You get a lot of guidance from Part M when you are building or adapting a home for a disabled person but I really struggled for help when I built my mum’s house, it was more about understanding how to make her new house easy to live in so that she could be independent, happy and safe.
A smooth garden path or driveway will make a big difference to elderly, disabled and those unsteady on their feet. Under Part M at least one entrance to the house should be wide enough for a wheelchair and with a low threshold, a gradual slope or ramp should lead up to it. If the gradient of the ramp is too steep it it will be impossible to use and it won’t be passed by building control anyway. If your house has steps leading up to the front door you might find that this also means that it can be very long. We couldn’t fit such an access ramp at the front of the house as there isn’t enough front garden area so we created a disability friendly access through the garden and it doubles up as a drive for the disability scooter.
Hallway and doors
Hallways need to be wide to allow for easy access with a walking aid or a wheelchair. In a conversion project this can be tricky as the existing hallway might be too narrow and you’ll have to look at moving walls and installing wider doors. In our build we kept the hall short: its more of a lobby area and it doesn’t eat into the living space too much. At the end of my mum’s hallway I installed a door so that when she opens her front door she can keep the door to her living space closed off.
Rounded lever door handles with a spring mechanism work best for anyone with arthritis or other ailments, look for lever door locks for bathrooms, I have even found front door locks with levers to make unlocking and locking from the inside easy.
A bungalow is the ideal for someone with reduced mobility but you can make a two or three storey house more accessible by installing a stairlift… or for a larger project an interior or exterior lift. In our build we planned to install a stairlift and made the staircase wider than average: the stairlift rail is attached to the stairs not the wall and this just gives a feeling of more space when you walk up them. If you are building a house and want to make it future proof consider the design of your staircase.
An open kitchen is the easiest way to make a kitchen easy to use for someone with reduced mobility, lots of clear floor space gives you space for mobility aids but also prevents trips and stumbles. There are specialist worktops and units with adjustable heights for someone who needs a wheelchair or needs to sit when cooking but they are expensive and great if you need them to be lifted and lowered. We installed ordinary fitted kitchen units and made my mum’s kitchen / living area open plan, but with a few am ends for her. In floor units we added drawers to make access into cupboards easier, an oven fitted at worktop level, appliances and taps with simple and easy to use controls and so that she can see well: a white work surface that gives good definition when preparing food and lots of lighting with daylight bulbs.
There are so many things to consider in a bathroom and its usually the one room that takes careful planning. The main items to consider are the toilet and installing a shower. If you are looking for a bathroom for someone with reduced mobility look for a toilet pan that is higher than average, as it makes the getting up easier, locate it with access space around it, if possible. If you don’t need grab bars just yet make sure that the walls that you would use have been strengthened so that you can add grab bars at a later date. Grab bars can be cold to the touch, this isn’t good for arthritic hands and so maybe a frame with padded handles would be easier. Showers make everything easier, look carefully for anti scald controls, provide a hand shower and a seat, one with arm rests, check that it folds up easily for other users, a padded seat and arm rests give support and comfort for arthritic joints.
And finally… Lighting!
Position light switches and sockets in easy to reach places and look at replacing the switch plates with wide rockers. Add extra sockets in the bedroom and living area to avoid using extension cables – they can be a trip hazard. Install daylight bulbs to illuminate kitchen work areas and hallways, think about providing a light to avoid nightime tumbles.
…and my top tip: invest in led bulbs, they’re cheap to run and last years without you having to change them.