Give the Gift of Mobility

Design for the Accessible Home

Story & Photos By Carolin Santangelo

Goals for the New Year may motivate you to undertake projects to make your house more accessible. You may be considering improvements for your own convenience, or you may need to accommodate the special needs of a loved one in your household. If you are considering a new home or an addition to or remodel of your existing home, there are features to incorporate into the design that will make your home more welcoming, and that will permit more independence for those whose physical condition is limiting.

Many of our island homes are multi-story; whether quaint Victorian, charming bungalow raised above flood elevation, or beach or bay house constructed on pilings. While a single level house with no elevation changes might be the biggest criteria to meet for many who are disabled, it is possible to have an elevator installed in a multi-story home to minimize part of this issue. Beyond that, there are other alterations that can be made, or careful design incorporated into your plans that will reduce the effort of those who are disabled.

ADA (American Disabilities Act) compliance, or total barrier free design may not be necessary in all circumstances, and will depend greatly on individual physical limitations. (Refer to If mobility is hampered by a walker or partial use of a wheelchair, it is possible to implement modest changes that will permit greater ease of use.

The next biggest obstacle to mobility, after elevation change, is door size, making a walker or wheelchair difficult or impossible to negotiate. Doors can be virtually any size, from 24” width and up, usually in 2” increments. (Yes, even smaller, and those with old homes may find unique custom sizes!) To maneuver a wheelchair, a minimum of 32”, or 2’8”, door is recommended. If the approach to a door is angled, it should be 36” wide.

It is a nice sentiment to add 3’ wide doors throughout the home, however, that alone won’t enable a handicapped individual to function without assistance. Space limitations may be the biggest constraint in accessible design. ADA compliance will require wide open designs of kitchens and baths, and rooms where a wheelchair will be expected to navigate.

On paper, these will have a look of wasted floor space; though will be necessary to accommodate the required five foot turning radius of a wheelchair. Approaches to fixtures such as sink, toilet, and bath or shower will need to be clear, and be openly accessible to fit a wheelchair beside or beneath, while the person transfers from wheelchair to fixture. Accessible toilets range from 17 to 19 inch height, or raised seats can be installed. Grab bars are a necessity to assist with safe transfer.

Bathtubs are dangerous for many of us even without disability, so a walk-in tub or roll-in shower is optimal for independent use. The roll-in shower will take a lot of space, and without a curbing to contain water, can promote drainage and slip/fall issues. Prefabricated roll-in style shower stalls are available in various sizes. Single handle bath and shower faucets are recommended throughout. Vanity cabinets will require a clear knee space for seated or wheelchair access. Other items will assist, such as a shower seat, a tilt mirror over vanity, and storage shelving built to appropriate heights.

There are measures that can be undertaken to design the kitchen for ease of use. Rather than a central work island, it also will require wide open turning spaces, and wide pathways for use of walker or wheelchair.

According to A Marco from Amarco Plumbing, as with bath vanity, the kitchen sink will require clear knee space below, which may require adjusting drain plumbing to get it out of the way. Raised dishwashers are recommended for ease of use, and a microwave installed on or below counter level is a thoughtful feature. A faucet with integrated pull-out spray head offers additional convenience. Base cabinet pull-out shelf features that are becoming very popular in the mainstream are a good fit into the accessible kitchen as well, promoting handy access to pantry goods and kitchen implements.

You may be thinking of a parent or grandparent’s needs in order to make them comfortable at home. Or, you may be interested in ensuring greater access as your own mobility is hampered by advancing years. Given the opportunity, most of us would choose to retire in the comfort of our own home as long as we enjoy some mobility.

The demand for accessible housing will increase as the population ages. Your home can be remodeled or designed with modifications that will provide you with comfort and convenience to meet these needs.

Seaside Home Design, LLC endeavors to educate Islander readers regarding a full spectrum of home design and construction issues; products and materials, and construction techniques; particularly those specific to seaward construction, and also profiles interesting custom-home design projects.

Carolin Santangelo is a home designer and owner of Seaside Home Design, LLC. Contact, or 409-632-0381.

Leave a Reply