The ultimate guide to create a wheelchair-accessible home
From wheelchair ramps to furniture ideas, learn how to incorporate inclusive design in every area of your home.
According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), there are 61 million adults in the U.S. living with a disability, and nearly one in four citizens live with some form of disability. That being said, many U.S. households will need wheelchair accessibility at some point to accommodate a resident.
Most modern homes lack the accessibility features needed for people with disabilities and limited mobility, including for those ages 65 and older. If you’re wondering, “How can I make my house wheelchair-accessible?” this is for you.
In this guide, we’ll walk you through a variety of modification and design trends to create comfortable home accommodations for yourself or a loved one without it looking like a hospital. We’ll also share costs, answers to common questions, and a list of helpful resources.
Home accessibility upgrades
From updating appliances to remodeling a kitchen, many modern upgrades for home accessibility also add value to your home. Here is a helpful list of wheelchair-friendly modifications you can incorporate into every area of the home.
Sometimes doors can be a challenge for those with wheelchairs, depending on the width and height of the frame. A door installation professional can step in to assist with the following upgrades:
- Doorway width: According to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), doorway openings should be at least 32 inches in width for wheelchair clearance.
- Adding swing clear hinges on doors can also make it easier to travel through entrances.
- Lever door handles: Since doorknobs require twisting, they may be a challenge for some individuals.
- Lever-style handles, on the other hand, are easier to grip and require less movement to operate.
Bi-parting doors, also known as the barn door style, are an alternative that makes it easy for users to slide open and close. Barn doors can maximize the space between entryways and add aesthetic appeal to the interior design.
In a wheelchair-accessible home, hard surface, slip-resistant flooring is ideal to ensure safety and easier mobility. For homeowners who prefer carpet in some areas of the home, low-pile carpet is best for wheelchairs to move over easily.
Since wheels can cause wear and tear over time, durable materials such as vinyl, hardwood, and laminate flooring are waterproof and easier to maintain in an active home. You can hire a flooring contractor to help choose and install the best option for your space.
Following ADA recommendations, the width of an accessible hallway should be a minimum 36 inches, or a 5-foot turning radius, providing enough space for people with wheelchairs. If your current hallways aren’t wide enough, you can consult a contracting company to see if any load-bearing walls can be torn down.
Replacing stairs with gradual-incline ramps and handrails are upgrades that can assist a variety of individuals, including adults 65 and older. For a multi-story residence, installing a stair lift would be most advantageous.
An open floor design provides ample space between furniture for wheelchairs and other types of mobility aids. Opting for a minimalist interior design can achieve this, where a “less is more” style eliminates clutter for smooth navigation.
You can talk with an architect about layout plan options that cater to your home’s design.
Other things to consider:
- Furniture: In an accessible home, it’s helpful to have firm furniture with lumbar support, such as armchairs, which can assist in sitting and rising. The furniture should be spaced out to easily maneuver through.
- Electrical switches: Make sure switches are lower to reach, such as those for lights and ceiling fans, or push-button options to manipulate easily.
- Smart home features: Voice-controlled automation and other hands-free operations, such can assist in day-to-day activities, such as with lights, security systems, and thermostats.
From eating to daily meal prepping, the kitchen is an essential area to accommodate everyone in the home.
- Appliances: Have frequently used appliances within arm’s reach, such as a dishwasher next to the sink. Also consider the style options, such as a side-by-side refrigerator, with easy-to-reach shelving.
- Cabinetry: Pull-out shelves and easy-to-reach cabinets are preferable for wheelchair-friendly spaces. Removing lower cabinets can also provide knee space for work surfaces.
- Sinks: Single-lever faucets are more convenient, as well as adjustable hose sprayers. Sinks should have knee space beneath for those with wheelchairs, such as designs with drains near the rear.
- Countertops: These should be no more than 34 inches in height, complying with ADA standards.
Installing a kitchen island not only creates extra counter space, but is also a trend that adds functionality and style to the area. Kitchen islands are accessible from all sides, where you can add storage space as well as a casual seating area. Just make sure to include enough space for a 5-foot turning radius.
