Part 2 in a series on Visitability.
The most important thing you can do to make your home visit-able is to ensure that you have at least one zero-step entry into your home. That is access to your home that doesn’t require anyone navigating a change of level or steps. In case you do not have this currenyly you can even rent-a-ramp for the holidays to allow this access into and out of the house if needed.
Make your hallways wider and more accessibility friendly by moving any obstructions such as furniture from them to facilitate ease of movement for anyone in a wheelchair, walker or mechanical mobility devices, like a scooter chair. Also remember to remove all area rugs and floor mats since those are notorious culprits in slip and falls and act as irritating obstacles to any wheelchairs attempting to achieve firm and safe traction with flooring.
Most elderly family members might also like to congregate in the kitchen and even offer to help or want to help in the preparation of the festivity meals. To make them feel at home and at ease in offering, try to provide some counter space that is lower for them to work at. This can be achieved
by placing a lower table, even a folding card table, at the end of a central island so that they can pull their wheelchair or seat up to it, have enough knee clearance and lend a helping hand.
Another great quick fix is to use a pull-out bread board and have them work off that. Remember sometimes a sit down work surface is in fact appealing to anyone who might be performing repetitive actions like cutting or rolling — be they able-bodied or dealing with a mobility challenge.
Now that the meal is prepared, family and friends will gather around the dining table to share those special moments of communing and partaking in the fabulous feast. Ah but have we pre-planned where our guests who use wheelchairs are going to sit? Given the fact that most dining tables,
especially those with an apron, do not usually have enough knee clearance, we should probably arrange to have the table raised to provide a minimum of 27 inches of clear knee space below. This can be tricky since whatever we do to raise the table must ensure that the table is stable and secured in place.
After the meal is done, we may find some will retire to the closest living room or lounge and for that area of the room to be accommodating you might want to remove any coffee or side tables that make maneuverable pathways narrow or difficult to get around. I can’t tell you how many times I have
knocked my shin against a heavy coffee table as I plumped down on a deep sofa after stuffing myself on turkey. Oh yeah and speaking of that, make sure that all your seating options are not overly soft and unsupported since some of your guests might be elderly and need the support of a firm seat and
arms on a chair to safely sit down and stand up as they eventually make their way to the closest bathroom.
This brings us to the next area of the home that needs some pre-planning and attention. Make sure that at the very least the toilet seat is user-friendly by installing a plastic riser seat which you can get from any local DIY, drug or hardware store. While at the store you can also get yourself some
temporary grab bars that can be connected to the toilet or seat and provide the needed short term support. At your sink area, make sure that you have towels close to the front, perhaps on a floor-standing towel ring, and also tilt the mirror forward a little if you can to insure it is not to high for
use by those who might be in a wheelchair or elderly who have limited movement in their neck, back and shoulders.
Some of your mobility-challenged guests might also be staying overnight and will need some prepared area to bath and sleep. In the case of the bathing, assuming you don’t have a no-curb shower already in your home, simply add a removable transfer bench, preferably with some grab bar supports to a tub or shower and replace or add a hand held shower head to help control the flow
and direction of the water while bathing. These are available at your local hardware store.
At last, everyone is turning in for the night after a day of freedom of mobility and fun festivities. Your special guests have their sleeping accommodations all ready for them with their beds raised on similar blocking as the dining table to facilitate transferring from their wheelchairs. The beds are also pushed apart to allow maximum maneuverability and visit-ability as the day draws to a close and everyone settles in for the night.
Oh yes and better put the holiday cookies on the lower counter space in the kitchen just in case Santa decides to leave his sleigh at home this year and make his deliveries from the back of a Rascal Turnabout Electric mobility chair! After all he is aging gracefully too, you know.
About the Author: Raad Ghantous is the principal of Raad Ghantous & Associates and is an expert in luxury hospitality, wellness centers, and medical & day spa developments. He is also the owner of Your Home For A Lifetime, an A.D.A/ Barrier-free/ Universal design/Aging in place, full service design/build firm with over 15 years of experience specializing in developing integrating elegant and seamless designs/modifications to new or existing structures.