Recently, I completed an assignment in which I evaluated my home (not pictured) for accessibility for those with mobility, sensory, and cognitive disabilities. Below is my evaluation. This is a helpful practice to anyone who may expect an elderly family member to stay with them, or for someone who wants to get an idea of what those with disabilities need to live independently.
My Home and Accessibility
I live in an old four-plex. The unit is roughly 800 square feet and is partially underground. Doors are standard, but windows are old and single pane. Appliances are also old, and many surfaces and cabinets are no longer level. The main door opens to the living on the right and a wall to the left. The bathroom is straight ahead with a traditional tub-shower combo. Turning to the left is a small hallway with bedrooms on either side. The living room has the couch facing the left wall. The kitchen then opens to the left (or adjacent to the bathroom).
The front door is accessed by going down a small stairway and has a small porch. All doors are standard. The small hallway is tight, and the bathroom is galley style. The opening to the kitchen is quite large, yet there is a piano keyboard taking up part of the space. The dining table is on the left side of the kitchen, which gives little room to access the pantry. Lights and switches are standard as well.
Needed Accessibility Features
Those with mobility limitations need enough room to move around comfortably. Doors need to have enough space to allow a wheelchair or walker through without causing damage to the structure, AT device or individual. Storage needs to be easily reached—both in height and proximity. Desks and tables need to be at usable height with enough room to move in and out. Windows and doors need to be opened and closed independently.
Sensory issues are different for every individual. Common sensory impairments include vision/light, touch (e.g., temperature, pressure) and hearing/sound. Accessibility features include the ability to change lighting and sound to comfortable levels. Items in a home need to be easily seen, read, and/or heard. Temperature needs to be easily controlled and adjusted.
Cognitive impairments deal not only with memory but also with understanding. Features such as reminders, location trackers, routines and labels need to be available. Digital calendars, visual schedules, and location devices (e.g., Tile) are some examples of useful AT devices. Pill dispensers are most likely to be needed, as well as large print labels or labels that can speak with the aid of a smart pen.
Needed Accessibility Changes
No ramp exists for those with mobility limitations. The stairs need to be replaced with a ramp, as well as enlarging the door and replacing the standard handle with a lever type handle. The couch and piano keyboard need to be relocated to allow for wheelchair use. The desk in the spare bedroom can be replaced with a motorized sit/stand desk to fit needs for work or school, with computer peripherals connected via Bluetooth and the computer sitting on top of the desk. Ideally, all doors would be enlarged, the bathroom would be widened and the tub updated to a sit/stand shower, and the hallway would be enlarged or walls removed to get rid of the hallway altogether. However, those options are not viable options, unless you gut the apartment and start over.
Windows need to be updated for better temperature regulation for those with sensory impairments. Window A/C units would also need to be installed as my apartment does not have central air. The lights could also be updated to smart bulbs that can be controlled (color, temperature, hue) through an app. A home automation system—such as Google Home, Amazon Echo, or Apple Home—can manage sound, light and temperature fairly easily. My apartment has thick fabric curtains, which helps with light sensitivity. Beanbag chairs, noise-cancelling headphones, and weighted blankets can also be used to help with different sensory issues. Large print labels, and possibly braille, could be added to containers and cabinets throughout the apartment. Light alarms could be added instead of traditional alarm clocks and door bell.
The same changes of mobility and smart home features can benefit someone with cognitive impairments. I would change the containers we have in the apartment to clear with large print labels and possibly pictures so the individual and distinguish between food and other items. Small alarms on doors and windows can help the individual remember to close those openings when needed. Location features on phones and tablets can help prevent loss, and the use of Tile can keep track of other important items. Digital calendars and visual schedules can help with memory and allow the individual to feel more in control. We do have a few white boards around the apartment, which is a good start; however, digital or picture based versions may be better depending on the nature of the impairment.
There are many changes needed to make my apartment more accessible. Some changes are easy; others not so much. Due to the size of my apartment, I believe that many accommodations for mobility are not possible. The building was constructed before guidelines came out from the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Also, my wife and I tend to keep too many items. We would have to get rid of some things in order to make the apartment more accessible, as well as redecorate or rearrange items.
There are some things we can change in our apartment to help with accessibility. This assignment has made me consider those changes, and view rooms and homes I go into in a new light.