Are you outfitting a home for a child with a disability? The U.S. Census Bureau reports that around 12 percent of the population is disabled while the PEW Research Center puts that number even higher. That means while only 5.4 percent of children five to seven years old are disabled, they still comprise a pretty large part of the population.
For those children, having a home that they can feel comfortable in is very important. Outfitting your home for a child with a disability, however, can be a nuanced process. Each type of disability is different and each requires special modifications to the house. Home modifications for disabled kids can also be costly depending on the amount of work that needs to be done.
If your house needs modifications because of a disabled child, or you’re looking for ways to create a space where your child with a disability can lead a safe and happy life, this guide will help. We’ll discuss the most common impairments and adaptations that can be made for every situation.
Modifications for Children in Wheelchairs
Your child in a wheelchair will have very different household needs compared to a child who is visually impaired or has cognitive struggles. Thought should be given into what modifications will make it easier and safer for your child in a wheelchair to get around.
Throughout the house, flooring should be non-slip, which includes hardwood flooring, laminate flooring, most ceramic flooring and vinyl flooring with an embossed surface. Laminate flooring is a popular choice, as it is very durable and scuff marks are easily removed. If selecting carpet, low pile carpet should be used.
Modifications will likely need to be made to the exterior of the house to make it safe and easily accessible for your child in a wheelchair.
- The front door should be widened to at least 36 inches to follow ADA recommendations for doorways.
- You will need to install an entrance ramp if there are stairs outside your house. The entrance will need to be step-free, meaning a level threshold, or have a small ramp to make it easier for your child to enter. There are many different options for wheelchair ramps.
- Concrete and sidewalks outside should be level and outfitted with traction control.
- There should be nothing blocking the entryway or path to the entrance. It’s best to have a five-foot square space in the entryway for the wheelchair to maneuver.
- Motion sensored lighting will make it easy for your child to access the entryway at all hours.
Doors, Hallways and Stair Modifications
Again, it’s incredibly important for your child to be able to move around inside the house easily.
- Hallways should be wide enough for a wheelchair to navigate through (at least 42 inches).
- Doors throughout the house should be a minimum of 34 inches but preferably 36 inches.
- In some situations grab bars on either side of the stairs will work, especially if it’s a small stairway. Larger stairways may require a stairlift installation.
Since your child will not be doing the bulk of the cooking, kitchen modifications don’t need to be as extensive as they would be for a disabled adult. But there are still a few modifications that can help your child feel welcome and at home in the kitchen.
- If your child will be able to warm things up for themselves and get snacks, it’s important to have at least one low cabinet or pull out drawer that they can utilize. This should also house something to eat on and utensils.
- If possible, have a wide open floor space so that your child can easily navigate the kitchen.
- There should be a kitchen table of appropriate height so that your child can pull up and eat, work on homework or craft.
- It would help to have a grabber device in the area so that the child can grab any snacks that are out of reach or light items they need.
The bathroom can be one of the most dangerous areas in the house due to slipping hazards and will likely require significant adjustments for a child in a wheelchair. Since each situation will be different, it can be helpful to watch your child maneuver the area and see where they are struggling. You can add grab bars and make modifications as they are needed. You will also want to:
- Ensure your bathroom is large enough for a wheelchair to turn around in.
- If possible, eliminate any edge or obstruction that would make it hard for them to get into the shower. Doorless showers can make it easy for a child to get in and out of the area to wash.
- Install grab bars along all sides of the shower so that your child can get themselves in and out easily.
- Place a seat inside the shower and position it so that your child can move easily from their chair to the bench.
- Make sure the floor has a no-slip pad to prevent injuries associated with slipping.
- Modify your sink for wheelchair access by either lowering it or reinforcing it to hold the weight of someone leaning on it.
- Lower the mirror so that someone in a wheelchair can see into it.
- Install grab bars by the toilet so that your child can easily maneuver onto it. The toilet area should be around 48 by 56 inches with at least 18 inches from the side wall.
Living Room and Bedroom Modifications
The living and bedroom areas should be positioned so that it’s easy for your child to move about.
- Arrange furniture so that there is nothing obstructing pathways in the house. Keep electrical cords off the floor.
- Designate a spot in the living room where your child can park their chair to join in on the activities.
- Avoid having area rugs as these can obstruct a wheelchair.
- Make sure there is ample room for your child to turn around and move freely in a wheelchair. Open-concept floor plans are great for this.