Home, accessibility and your options
By Dara McMillan, LMSW, LIVING WELL Magazine
Home. It’s that place of comfort where you can relax at the end of a long day. Simply put, we love our homes. Poems, quotations and books have been written about them for centuries. While we can’t wait to grow up and leave home when we’re young, we want to grow old and spend the remainder of our lives in this familiar dwelling.
Now imagine for a moment that you cannot enter or navigate through your home because your physical status has changed. We don’t like to think about it but accidents happen and injuries occur, every day. Our soldiers are coming back from war often in a very different physical state from when they left. Many walk with difficulty, using a cane, walker or wheelchair.
And then there is our senior population: every day 10,000 Baby Boomers are turning 65 and this is going to continue for the next 20 years. As our population ages, and people are living longer with chronic illnesses and injuries, the likelihood of experiencing difficulty with mobility is increasing.
It wasn’t all that long ago when someone who was a senior and had mobility challenges would be asked to come live with a family relative, or considered moving to an assisted living or skilled nursing facility.
Now, people with physical limitations have more options than ever before. Since the American with Disabilities Act was signed into law on July 26, 1990, there has been a huge shift in thinking about what those with physical disabilities need to function more successfully in our society.
It has become possible for people with mobility limitations to have their homes adapted through modifications to support them living at home for life, or “aging in place.”
There are now professionals who have been taught the strategies and techniques to support someone who wants to “age in place.” AARP and the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) got together several years ago and developed the Certified Aging in Place Specialist (CAPS) designation.
CAPS professionals specialize in the unique needs of our senior population who may be experiencing barriers in their home setting due to decreased physical functioning.
For example, entryways with steps can have ramps built, either made from wood or material such as aluminum. Entryways that need a ramp can often be adapted in a less visible part of the home. Many people are using ramps in their garage entrance or around the back entrance of the home, so as not to change the aesthetics of their landscape.
Once inside the home, the problem of gaining access to a bathroom with a 24” or 28” doorway (which is common in many older homes in Atlanta) can be addressed through widening the doorway to 32” or 36”. This is wide enough to allow passage by most wheelchairs, which usually measure at least 27” wide. Another option is to use offset door hinges, which is a good non-structural solution for someone who needs only a couple of extra inches of room to gain access through the doorway. Offset door hinges allow for the hinge to be pushed back to the wall, giving additional width to the doorway.
Here in Atlanta we are very fortunate to have so many resources to support our growing segment of the population who have physical needs and challenges. One of our newer resources to support “aging in place” is the Greater Atlanta Chapter of the National Aging in Place Council, or NAIPC (www.naipc.org). The mission of this organization is to educate and provide knowledge of home and community based resources and services so that someone who wants to remain in their home for a lifetime can do so more successfully.
You have options with your home regardless of your abilities. Home can continue to be that place of comfort for a lifetime. But, just as we plan for our futures, we need to examine our homes and plan for needs we might encounter during our lifetime.
Dara McMillan, LMSW, is a licensed social worker and owner of My Accessable Home, a home modification company that serves all the metro counties in Atlanta. They provide free in-home assessments to give options and ideas for those looking to improve accessibility and functioning in the home setting. She can be reached at 404-274-1488 or firstname.lastname@example.org.