By Rachel Harris
My husband and I were fortunate enough to buy our first home in April 2017. We were able find a Ranch property that had previously belonged to someone using a wheelchair. However as well all know, all modifications are different for wheelchair users. Our house had a ramp to the front door and a few widened door frames when we purchased it, which is great but not all the modifications that we needed.
Before we moved in, our biggest modification was to the bathroom. The master bathroom had a standard bathtub which does not work for my C5 quadriplegic husband. My husband did a lot of research and we finally purchased a shower pan that worked for us and had a contractor do all of the installation and tiling. Installing the bathroom sink was also a consideration. We had to find one that did not have legs to it. Many of the ones that we looked at didn’t really work. We ended up taking the one out of our own old home.
Something I would recommend when working with a contractor, is to be very transparent with what you mean by wheelchair accessible. Our door threshold to the bathroom for example, had to be redone because it had a slight lip to it. That is fine for some people, but for my husband if he is in his manual chair, it does not work. Small things like that are things that we know to be norm for us but not all contractors have experience modifying homes.
Another modification we made, was to tear up all the carpet and have the underlying hardwood resurfaced. We paid for an extra layer of sealant to protect the floor from the chair. We did keep a long runner at the front door to help “wipe” off wheelchair wheels.
Another great accessibility feature that feels quite luxurious but really helps is the smart home technology. We have the Amazon Echo or Dot in most rooms. The matching light switches and dimmers are installed throughout the house. That makes it much easier for my husband to operate lights and protects the walls from the ever present accidental nicks and scratches from the chair.
The one thing we couldn’t really find a modification for that we liked is our master bedroom. My husband uses a medical bed that has a pressure alternating mattress, raises both head, feet and the bed itself. We looked for a bed that would look and feel like one king sized bed. We did find a company that specializes in building frames that allow his side of the bed to maintain its function and mine just be a standard bed. Their base price was about $8,000. At the time we were also preparing for IVF, so that was put on the back burner. I do think it is important to prioritize what modifications and items you need first, and then do things one at a time. It can seem very daunting, not to mention expensive if you try to plan everything at once. So for now, I have a regular twin bed next to his medical bed.
From my perspective, one of the things that I am most grateful for about our home is the storage space. Our lives come with a lot of medical equipment, spare parts and spare chairs.
We have dedicated one whole closet to medical equipment. It is now easily retrieved if we need it, and I can keep track of what we have.
All home modifications are slightly different but I think it is important to have patience and a fair amount trial and error. We are going on two years in our home and we are still working on it and finding ways to make things more accessible for my husband. - Rachel