Affordable Ways to Make Your Home Disability Friendly

by Debra Karplus

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Grandma uses a wheelchair due to weakness from a chronic illness. Grandpa uses a walker due to arthritis. You daughter's hobbling around on crutches because of a fractured leg. According to, approximately 12% of the American population has a disability either from birth or acquired, physical or psychological, temporary or permanent. The Americans with Disability Act (ADA) was signed in July, 1990, (, by President Bush to make housing, transportation, and employment more accessible for people with disabilities. It affected commercial and government buildings, but not residential properties. According to, a building is accessible if it has no steps for entry, doorways at least 32-inches wide, and a main floor restroom with an entryway wide enough for a standard wheelchair. So how accessible is your home?


Whether your home is brand new or built circa 1900, it's not likely to be without at least one step to enter. Older homes were never built with disability in mind. Split level and tri-levels homes, popular in the 1960s, could often easily be entered, but once inside, the challenge of steps going up and also steps going down to essentially all living areas created new problems.

A ramp can be added to most houses as a solution for a person with a physical disability needing easy entry. In high school geometry, you learned about slope, the ratio of rise over run. For a ramp to be most functional and also meet ADA standards, it must have a ratio of 1 to 12.

If you plan to have a permanent ramp built for entry into the home, carefully access which of the doors are optimal for a person using a wheelchair. Depending on the layout of the home, entry into the attached garage may be best. Or sometimes entry via the back door, which typically is nearest the kitchen rather than the living room, may be easiest for getting into the home for a person with a disability. Definitely get several opinions before your carpenter gets started on building your wooden ramp. Be sure to have a non-skid surface for the ramp, or on rainy days, it could become very slippery and lacking in any kind of traction.

If you are a bit handy, building a ramp is doable. There are many instructions and videos online to guide you through the task. Possibly you have scrap lumber that's in good condition in your basement from previous house projects. This could make the job very affordable in terms of material. Or check out a nearby Habitat Restore ( for good quality lumber. Otherwise, once you know what size and quantity of lumber you need, head over to one of the home improvement stores or lumber yards nearby.

If you are just in need of a temporary ramp for a short-term disability, there are wood and aluminum ramps for purchase online. Before buying, decide exactly where you will position this ramp (which home entryway), and most important, how high (the rise) needs to be so that you buy a ramp that is long enough (the run). There's a huge range in price on these pre-built ramps, costing up to $300 or more. Don't expect your insurance to pick up the tab on this expense!

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Your average doorway inside your home, especially an older home, is likely to be closer to 30 inches rather than the 32 inches needed to make your home visitable. If the person with the wheelchair is a visitor or lives in the house but has a short-term disability, you'll just have to be creative in finding living space within the house that they can easily enter.

For a person with a permanent disability who is living in your home, short of moving to a new, accessible home, you may need to get some estimates from a few experienced carpenters who can widen inside doorways as needed. This won't be cheap, but is probably still more cost-effective than moving to a more accessible house.

Have you decided to hire a pro? Try Amazon Home Services.


Most homes have at least one half-bath downstairs, except for very old homes that have not been renovated. The trick with a small powder room might be that it is not wide enough for a person in a wheelchair to enter. If the person is able to transfer in and out of the wheelchair to the toilet independently, then the restroom should be adequate.

Debra is an occupational therapist, accountant, teacher and freelance writer. She is a writer for Advance for Occupational Therapy Practitioners. She also writes for Grand Magazine, has some items (fiction and non fiction) selling on (kindle), has written several travel articles for the Champaign-Urbana News-Gazette and several articles for and volunteers as a money mentor for the University of Illinois Cooperative Extension money mentoring program. Learn more about her at

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