Magazine article The Exceptional Parent

Mobility Starts at Home

Magazine article The Exceptional Parent

Mobility Starts at Home

Article excerpt

Being "mobile" begins at your own front door, and today there are many practical, affordable, and unobtrusive adaptations that can get you out and about.

EXCEPTIONAL PARENT will take a continuing look at developing barrier-free homes, from architectural adaptations to simple modifications, controls, and "low tech" devices which make life easier. This first installment features adaptations for getting into the home.

--The Editors

Adaptations of the past have been considered by some to be institutional, obtrusive, and expensive. Well, times they are a changin' and just in time. As the new millennium approaches, families are looking for ways to improve their household in ways that fit their needs and desires.

These days houses can look more like homes rather than hospitals, and adaptations are taking on an attractive look instead of an institutional one. Take a closer look at how adaptations are becoming more practical, affordable, and attractive for the home or apartment.

Getting in

Whether you live in a house or an apartment, there is always the issue of entrance. There are many facets to consider: how the person who has the disability gets into the home; if there are stairs; if the person is ambulatory or uses a wheelchair, and how easy modifications can be made. Modifications are based on meeting these needs.

There are many options and ways in which a house or apartment can be adapted. It may be a matter of using a specific device or several devices, or physically remodeling the home itself. One way to do so is through ramps.


Ramps are a very popular item to think about when making modifications to an entrance of the home. Using wood keeps the cost of the ramp down. For some, however, concrete ramps are the only way to go because fire codes dictate that a concrete ramp be used in an apartment building of more than 4 units.

A lot of entrances can be easily ramped but some people are wary of losing yard space, or they may not even have the space to put up a ramp at all. When you are dealing with a dwelling that is built close to a sidewalk, such as in a city, a ramp may be a hard project to accomplish because of limited space.

A ramp can be designed to fit the aesthetic desires of a homeowner, and can serve its purpose without detracting from the beauty of a home. Ramp building can also be a "do-it-yourself" project according to Bob Zimmerman, career counselor for the independent living section of the State of Minnesota's Rehabilitation Services in St. Paul, Minnesota. Zimmerman has worked in collaboration with the Metropolitan Center for Independent Living to design ramps and modular stairs for homes throughout the state of Minnesota. Their dedication to serving families with individuals who have disabilities has launched The Ramp Project. (see side bar) There are also alternatives to ramps.

Ramp alternatives

The stair glide consists of a seat which travels up and down an electrical track built onto the stairs. It can be used inside and outside of the home.

When considering a stair glide, the family needs to examine the amount of space available. Sometimes, families can afford the work, but not the space. The space at the top and bottom of the stairs, as well as the width, is crucial to a stair glide's practicality and efficiency. For example, one must be aware of the space at the top and bottom of the stairs to make sure that there is enough room for transfer chairs. If an individual does not ambulate and you are choosing to use a stair glide as a primary way to negotiate stairs, transfer chairs will be necessary to move the individual around when they reach the top and bottom of the stairs.

A stair glide also requires a dedicated power line because it draws a lot of electricity. The cost, however, is subject to the design of the staircase and the number of stairs to be adapted. …

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