How to Make Your Loved One’s House Wheelchair Accessible

Climbing steps at home is nearly impossible for seniors with mobility issues. But it’s possible to make any living quarters with stairs either walker or wheelchair accessible. With the help of stair lifts, ramps, and wheelchair/platform lifts, your loved one can remain independent, overcoming the barrier of climbing steps to enter her home or reach a bedroom on her second floor. Here’s a how-to guide to accessible homes, designed to help you choose the right solution and ensure that your loved one’s house meets her mobility needs.

Ramps for a Short Rise

According to Alift owner Mike Berk, who has sold, installed, and maintained stair lifts, ramps, and wheelchair lifts for over 35 years, ramps work best if the total height of the stairs — the rise — is no more than 28 inches. “When you get over 28 inches,” Berk states, “ramps become difficult because of their length.”Current ADA rules require that for every three inches of vertical rise, a ramp must have a horizontal 12 inches, or a foot. Thus, a ramp over 28 inches high would be cumbersome and take up a lot of room.

Lengthy ramps can also be tiring for someone in a wheelchair to ascend. In Berk’s experience, if outdoor stairs rise higher than 28 inches, a platform lift is best because it takes up much less space. “The higher your vertical travel, the more a lift becomes practical and also more economical.”

Wooden ramps must be pressure treated, which gets expensive, while aluminum ramps are less expensive, easier to maintain, and, in some cases, portable. But the disadvantages of ramps aren’t only related to issues of space (e.g., if you install one in the garage, you lose the garage for the car) — they can also be aesthetic. Most people don’t like the look of an exterior ramp, and it can be a red flag to outsiders that a person with mobility issues is living in the house, possibly alone.

Stair Lifts for Ambulatory Seniors

As long as a senior remains ambulatory, even with the help of a walker, a stair lift may be the ideal solution for making his house accessible. “Ninety percent of my customers who can still walk do well with a stair lift,” Berk notes. “It eliminates the risk and struggle of stairs, is quick, easy, and unobtrusive, and it’s an affordable answer.” Stair lifts also do not interfere with family members or caretakers having access to the stairs. These lifts can be rented or purchased, and used ones are sometimes available at a reduced cost.

Wheelchair Lifts Save Room

The primary advantage of wheelchair or platform lifts is their compact size. Most operate on household energy and come with battery backup. Lifts must be purchased, however, and can cost around $6,500 or more.

In making a home with stairs either walker or wheelchair accessible, the key consideration is whether your loved one is ambulatory, and if not, whether the stair rise is too high to accommodate a ramp. No matter what her level of mobility, the technology exists, at a fairly reasonable price, to enable your senior to live independently in her home.

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