Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Our Checklist for a (Semi) Wheelchair-Accessible Home

The time comes at different points for different families - the time when a move is required to deal with accessibility issues. For us it came a few months ago when Mason broke 30 pounds. We needed a wheelchair in the house to get him around, and we needed a way to get the wheelchair around the house too.

Not having a budget or time to build a house that is totally accessible for a wheelchair (we had 30 days from the time our old house sold to close on another one), or to buy a house already built to all the ADA specs, but nevertheless needing something more workable for our specific situation, we went on the hunt for a house that we called, for lack of a better word, "adaptable" or "semi-accessible."

So what were we looking for? What were our priorities? First, we made a list of what we DIDN'T need. We crossed off our list several items most people assume are necessities for accessible homes but aren't to us right now.  Things like accessible showers, handicapped ramps, stair lifts, track systems, accessible sinks/countertops -- while they may be needed eventually, these are not required for us yet. Instead, we needed a home structured in such a way that it would be easy to add these things as needed later without a lot of demolition and rebuilding. For now, we wanted something very "Mason-friendly" and flexible for the future. It couldn't be overall much bigger than our previous house as far as finished space due to budget, just a better use of space. Here's what our "dream house" looked like us (we moved in October 8):

Our goal was to have everything on the same floor so that stairs aren't even an issue. We do have a basement for storage and storms. But there's no reason for Mason to need to go downstairs much. One of my favorite parts of the new house is having the laundry room on the main level! This will be great for all of us as we get old :) At our old house, we didn't like having to send big brother downstairs to the playroom. This time we looked for bigger main level bedroom for him that would allow us to keep his playroom and most of his toys in his room.

wheelchair accessible home huntwheelchair accessible home hunt

The most important item on our search was for a hallway that would accommodate a wheelchair. Most of the existing homes in our budget where we lived were older and had very narrow halls (including the house we already had). To find the wider halls we had to move further out of town but we felt it was important enough to our well being that it was worth a further drive. We doubted we could find doorways that would accommodate a wheelchair even in a house with wide halls, but what a blessing to find that his wheelchair fits easily through the master bedroom door (where he sleeps) and through the master bath door (where he bathes). Mason will be able to get "curbside" service for a long time and our backs are very grateful!
wheelchair accessible home huntwheelchair accessible home hunt

Mason's main mode of mobility right now is rolling. Because of his sensory defensiveness, he also prefers carpet to hard flooring. So we needed someplace with lots of open carpeting for him to explore safely. If it turns out he moves on to walking or even ends up getting around by wheelchair or gait trainer instead of rolling, this setup will be easy to switch out to laminate or hardwood. This house not only has exactly the kind of layout we needed for that, but the whole living room also can be viewed from a distance so I can keep an eye on him even from the kitchen. The kitchen is a great place for using his gait trainer too because of its open hardwood design.
 wheelchair accessible home hunt
wheelchair accessible home huntwheelchair accessible home hunt

Mason loves the water and he's still a tub guy. For practical bathing we aren't much into the special needs "bath chairs" yet, mostly for reasons of storage and the fact that it's really hard to get the back of him clean if he's sitting in a chair. So we wanted a tub that is big enough for a grown-up to fit comfortably, and a tub not blocked by a toilet like our old tub was, or by the faucets, which would prevent caregivers from lifting him in easily. Right now we use a neck ring and earplugs system so he can float and play and we can get him clean on all sides. This house also has a shower stall and space so if we have a change of heart we can switch the shower out to the roll-in variety later down the road.
wheelchair accessible home huntneck float special needs

 We are especially thankful for a bigger closet in our room to allow us space not only for clothes, but for lots of Mason's medical supplies. His infusion and feeding equipment all have a nice "home" now instead of taking over our bedroom :) The living room coat closet stores lots of his therapy gear and there is a perfect "nook" at the back of the living room, out of his "roll" zone for keeping his stander and wheelchair when not in use.

wheelchair accessible home hunt

So, those are the highlights. We love the neighborhood too and that we can use the subdivision pool for aquatherapy in the warmer evenings of summer. We feel very blessed to have found so much of what we were looking for in such a short time. We'll still need to make some changes to make it work financially so pray for us as we seek to figure out all those details. In the meantime we've enjoyed a very snowy winter settling in!
wheelchair accessible home hunt
Can't wait for warmer weather to spend more time at the wheelchair-accessible park 5 minutes away!! :D

Mason's Mix

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