A Complete Guide to Make a Wheelchair Accessible Home and Business

Whether the change is meant to adjust to a disability, done in preparation for aging in place, or simply to comply with guidelines to provide equal access to everyone –– modifying a home or a public accommodation can seem like a daunting task.

A Complete Guide in Making a Wheelchair Accessible Home and Business

To help you through the process, this article offers a comprehensive guide of essential home and establishment modifications, including their recommended measurements, to help you achieve a wheelchair accessible home and business.

We are here to help you achieve easy, efficient, and safe access for individuals who use wheelchairs while promoting their independence for as long as possible.

3 Important Considerations Before Doing Modifications for Wheelchair Accessibility

Before doing any rearrangements and installations, you need to be equipped with vital information to guide you in the decision-making process.

Knowing the specific needs of the senior and PWD (especially for home modifications), federal policies and standards, and professionals and experts you can contact will help with the planning and preparation for the home and business modification.

Infographic on Necessary Home and Business Modifications for Wheelchair Accessibility

Individualized Needs of Seniors and People with Disabilities

When buildings and establishments are designed, they usually follow specific guidelines and principles of Universal Design to provide equal access to everyone. This is unless the establishments or buildings are old, which may necessitate rebuilding and modification to comply with the law.

While these same guidelines can be utilized when doing home modifications, it is also essential to consider the senior or PWD’s specific needs. Important considerations include their physical status, capacities, condition, and prognosis. Some may need accommodations for poor postural control, deformities, and other needs.

Suppose the client has a progressive disease, such as Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, one may opt for a powered wheelchair instead of a manual wheelchair to accommodate their changing capacities and needs.

This decision changes the space you need to consider since the space needed fora powered wheelchair is bigger than that of a smaller standard wheelchair.

Federal Policies and Standards

It is vital to know the legal rights, policies, and standards provided by several federal laws. Moreover, business owners need to know these since the law requires that public accommodations, including hotels, restaurants, stores, malls, parks, and schools, be accessible to all.

Here are some of the important federal laws and legislation, guidelines, and standards to look into as you plan your modification:

Experts You Can Hire

While some modifications can be done in a DIY fashion, an important consideration is to ask for guidance and expert advice from professionals. Here are some of them:

  • Design/Build Contractors
  • Universal Design Certified Professionals
  • Architects and designers with experience in accessibility
  • Occupational Therapists

A Complete Guide in Making a Wheelchair Accessible Home and Business

11 Necessary Home and Business Modifications for Wheelchair Accessibility

1. Entrances

Front door entrances may be difficult or even impossible to access for wheelchair users, especially if the entrances have front yard steps.

Wheelchair ramps are low-cost options to create no-step entrances, enabling wheelchair users to access front doors easily. The ramp’s slope should minimize steepness while ensuring that it is not too long for an entrance.

Here are typical ramp specifications:

  • The ratio of height to length for a covered indoor or outdoor ramp is at least 1:12 (for every inch of height, there are 12 inches of length)
  • The landing at the top should have 5×5 feet space for adequate maneuvering
  • The landing at the bottom must have at least 5 feet of level area at the termination point
  • Recommended width of ramps ranges from 36 to 48 inches with a handrail grasping surface of 30 to 34 inches high

Several ramp designs and styles suit different needs, such as portable ramps, modular ramps, and threshold ramps. If there is limited space to accommodate a ramp or the entrance is very steep, installing a lift may be an alternative.

2. Stairs

If the senior is living in a multi-story home and transferring rooms to the ground floor is impossible, or have front yard steps, installing a stairlift might be an option. You may either permanently modify your home or purchase a portable one.

3. Doors

Doors should be at least 32 inches wide to accommodate most wheelchairs; however, 36 inches wide doors provide a more comfortable passage. Installing Z-hinges or swing-away hinges may add additional 1-inch clearance to doorways.

You may also opt to remove the door trim (also called casing) or remove the door altogether and replace them with curtains. Another option, especially if you also plan to remove walls, is to install sliding doors to create more space in the doorway and the room.

Door thresholds may also require additional effort from a wheelchair user. This can be addressed by minimizing the height of thresholds, removing them, or replacing them with a cushioned material.

 Doorknobs can also be a problem, especially when your hands should be maneuvering the wheelchair. Replacing doorknobs with press-lever handles, push/pull bars, or automatic doors may help ease accessibility.

4. Hallways

The first step in making a wheelchair friendly hallway is to clear all obstructions and barriers such as side tables and low hanging frames on walls.

To accommodate wheelchairs, hallway width should be at least 36 inches. However, 48 inches is the required minimum by ADA.

If a turn is necessary to enter a room along the hallway, you have to ensure ample space for wheelchairs to make a 360-turn. A 36-inch clearance in all directions or a minimum of a 5-foot turning radius will be enough for most wheelchairs to make an unimpeded turn. However, bigger wheelchairs may need a 6-foot turning radius.

