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Property expert Lucy Alexander on how to adapt your home for a wheelchair-user

PUBLISHED: 04:18 12 June 2015 | UPDATED: 15:01 12 June 2015

For bathrooms, step-less showers and wet rooms can help make life easier

For bathrooms, step-less showers and wet rooms can help make life easier

Archant

This month, our resident property expert, Homes Under the Hammer's Lucy Alexander, on how to adapt your home for a wheelchair-user...

Lucy with her daughter KittyLucy with her daughter Kitty

Originally published in Surrey Life magazine May 2015

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Life has a habit of throwing a curveball when you least expect it and for us it was a rare illness that struck our daughter Kitty back in 2010. Overnight, her life was changed in a way that we never imagined possible and slowly we had to adapt to the fact that Kitty was going to need to use a wheelchair for her mobility.

Physical issues that impair our ability to move can strike at any age, in many different ways, but whatever the cause, the important thing is to stay positive and create an environment that works for everyone’s day-to-day living. There are many clever (and stylish) changes that can be made to the home to make it more accessible and add value. So, this month, I share my experience of designing a home to suit different physical abilities and budgets.

Funding help

With general home improvements, most people cut their cloth to fit, but when it comes to adapting a home for a disability, there is financial help available. The 
Spinal Injuries Association (SIA) has a really useful website (spinal.co.uk) where you can download factsheets, including one about the Disabled Facilities Grant. Another useful website for advice on home adaptations and where to find recommended tradesmen is foundations.uk.com.

Entry points

Access into your property is usually the first part of any adaption process, especially if there is a wheelchair to contend with. For some, this will be a 
case of having the door gaps widened, the threshold levelled, creating wide-sited steps and perhaps installing some attractive handrails. Depending on requirements, also think about the height of things like door handles and keyholes as these need to work for everyone in the house.

Surrey-based garden designer Wendy Stokes (wendystokes.com) created a very subtle change to our last property and one that meant that Kitty could get in and out of her home without any assistance.

“Using traditional paving materials, you can create beautiful sloped entrances that blend in perfectly with your property,” explains Wendy. “Ideally, these slopes should be as shallow as possible and UK guidelines stipulate that the maximum permissible gradient is 1:12, but the shallower the better.

“Some materials are harder for wheelchairs or walking devices than others but paving slabs, resin-bound gravel and even brick can create lovely surfaces without the need for steps.”

I would also recommend installing lighting around the entrance and exit to the home because it will reduce the chances of a fall or a wheelchair tipping over in the dark.

Moving around

If there is scope to knock down a wall or two, or if you’re designing a property from scratch, create as much open space as possible because this allows everyone to feel free to move around with ease and integrate with all aspects of day-to-day living. Where doors are necessary, a 34-inch gap is the minimum for wheelchairs to be able to pass through.

If stairs have become an issue and the property is on the large side then, in some cases, it is possible to install a lift and it doesn’t have to stick out like a sore thumb. Lifts can be boxed in and the new surfaces made into a feature with some beautiful wallpaper, art, or integral bookshelves.

Easy access

In my view, having independence in the kitchen and bathroom is a must. We are currently planning a new kitchen and have incorporated a lowered worktop, sink and cupboards so that Kitty can make her own cup of tea and toast from wheelchair height. For someone with arthritis, a simple change could be installing an instant hot water tap, which replaces the need to pick up a kettle, fill with water and pour – all challenging acts if joints are inflamed and painful.

In the bathroom, consider installing a wet room where there is either sufficient space for a wheelchair user to roll-in or a transfer seat to be installed. If bathing is preferred, for advice on the many options available, check out dlf.org.uk/factsheets/bathing. Grab rails are particularly important in the bathroom but again they can be designed to blend in.

Depending on the disability, lowered sinks, cabinets and mirrors are all important changes for a wheelchair user. Choosing a non-slip floor in the bathroom will also be advantageous so check out textured tiles or resins.

My final top tip is that I often see adapted homes for sale on Homes Under the Hammer, so if you are looking to bag a bargain but not rip out the handrails, the auction room might be the best place to start your search.

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Lucy Alexander presents Homes Under the Hammer, BBC One 10am daily. Follow her on twitter @LucyAlexanderTV

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