Introduction: Crib Modification for Accessibility
Parents with disabilities face numerous challenges when caring for a newborn. Besides the usual lack of sleep and anxiety about such a small and dependent life, much of the equipment for infants and children present substantial barriers for parents with disabilities. Changing tables are built for standing, bathtubs can take two (or more!) hands, and cribs require parents to have substantial flexibility and lifting strength.
My wife is a little person; when she's out of the house, she uses crutches and a lower-body brace which doesn't bend. Around the house, we keep most of our storage low to the ground, and our activities are on the floor. Dinners on a patterned rug with Japanese lacquered-table place settings are a great way to relax after work!
By the time we brought our newborn daughter home from the hospital, we had been thinking about the many adaptations needed to care for her. We consulted several times with Judi Rogers at Through The Looking Glass in Berkeley, a terrific organization with resources, advice and designs, and uniquely engineered equipment for parents with disabilities. Some things were easy: a mover's dolly to move stuff around; a padded changing pad on the floor; trays of supplies stored in our coffee table. But using a crib posed a challenge.
Cribs are manufactured according to strict standards designed for the safety of the child, not for universal access; the railings are all 2 or 3 feet off the floor, and a foot or more above the mattress. Because infants are left unattended in cribs overnight, they need to be built in such a way that the child cannot accidentally fall out of the crib or get any part of their body (especially the head and neck) trapped between components. The Consumer Product Safety Commission has publicly accessible explanations, as well as formal guidance for manufacturers.
Step 1: Buy the Crib
I started with an IKEA "Leksvik" crib. At $159, it costs substantially less than many cribs (if you don't have an IKEA nearby, it is possible to order the crib for delivery, but that adds about $250 to the cost!) and it's made of solid wood. The frame which holds the mattress is bolted directly to the two end panels, as part of the structural support. That means the side rails are not essential for structural integrity. The crib also converts to a toddler bed, so the matteress can be placed much closer to the floor. Their "Hensvik" crib ($129) has the same structural design and dimensions.
Step 2: List of Materials
McMaster-Carr Item Price Drawer glides 26" full-extension 2712A9 $ 21.50/pair Al tube 1/4" ID, 1/2" OD x 1/2" L 92510A765 1.54 Angle bracket 11/16" x 1" 1556A26 0.49 Quick-release T-handle pin (2") 92490A651 5.62 Common Hardware Quantity 3/4" square moulding 53 in #8x1-1/2" wood screws 9 ea 1/4" external retaining clip 1 ea
Step 3: Moulding
Cut the 53" length of 3/4" square moulding into two pieces, one 25" long and one 28" long. Drill three or four 3/16" clearance holes evenly spaced along each length of moulding, and countersink with a 5/16" bit.
Step 4: Angle Bracket for Locking Pin
Modify the angle bracket by drilling out the #8 hole on the long arm with a 1/4" bit. You may want to do this in steps using increasing bits.
WARNING Be sure that you clamp the bracket firmly in a vise, and wear adequate eye protection -- the drill bit can grab the bracket and spin it without warning. If you have access to a machine shop with hole-cutting bits, that is much safer than using a drill.
Step 5: Assemble the Crib
Assemble the crib normally, leaving one side rail off. This is the rail you'll be modifying into a sliding panel. For the version I built, the mattress support panels and base are mounted in their lowest position (as for the toddler bed).
Step 6: Attach the End-panel Moulding
As you face the open side of the crib, attach the 28" length of moulding to the left end panel with painter's tape, so that it spans the full height of the side rail. Mark through each of the clearance holes onto the end panel. Remove the moulding, and drill 3/32" pilot holes at each of the marks, 1" deep. Attach the moulding using #8x1-1/2" wood screws.
Step 7: Prepare the Railing
It is easiest if you mark all of the cuts and holes on the side rail first. This will ensure, for example, that the drawer glides are properly aligned. I used pieces of blue painter's tape on the rails everywhere I needed to make a mark. Mark lines at 1" in from the outside end (the end with the screw and dowel holes) of the fixed half-rail, on the top and bottom bars. This is where the end of the fixed part of the drawer glide will be positioned on the rail.
Mark the top and bottom bars 25" from one end of the rail. The side rails have an odd number of vertical posts, so you can't cut exactly on center. Identify (with PostIt notes or tape, if you wish) the shorter 25" half as "moving" and the longer (27-1/4") half as "fixed."
Step 8: Mark Holes for the Drawer Glides (1)
Extend one of the drawer glides and align the end with the plastic lock against the 1" mark you just made. You want the base part of the glide centered on the rail bar; the extension arm is slightly narrower than the bar, which can help with the centering. Mark the centers of the four large holes, two near one end and two near the other, on the base part of the glide. The two latter holes are visible through cutouts in the middle section of the glide. Repeat this process on both the top and bottom bars of the fixed half-rail.
In the picture, I've stuck brads into each of the hole positions to make them visible.
Step 9: Mark Holes for the Drawer Glides (2)
Turn the whole rail over. With the drawer glide fully extended, align the tabbed end of the extension arm with the outside end (the end with screw and dowel holes) of the moving half-rail. Mark the centers of three holes on the extension arm: the "cam adjustment" at the end nearest the tab, the vertical slot at the center of the extension arm, and the small hole at the far (central) end of the extension arm visible through a cutout in the middle section. Repeat this process on both the top and bottom bars of the moving half-rail.
