Home Accessibility for the Older Generation
Synopsis: Article by Kathleen M. Cleaver looks at home accessibility for seniors. Searching for a new home can be fun, educational, and frustrating. We knew what we wanted - a safe home for our daughter. Because of our "advancing age," we were also looking to downsize. Houses often looked good on the internet, but when we went for a tour, many had rooms too small to accommodate a wheelchair, even with minimal furniture.
- Accessible Housing
Accessible housing refers to the construction or modification (such as through renovation or home modification) of housing to enable independent living for persons with disabilities. Accessibility is achieved through architectural design and by integrating accessibility features such as modified furniture, shelves, cupboards, or even electronic devices in the home. A growing trend among senior citizens is to "age in place," reflecting a desire to retain independence for as long as possible. Adaptations for seniors consider the most common physical impairments affecting the elderly.
Our daughter, Patricia is intellectually and physically disabled. She was a "functional walker" when she was younger, meaning she could walk independently on flat surfaces and could climb steps if there were handrails on both sides. As she grew older, she began to lose her ability to walk safely. Getting her from the car and into the house, even when using a wheelchair, was an arduous task due to the incline of the driveway. She managed the steps to the second floor by crawling up on her hands and knees and sliding down on her butt. Then one evening she fell down the thirteen steps and into the tile foyer, breaking the hand rail as she fell. It was the scariest moment of my life! An ambulance trip to the emergency room revealed a bruised knee but no serious injuries. It was then that my husband and I decided to leave our wonderful neighbors and sell our home of 35 years.
Searching for A New Home
Searching for a new home can be fun, educational, and frustrating. We knew what we wanted- a safe home for our daughter. Because of our "advancing age," we were also looking to downsize. Like the show House Hunters, we had our list of requirements: one level, level lot and driveway, rooms large enough for furniture and wheelchair access, easy access showers, and a small lot. We also wanted to be close to our grandchildren. Houses often looked good on the internet, but when we went for a tour, many had rooms too small to accommodate a wheelchair, even with minimal furniture. The driveway was too steep or too far away from the entrance. There were steps, or the house needed too much work. After a year of searching, we found the perfect home for our daughter. The bathroom already had safety bars; the main rooms were open-concept, and the driveway and entrance were accessible. It even had a stair glide to the finished basement. We found the perfect home for our daughter's home visits.
Looking At Our New Home Differently
Our new home is perfect for our daughter, who is totally dependent on us for her care. We have plenty of room to maneuver her wheelchair. Our driveway and sidewalks are flat, providing easy access to the outdoors. Accommodations in the bathrooms ensure safety when assisting her in using the facilities. Then I read the story on the Disabled World website, "Little Yellow House: Becoming Rentable Goes Beyond Wheelchair Access." (Oct. 19, 2022) I started thinking about our home, which is not in an over-55 community, and about all the over-55 communities we researched and toured. Our home is perfect for our daughter, but will it be perfect for us as we grow older? My brain began to fill with what-ifs! What if it becomes dangerous for me to use a step stool to reach the upper kitchen cabinets or the controls on the stackable washer and dryer? What if I can't reach a lightbulb to change it when it blows out? What if the metal strip that holds down the carpet becomes a tripping hazard? What if I can no longer hear the doorbell? These may seem like little problems but can become major issues for older people, especially in preventing falls. After caring for my parents, I am aware of the changes and limitations that come with aging. Many of the "Little Yellow House" adaptations would also be beneficial when designing homes for the over-55 crowd.
What to Look for When Downsizing
Years ago, as people grew older, they moved in with their grown children. Today, many retired people are downsizing instead. Downsizing is getting rid of the items you no longer need and moving to a small, one-story home with little or no outdoor maintenance. There are other key factors one should consider:
- How easily can my home be adapted if my mobility becomes impaired?
- Is the flooring ADA approved?
- Are there enough electrical sockets, and are they strategically placed for things like a lift chair or an adjustable bed?
- Is the doorbell loud enough, or do I need some other kind of alert system?
- Does the bathroom have safety bars, a high-rise toilet, and a walk-in shower?
- Is the home close to stores, doctors, and a medical center?
- Are there dimmers on the lights? Is the area quiet? ( This is important for someone with dementia.)
- Is public transportation available?
- Is the house close to family or friends?
- What community resources are close by? (senior centers, churches, libraries)
We baby-proof our homes when we have young children so they can move around and play safely. Likewise, we should senior-proof our homes so as we age; we can live safely and independently.
About Kathleen M. Cleaver
Kathleen M. Cleaver holds a Bachelor’s degree in elementary education and the education of children whose primary disability is a visual impairment (TVI). During her thirty-year career as a teacher, Kathleen received the Penn-Del AER Elinor Long Award and the AER Membership Award for her service and contributions to the education of children with visual impairments. She also received the Elizabeth Nolan O’Donnell Achievement Award for years of dedicated service to St. Lucy Day School for Children with Visual Impairments.
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Cite This Page (APA): Kathleen M. Cleaver. (2022, November 27). Home Accessibility for the Older Generation. Disabled World. Retrieved September 22, 2023 from www.disabled-world.com/disability/accessibility/homes/older-generation.php
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