Home Accessibility: Wheelchair User/ Physical Disability

Hands down the WORST thing about being a wheelchair user is inaccessibility. Not only is it a struggle to navigate public places but also my home. I currently live with my wonderful mother in a two story standalone home with a sunken room leading to an attached garage on top of a rather steep hill. None of the entry doors to my home had level access, although when we brought the house and renovated, we did widen some doorways incase I needed to use my wheelchair- good thinking eh? When I was discharged from the hospital in November there were 0 modifications. We had to put a hospital bed in our living room as I was not able to get up and down the steps and we put tension rods and curtains across the doorways as they had no doors. But all we had on the first floor was a powder room bathroom which was too small for my wheelchair. Additionally, to get out of the house I would have to roll to the den, which is sunken, transfer to the floor and bump my wheelchair down then crawl to the garge door, bump my chair down another three steps then scoot down those and into my chair.

Goal One: A Ramp

Picture of metal wheelchair ramp in garage leading to wooden platform
Ramp with wooden extension to lower grade ft. my awesome koala PJS

We started by trying to solve the ingress/egress issue by building a ramp. We had a few options but ultimately decided to put it in the garage because it 1) had the least number of steps 2) had the lowest rise and 3) was weather protected. I am blessed to have some handy people in my family but if you don’t, there is often a charitable organization in the area that builds them using volunteers. I would recommend calling a building supply store near you and ask if they know of anyone if online searches are not fruitful. What we ended up doing was building a 4 ft x 4 ft platform at the interior door level, then buying a pre-fab 10 ft metal ramp with grab rails on craigslist. To decrease the slope some more, we also built a small extra wedge to extend the ramp another 2 ft. My father also got stair stringers and built stairs off the other side of the platform for the bipedal members of my family. The metal ramp has worked great, it is easy to clean and durable and the handles allow me to pull myself up smoothly since it is steeper than ADA and I have a manual wheelchair. The one downside is it is rather noisy but that seems inevitable. We also added some industrial carpet squares to the platform and the wooden wedge to help dry my wheels, protect the wood, look snazzy and make it quieter.

Goal Two: Upstairs!

Picture of carl fredrickson from the movie UP riding a stairlift

My Everest. For several weeks, anytime I needed to bathe, I would have to bum shuffle my way up the stairs, scoot my way into my moms bathroom, get all nice and clean then bum shuffle in my fresh new clothes back down the hallway and downstairs. As a night showerer, this was often the straw that broke my back energy and frustration wise. Between that and getting sick of my frivingroom status, we started looking at options to get me upstairs. Being a rock climber and maker I was thinking I could rig up this ridiculous system but sadly there were some design flaws. But seriously, there was really only two options: elevator or stair lift. Elevators are EXTRAORDINARILY expensive and especially since we weren’t planning on me living here til the end of time, a stair lift was really the only feasible option. Luckily, we have an amazing company locally that does everything from adapted cars to stairlifts to ramps so we were able to go try one out in their showroom. I channeled my best Carl Fredrickson.

We found out that stairlifts are typically $3-5,000 and are NOT covered by insurance. Boo. Thankfully I am privileged enough to be able to make it happen and so we got the stairlift installed the next week. We already had extra wide stairs which was beneficial for those pesky bipedal inhabitants so that wasn’t an issue for us. The track sits on top of the stairs (drilled in) and the chair runs up and down it and is controlled by either a remote or a little switch on the armrest. The chair also swivels when at the top and bottom to allow for easier transfers. Additionally, it folds up flatter so it doesn’t get in the way when not in use. It has a seatbelt that I totally use every time cause safety first? The model I have also has these bumpers on the footplate and the base that will stop the chair if it makes contact (ie toy left on the stairs in the way etc). It isn’t super fast (52 seconds to go 14 steps) but it’s fairly quiet and reliable. It plugs into the wall but has a battery that can make (at least) 2 trips if the power goes out. It may also be theorhetically of course very nice for carying up laundry or suitcases, I wouldn’t know anything about that though. This little bugger allows me to sleep in my bed, bathe myself, access my stuff, and navigate my entire house independently. It ain’t pretty but its absolutely worth it!

Goal Three: Ditch the Hospital Bed

Adjustable bed frame with remote

Due to the nature of my disabilities and the limitations of my house at the time of my discharge, we had to rent a hospital bed for a couple months so I had a safe place to sleep while we made adaptations. While that did its job, I missed my bed and my door and all my decorations but even with the stairlift, my old bed wouldn’t be safe for me. I needed to be able to adjust my bed and feet to various positions at various times and I needed to make sure I didn’t fall out of bed. One of my wonderful friends suggested getting an adjustable bed frame which meant I could keep the mattress I already had (many mattresses are compatible with adjustable beds but not all- check before you buy!). So I got to researching and found that most queen size adjustable frames range from $200-$2000. After weighing my options and reading reviews, I decided on a frame by Blissful Nights as it was on sale and met my requirements. I could not be more pleased! This bed has changed my life!

Bed rail

This bed had lots of extra features I don’t use but the ability to adjust the head and feet so easily and whenever I needed it has really been a game changer. Gone are the days of 56 pillows being shoved in different orders and pillow wedges that are never comfortable! If I have to spend the day in bed, I can sit up and be support and change angles every few hours to shake things up. I have finally found a way to sleep inclined without messing up my hips and spine! As for the not falling out of bed deal, I solved this with a 3 part solution. 1) I keep my bed against the wall so that eliminated a whole side I don’t have to worry about. 2) I have this wonderful creation called a Yogibo Caterpillar Roll which is like a long beanbag snake thing/pregnancy pillow that can be used as support, a snuggle buddy, or in my case to keep me from punching the wall or rolling on the bed — bonus it is super cute! 3) I have a small rail/organizer that helps me transfer, prevents me from rolling off the bed and stores all my stuff.

Goal Four: Upstairs Mobility

Image of a red basic wheelchair
Wheelchair I use upstairs

Now that I have access to both floors and use them on the regular, a new problem came to — getting around upstairs when my wheelchair was downstairs. I had been scooting around for a while and while I am fairly mobile, I’m also fairly accident prone and was doing more damage to my legs than I thought. I don’t have a large house so there really wasn’t much ground to cover upstairs so we tried to find a cheep solution: office chair and a bunch of grab bars (vetoed), scooter like in kids gym class (vetoed), lawn chair with some wheels (vetoed), and second hand wheelchair (vetoed due to mast cells). What we finally ended up doing was getting a basic hospital type wheelchair that I only use upstairs until I get my next chair through insurance then my current chair will be my upstairs chair. I decided to go with this chair as it was light enough for me to push and I was able to strip off the footrests to decrease my turning radius. I also removed the armrests and part of the backrest. It is small enought to get me around and wasn’t too expensive. So far it has held up decently.

Everything Else

These are the major changes we have made to make this house accessible but are just a few of the many modifications and adaptations I use every day. Stay tuned for some of the hacks, devices and strategies I use to make my day easier!

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