do anything different? maybe configure her bedroom to enable the access to built ins easier? Otherwise no.
In regards to vehicles, we found after considering a range of options, that sometimes with the guidance of OT assessment and review of vehicles, it was possible to purchase a larger SUV that suited transport, boot space and minimise on modifications.
I would like to see the Australian building codes changed to every new home built require doorways and hallways wide enough for wheelchair users. This would provide wheelchair users a greater choice of homes to purchase or rent. This may make renovating / modifying a home afordable without knocking down and rebuilding.
I couldn’t agree more. It would also help as people age. I can’t see a disadvantage.