Your home is your castle. When you consider the function of a home, you probably come up with a few different answers. A home is a place to relax — a space to take care of your needs, such as grooming, eating, and sleeping. A home is where you store your belongings and might even be where you work. You have set it up for ease of use, in whatever fashion that may be. But if you or someone in your family has a disability, or special needs, your home may not be the comforting sanctuary you perceive it as. It may be a series of obstacles and another source of stress.
It doesn’t have to be. There are a number of excellent ways to adapt your home for all the needs of your family. The goal here is to take your concept of what makes a house a home and apply that to match the needs of those differently abled. This could entail widening halls or doorways and adding ramps for wheelchair accessibility. It could be as simple as enhancing the lighting or rearranging the furniture. Different needs come with various adaptations, so we’ll look at several common needs and modifications for the home below.
Home modifications for down syndrome and autism
When adapting the home, your primary concern is the needs of the individual you’re modifying it for. There’s no catch-all advice regarding special needs modifications; all children are different, and their needs can vary wildly. You know your child best, so you’ll have to determine how to adapt the space into something of their own. An of course, you’ll want to prioritize safety first and foremost. If your child is prone to running outside without a moment’s notice, you will start with the doors. If they love running hot water from the tub, you may begin modifications in the bathroom.
Most modifications for your home will be safety-focused, especially to start. This would include securing dangerous items out of reach (consider chef’s knives and other utensils, for example) and covering all electrical outlets. This may consist of locks or alarms, especially if your child tends to wander out of the home. Beyond simple safety (simple but extremely important), you want your child to have as much independence as possible. It may be wise to have an expert who understands your child’s needs go through the home with you, to make specific suggestions. Professionals have a wealth of knowledge and experience to draw on. You’ll want safety systems designed for your child. A smoke alarm can be incredibly jarring and cause your child to try and hide from the noise or run from an overstimulating environment. Interior door sensors or interior cameras can help you know where your child is at all times.
You can get a home phone with easily recognized symbolic speed-dial buttons, so your child can act in an emergency. If your child has a cell phone, perhaps the important contacts use thumbnail photos for speed-dialing. You should also consider an emergency or panic button, which can be placed around the house or worn by a child as a necklace or wristband.
You’ll want to secure all off-limits areas — lock areas with dangerous objects, such as knife drawers, medicine cabinets, closets with cleaning supplies, and sheds with gardening equipment inside. You should install sensors in all these places to know when they are opened. You’ll want to set up physical boundaries, such as fences, so your child doesn’t wander into unsafe areas unsupervised. Other ways to do this are with door chimes, motion lights, or motion detectors that provide you with alerts. It would be great if your child had safe outdoor access to gain sunlight and perhaps enable social interactions, such as a patio overlooking the street. Some people use “hot zones,” which color-code the home. This shows the child which areas are risky and which areas they have complete independence. There are numerous down syndrome retrofits you can utilize.
Children with autism experience senses in extremes. Some experience them in significant ways, while others barely experience them at all. Depending on your loved one will determine on how you tackle home modifications for autism. Lighting and colors can easily overwhelm a person with autism. Flickering lights, such as fluorescent or CFL lighting, can be an issue, so consider switching to LED. Lighting can also make a buzzing sound, which can be painful to someone with autism. For colors, consider calming colors over vibrancy. For sound, consider a noise-dampening carpet over the use of hardwood. You can create sensory retreats with light projectors, weighted blankets, therapeutic swings, and much more.
Adaptations for cerebral palsy and muscular dystrophy
For people who live with cerebral palsy or muscular dystrophy, the home can be a very challenging series of obstacles. It doesn’t need to be. You can adapt your home to be barrier-free – a mobility/wheelchair-accessible home.
In the bedroom, try widening the door from 32 inches to 48 — this is one of the most significant impacts on mobility. A bed lift is also beneficial (these usually hang from the ceiling), but if that’s out of budget, try to keep the bed the same height as the wheelchair. This will make transfer easier.
Ramps, including the portable folding kind, are a must for stairs, especially for small staircases like home entrances. For staircases, a stairlift makes all the difference for mobility around the home. Elevators can also be installed within a few days and prove an excellent investment.
Install grab bars, safety rails, shower seats, and roll-in showers in the bathroom. Lower the toilet seat to make transferring from the wheelchair to the seat easier. Set the bathroom counter heights appropriately (do this in the kitchen as well). You can set your doors with lever handles or automatic openers.
Assistive technology has come a long way to help patients manage specific abilities and needs. This tech can include apps or gadgets, such as voice recording devices or apps that monitor movement around the home and aid in multi-tasking. There are many resources for assistive technology, so be sure to consult with a professional who can understand your child’s needs and the technology available in your budget that can assist those needs. Providing the necessary changes throughout the home gives your child independence, confidence, and a place to feel secure.