While most bedrooms, especially the primary bedroom, typically have ample space, there are several design ideas homeowners can add to suit their individual needs and comfort.
- Beds: To make a bed accessible for everyone, the ADA recommends that beds measure 20 to 23 inches in height from the floor to the top of the mattress.
- Clothing storage: A walk-in/roll-in closet allows sufficient entry space and considerable storage room for those with wheelchairs. Lower closet rods and pull-out drawers are ideal for storing clothing.
- Room features: A bench in the bedroom can serve as an alternative resting place for dressing. Also, painting the room with blue and gray colors can create a calm atmosphere.
Bathroom remodeling is generally the most frequent modification for wheelchair-accessible homes since personal necessities vary from individual to individual. Like your hallways, the bathroom should have a 5-foot turning radius.
- Sink/vanity: Bottomless vanity designs are necessary for knee space and wheelchair access. Pivot mirrors are a helpful addition, which can adjust in direction and height.
- Showers and tubs: Opt for walk-in bathtubs and no-curb showers without stepping barriers. Installing shower chairs, grab bars, and handheld showerheads can also accommodate people with wheelchairs.
- Toilet upgrades: The ADA recommends toilet seats between 17” and 19” in height for easier transfer. Installing safety frames or grab bars next to toilets is also ideal.
Even with accessible modifications, homeowners can still incorporate spa bathroom features into the design, such as glass doors and gold accents, for a luxurious look.
A zero-step home entry or non-slip ramp are trendy design options that avoid mobility barriers. As a safety feature, combination locks on the front door are an alternative to key locks, making it easier for people with disabilities to come and go independently.
Additionally, a hard surface driveway can assist in a smooth transition from car to entry area. You can level up your walkway with outdoor pathway lighting, serving as a visual aid in the evenings.
Costs of modifications
While the cost of home accessibility modifications can range anywhere from $800 to $8,000, this can differ depending on your personal needs and preferences.
Below is a helpful breakdown of common home accessibility upgrades:
- Kitchen and bathroom remodels: $9,000–$40,000
- Flooring installation: $3–$22 per sq. ft.
- Stair lift installation: $1,500–$5,000 each
- Wheelchair ramp installation: $1,000–$4,000
- Railing installation: $1,000–$2,500
- Outdoor lighting: $2,000–$6,000
Financial assistance: Home modification grants
Home remodeling can often be expensive to pay out of pocket for, depending on the modifications needed. Fortunately, there are several types of nonprofit and government assistance programs that individuals can turn to for financial aid.
Grants for Veterans
- The U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs provides Specially Adapted Housing (SAH) grants for veterans and service members to construct or modify a home.
- The Disabled American Veterans Charity offers several forms of financial support for American veterans with disabilities.
- The American Red Cross offers financial assistance for eligible active military service members, veterans, and immediate families.
Grants for People With Disabilities and Ages 65+
- Social Security Disability Insurance allows American citizens to apply for and receive financial assistance.
- The U.S. Government has financial assistance and grant support services for eligible people with disabilities.
- The American Parkinson Disease Association helps fund individuals with disabilities related to the degenerative disease.
- HomeMods.org is a national directory for home modification and repair resources, helping individuals find aid in their local state.
How much does it cost to build a wheelchair-accessible house?
The cost of building or modifying an accessible home can range anywhere from $800 to $8,000, but this can differ depending on a person’s needs and preferences.
How much room does a wheelchair need?
To accommodate wheelchair users, a space needs at least a 5-foot turning radius, such as in bathrooms, hallways, and elevators.
How wide should hallways be for wheelchairs?
The ADA recommends hallways be at least 36 inches in width for wheelchair access.
What kinds of furniture are wheelchair-accessible?
Furniture that is low and sturdy, such as sofas and armchairs, can provide support for transferring to and from wheelchairs. Lift chairs and power recliners are also supportive for people with limited mobility.
- Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA): The official website of the ADA with information on disability rights, accommodation regulations, and more.
- Fair Housing Act: Information about fair housing rights from the U.S. Department of Justice.
- Social Security Disability Benefits: Information on disability benefits offered through the Social Security Administration and how to apply for them.
Written by Kaitlyn Pacheco