Home-Buying for Those With a Physical Disability

Owning your own home is a wonderful, if sometimes intimidating, experience. It you’re buying your first home, the experience can be even more exciting but intimidating all at the same time. Owning a home is normally the most expensive asset a person may have and it helps any person feel much more a stalwart member of the community.

kitchen-handicap-accessableReal estate agents sometimes mention that it’s easy for them, as they drive down a street, to point out rentals as opposed to owner-occupied homes. The former simply don’t show the care. The lawns are frequently improperly cared for, the overall appearance just doesn’t show the care a homeowner lavishes on the residence that fills a person with the pride of ownership.

Unfortunately, unless we’re having a home constructed to order, most homes are built following a pretty standard set of rules. The width of corridors, doorways, the height of counters and cabinets, all these are normally of a standard measure.

But for those of us who are physically disabled, many of the standard features of every home can be more than a challenge; some can make it impossible for the new owner to enjoy the full benefits of home ownership. Even those who are not wheelchair bound still would appreciate some of the tips below. After a severe car accident that left my neck in severe pain, I was forced to use a cervical traction device multiple times a day. Needless to say, I understood for a short period of time how difficult common tasks could be.

If you’re confined to a wheelchair, stairs are of course, out of the question, although it is quite possible to have a stairwell elevator installed. In the kitchen the counters may be uncomfortably high, and the kitchen sink is for adults who can stand on two feet and look down into them. Here below are listed some installations to consider for a disabled person who intends to buy a home.

The Kitchen and Bathroom

We should consider the height of kitchen cabinets. Those below the counters may be easily accessible, but those above are often even too high for average homeowners to reach in comfort. Now is the time to consider whether this would be a serious problem.

It’s important too, to consider the placement of appliances in the kitchen. Normally, in more modern kitchens, appliances are placed in a way that makes working in the kitchen convenient, but in many older homes, these designs had not been so well thought out. Some homes predate the arrival of modern refrigerators, so we find them in an odd location, sometimes not even in the same room as the range and kitchen sink. When we’re confined to a wheelchair, convenience is a major concern.

The bathroom too may have cabinets for storage of towels, etc. Some cabinets could make difficult if not impossible for a disabled person to reach in and remove towels or tissues, etc. It’s important too, that the knobs or pulls on cabinets and drawers be easily within reach and that these doors operate easily and smoothly. There is nothing more frustrating than a cabinet door that sticks.

Is it easy to get in and out of the bath or shower easily? In some homes, a walk-in or sometimes a roll-in shower may be available where a bath chair may allow the disabled person to shower in comfort. While there are tubs with doors making entry and exit easy, they would appear to present problems of their own and the homeowner should give the matter serious thought before going to the extra expense. Sturdy handrails around baths, toilets and perhaps other areas in the home can be an extremely helpful safety aid, even for those who are not wheelchair bound but nevertheless use a cane or walker and have difficulty with balance.

Hallways and Stairs

buying-home-disabilityMany homes have hallways that do not consider wheelchairs. In some older homes, a wider hallway may be found, but in today’s homes, most hallways are barely three feet wide. While this may allow the passage of a wheelchair, the hallways must be kept clear of furniture and other objects at all times. It is important of course, for the disabled person to get from room to room without constant difficulties.

As to stairways, these can be impossible for some. But even for those who are mobile, a staircase can present a formidable challenge. Sturdy railings are of course vital. A fall on stairs can be life-threatening. As mentioned above, stair lifts are available, but these too, like the walk-in baths, can be costly extra expenses for the new homeowner.

Exterior Concerns

A disabled homeowner doesn’t want to negotiate a long arduous trip, especially one encumbered by steps, to get from the garage to the entrance of the home. Just getting from the vehicle to the door of the home shouldn’t try the owner’s patience and wear a person out.

Therefore, it’s important to consider any steps between the garage and the entrance to the home. If the entry is from within the garage, there still may be at least one step to hurdle before gaining entry.

Lighting and Switches

Another consideration that may easily be overlooked is the height and location of lights and light switches as well as electrical outlets. It’s important that the disabled owner be able to reach all of these without too much trouble. It’s hard enough for those with debilitating back pain to figure out the best way to sleep with lower back pain, and not having a light switch within easy reach after getting in bed is one of the worst feelings. Even smoke alarms and carbon-monoxide detectors should be located within easy reach of the homeowner.

The home should have adequate indoor lighting. Rooms that lack sufficient lighting can be dangerous for a disabled person who may not clearly see obstacles in the way.

It the homeowner relies on a land line, it’s important to have plenty of phone jacks installed so that any room can be used to make a telephone call, especially in an emergency. Fortunately, these days most of us have a cell phone that is handy to keep on our person at all times.

It’s a good idea to know the distance to the homes of neighbors and the distance medical personnel would have to travel to the home, and it’s also import to consider making it as easy as possible for medical help to get to the owner when necessary. Another extra but perhaps worthwhile expense would be to have an alarm that one wears at all times, alerting a company of an emergency. This can be especially important if the homeowner lives alone. The more access a disabled person has to assistance the better.