A Complete Guide in Making a Wheelchair Accessible Home and Business

5. Flooring

Removing rugs, thresholds, and other potential barriers are the first step in making the flooring wheelchair-friendly. You also want to make sure that the flooring is slip-resistant and easy to maneuver a wheelchair in. Also, you may want to choose a surface that will wear better even after extensive wheelchair use.

6. Lighting

Some light switches might be in positions that are difficult to reach for individuals who use wheelchairs. These switches and those that are 44 inches or more in height should be relocated. The ideal wheelchair-friendly height for light switches is 36 inches.

7. Toilet

Toilet modifications will depend mainly on the available space. Users can opt for a wall-mounted toilet or a standard one. ADA recommends that the top of the toilet seat should be 17-19 inches from the floor. If the toilet is still low, a good and more affordable option is to raise the toilet seat by installing a thicker toilet seat or raise the seat height by using a plastic seat insert.

Toilet doors should open outwards to accommodate for situations of people falling on the toilet floor. They should also be self-closing. Toilet doors follow the recommended door width of 32-inches to allow for easy maneuvering.

Grab bars should be in place to help the wheelchair user navigate easier inside the toilet and should be between 33 inches and 36 inches from the floor. The placement of dispensers, sinks, and mirrors should also be considered. Easy to use tap and low sinks also provide ease in independent toilet use.

Business establishments should ensure they have accessible toilets with appropriate signages. They should be accessible without the need to go up or down steps and be on an accessible pathway (including aisles and corridors) whose width should contain at least 32 inches of usable space).

Toilet doorways should be at least 32-inches wide and should require 5 pounds or less pressure to open. Please visit 2010 ADA Standards on Accessible Design for more details on toilet specifications, including sink, mirror, dispenser, and urinal heights.

8. Showers

Curbless showers and roll-in showers allow for easy maneuvering for wheelchair users. In these showers, the shower entrance is level with the floor and slope down to the drain.

A portable shower seat is another viable option if the current shower is accessible. To allow for easy transfers using a shower seat, a minimum of 36 inches of space is required.

Shower floors should be made of non-slip material, and grab bars should be present in the bathing area to reduce slipping and falls risks. Handheld showers with at least a 60-inch hose are ideal for seated bathers. It is also crucial that faucet controls, bath towels, and other personal items are within reach.

9. Bedrooms

Beds should have at least 36-inches of space on each side to allow for easy wheelchair access. Ideally, both sides and the foot of the bed should allow for a 5-foot turning radius for easy navigation.

There should also be a 36-inch clearance from obstacles such as cabinets and other furniture, aside from the 36-inch way width.

Mattress height should accommodate the height of the wheelchair for easy transfers. The standard wheelchair height is 19-20 inches from the floor. Thus, mattress heights should not be taller than 21 inches.

10. Kitchen

Kitchen countertops should be lowered to around 28 to 34 inches with depths no wider than 30-inches. To accommodate for wheelchair leg rests, ensure that there is enough knee and leg space for countertops and sinks. This should be around 8 to 11 inches deep and 27 inches high. Taps should also be easy to use. Use low storage spaces so that wheelchair users can easily access items. The same goes for appliances, which should be lowered to a maximum height of 31-inches.

11. Garage/ Parking

The garage area should be at least 6 feet wider than the vehicle width to allow wheelchair navigation in front of and behind the car. Doors from the garage into the house or yard should be at least 36 inches in width. If any barriers are present, ramps should be utilized. Garage door opener and light switches should be placed near the garage and home entrance door.

For establishments, parking spaces should require the shortest route of travel from the parking to the building entrance. Parking spaces should be 96-inch wide with an adjacent aisle of 60-inches.

Curb ramps from the parking spaces should have textured non-slip surfaces and have a gradient of 1:20 or 1-inch rise for every 20-inch slope. On the other hand, ramps along the accessible route should have at least a 1:12 gradient; however, ADA prefers a gradient between 1:16 to 1:20.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: What is the minimum doorway width for wheelchair access?

A: Doors have to be at least 32 inches to accommodate wheelchairs.

Q: What is the minimum width for hallways for wheelchair access?

A: To accommodate wheelchairs, hallway width should be at least 36 inches. However, 48 inches is the required minimum by ADA.

Q: What is the minimum space to allow wheelchairs a full 360 degree turn?

A: A 36-inch clearance in all directions or a minimum of a 5-foot turning radius will be enough for most wheelchairs to make an unimpeded turn.

About Rachel Ann

Rachel Ann Tee-Melegrito is a licensed Occupational Therapist in the Philippines and in the United States. She has a Masters in Education with a major in Child Development and Education. She currently teaches at one of the top 4 universities in the Philippines. An INFJ-T, Rachel is introverted yet idealistic, a perfectionist yet also a sensitive, empathetic person. She is a creative individual who loves learning, reading, designing, and writing. She lives in the Philippines with Kenn, her husband, Cali, their daughter, and Pepper, their Mini Schnauzer.