House changes for the hard of hearing
There are many great deaf-mute home tips you can implement. One of the best ways to modify the home for the hard of hearing is with a design for sight lines. These people rely on sight for information, and you want to maximize that information throughout the house. To do this, arrange furniture in a circle or horseshoe formation, so no matter where in a room you sit, you can see everyone else. If spaces are closed off with walls, consider knocking some of those walls down or replacing them with windows. Colors can make a significant difference in a room as well. You want colors that reduce glare or eye strain and ideally contrast with a person’s skin tone, so it’s easy to take in a room at-a-glance. Shadows can be distracting, but so can too much light — the more natural light you can implement, the better. Better light can also make sign language clearer.
Next, let’s talk about the acoustics of the home. People with cochlear implants can find echoes and constant whirring to be a nuisance or even downright painful. High ceilings can play a significant part in a room’s echo. Lowering a ceiling is an expensive renovation, but you can consider sound muffling ceiling tiles as an alternative option. Hardwood floors can have a similar echoing effect but can be replaced with carpets, tiles, or well-placed rugs. You can help soundproof windows with heavy drapes, caulking, and weather-strip rattling windows. Some windows are designed to block sound if you’re in a position to replace your windows altogether.
When it comes to appliances, the newer the appliance, the less noise pollution it creates. A handy hack for washing machines and dryers is to place them on blankets, towels or sliders rather than directly on the floor, mitigating the worst of their vibrations. Smoke alarms were designed to be heard, which isn’t exactly effective in our situation. Many new models have flashing lights or will even vibrate when it detects smoke. Home security systems can flash specific colors for different warnings they want to convey. Many appliances are getting “smart” and can notify a person’s phone when turned on. Light and faucet sensors can only engage when people are in range to activate them. Even doorbells have been designed for the hearing impaired. Phones have come a long way, from highly accurate voice-to-text apps, and for zoom calls, you can even use an ASL service that will hop on the call and translate for you as your family or friends talk.
House modifications for the blind or visually impaired
If you’re modifying your home for someone blind or visually impaired, you should try color contrasting the important aspects in a room. A black switch plate on a white wall or painted edges on stairs and landings that contrast with the floor color can be very helpful. You can even apply this to doorknobs. Lighting will play a big part in your home. You’ll want lots of ceiling lights but beware of hanging ones you can walk into. If you have lamps, don’t keep them near the edges of shelves and tables so they aren’t accidentally knocked down. You’ll want to hang mirrors so they’re not catching the light and causing glare.
For safety in a blind-accessible home, ensure railings extend past the top and bottom steps. You’ll want to organize your furniture close together, so they can be used as a guide when walking. Replace any worn carpeting. You’ll want to install anti-slip mats for the bathroom and ensure grab bars are installed where needed. In the kitchen, you can avoid a stove hood. A good habit is to close all cupboards right away so your loved one doesn’t bang their head on one. You should remove the rugs altogether, but if that isn’t an option, tape them down. Tape down electrical cords and trip hazards as well. Patterned floor coverings can be confusing for the visually impaired. Keep walls free of decoration, so your visually impaired loved one can trail it without knocking your art off the wall.
The best way to help a visually impaired person you live with is to ensure the spaces are kept as they are expected. Keep chairs tucked in and keep things in their proper place. People rely on memory and their other senses without relying on sight, so you want to make those processes smooth. If you are accommodating a seeing-eye dog, create a space for them. Fence in the backyard, and get a dog whistle for communication.
House tips for Alzheimer’s and dementia
For an Alzheimer’s or dementia home, it’s essential to remember that it will be difficult to change a person’s behavior rather than changing your home to assist them. You’ll want to make your bathroom anti-slip and consider a shower chair and grab bars. You should remove the lock to the bathroom door, so your loved one doesn’t lock themselves in an emergency. If there’s anything electrical or hazardous, lock it away. You can also consider lowering the hot water temperature to below 120F.
Be sure to lock up spaces that would be a danger, such as a tool shed or closet where you keep your cleaning supplies. Install safety knobs on the stove. You may consider night lights throughout the house. A person with dementia may not realize fake fruit is inedible or that a large door is glass. You could label it or lose the fake fruit altogether. Many families put photos of people with their numbers attached on display. Pictures of loved ones create a positive vibe around the home and help to facilitate memories.
Some people with dementia love to wander. It will help them to label items, cabinets, pictures, and various rooms. You can even write details about daily routines. You can get GPS monitoring devices, such as a watch or a piece of jewelry, to find someone if they are lost. Your goal is to ensure your loved one isn’t going to hurt themselves, so prevent access to places they can cause damage. Otherwise, minimize confusion as best you can. You want to be able to relax in your home as well, and you’ll accomplish that with peace of mind. You’ll also sleep easier knowing your loved one is comfortable within their home.
If you have a person with specific needs within the home, it’s essential to consider safety above all else. You want to be able to protect them in an emergency and minimize the odds of them hurting themselves. Beyond that, you can do a wide variety of options within your home to improve it for others’ needs. Some you can implement immediately, and others may take more thought or planning. Doing so will make the home precisely that: a home. A castle for all those who live within to relax, play, learn, sleep, and live. That alone is worth every effort.
About the Author
Modern Health Talk has published over 50 other articles with accessible home remodeling ideas. Check them out here.
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