In the picture, I've stuck brads into each of the hole positions to make them visible.
Step 10: Cutting and Drilling the Railing
The rail can now be cut in half and assembled with the drawer glides. Cut the two bars at the 25" marks. At each of the hole marks you made above, drill a 3/32" pilot hole into the bar 1/2" deep (wrap painter's tape around your drill bit as a guide, if you don't have a drill press). Remove all the tape pieces.
On the bottom bar of the fixed half-rail, drill out the hole nearest the cut end with a 3/16" bit. This hole will be used to anchor the fixed rail to the mattress support panel for stability. This is shown in the close-up.
Step 11: Attach the Drawer Glides to the Fixed Rail
Open the glides, and attach them to the half rails using the included #8 screws (except the 3/16" hole in the bottom bar of the fixed half-rail). Leave all the screws slightly loose, except the ones at the outside ends. The glides will be able to pivot slightly around these, permitting you to align them.
Step 12: Attach the Moving Rail
Once both half-rails have been attached to the drawer glides on the top and bottom bars, put it down with the fixed rail on the ground, and the moving rail facing up. Run the moving rail back and forth a few times. The two glides will be parallel when you can run the moving rail over its full travel.
Step 13: Finish the Rail Assembly
Slowly open the moving rail, and tighten each screw on the fixed rail as it is exposed. After tightening each pair of screws, run the moving rail over its full travel again to make sure things are still parallel. If not, loosen the screws you just worked on and realign. Repeat this procedure until you have all the pairs of screws tightened, so that the glide bases are firmly attached to the fixed rail.
Turn the assembly over, and tighten the screws on the drawer glide extension arms, from the far (uncut) end toward the center. The rail assembly should open and close smoothly, without binding. If not, loosen screws on the drawer glide bases (on the fixed rail) and realign them.
Insert two IKEA dowel pins into their holes on the end of the moving rail; use a bit of carpenter's glue in the holes to hold them in place.
Step 14: Attach the Angle Bracket
Attach the angle bracket to the bottom of the moving rail about 3" from the outside end, with a #8x3/4" wood screw (one of the extra screws from the drawer glides will be suitable). The long arm of the bracket should hang down from the inside edge, next to the drawer glide. The position of the angle bracket is not critical.
NOTE: After a couple of months of use, the angle bracket started to rotate out of alignment. I would suggest attaching it at this step with a blob of two-part epoxy before screwing it into place.
Step 15: Mount the Rail Assembly
Mount the rail assembly onto the open side of the crib. The fixed rail is attached to the right-hand end panel normally, with dowel pins and bolts at the top and bottom.
Step 16: Mind the Gap (1)
Close the gap between the moving rail and the mattress using the 25" length of moulding. Align the moulding along the top edge of the mattress support panel between the end of the fixed half-rail and the left-hand end panel, and drill 3/32" pilot holes into the mattress support panel at each screw location. Attach the moulding to the panel with #8x1-1/2" wood screws.
Step 17: Prepare End-stop for Moving Rail
Mark the ends of the dowel pins with a Sharpie or a dab of paint. Close the moving rail against the moulding on the left-hand end panel. The dowel pins should leave marks where they hit the moulding. Drill 5/16" holes into the moulding at those points, deep enough for the dowel pins to fit all the way in (at least 1/2"). The moving rail should now close the crib completely, and the dowel pins should slide in and out without resistance. If the pins are tight, open up the holes with a 3/8" bit.
The upper corner of the moving rail isn't stable. You should choose to position the dowel pin centered
on the end-panel moulding as shown in the picture.
Step 18: Secure the Fixed Railing
With the rail closed, mark through the 3/16" hole at the bottom of the fixed rail (Step 10) onto the mattress support panel. Drill a 1/8" pilot hole into the panel, and secure the rail with a #8x1-1/2" pan-head wood screw [right]. There is a gap between the rail and the mattress panel; you may want to insert a washer or two (use scotch tape) so that the rail doesn't bend inward.
Step 19: Receiver Hole for Locking Pin
Keeping the rail closed, mark through the hole in the angle bracket onto the mattress support panel. Move the rail out of the way, and drill a 1/2" hole through the mattress-support panel at the mark. This hole needs to be aligned with and parallel to the 1/4" hole in the angle bracket: you may want to drill a 1/4" hole first with the rail closed, passing the bit through the angle bracket, and enlarge it to 1/2" in a second pass.
Insert the aluminum spacer tube into the hole. It should fit tightly; if not, pull it out, apply a thin bead of epoxy around the end you insert first, and put it back in. If you use epoxy on the spacer, wait for it to dry completely before testing the locking pin.
Step 20: Insert the Locking Pin
Close the rail, and insert the locking pin through the angle bracket and spacer tube (Steps 14 and 19). It should run smoothly in its full length, and not pull back out easily. When you pull hard on the handle, the spring-loaded ball will retract and the pin will come out of the spacer.
If you pull the spacer tube out with the pin, go back and reinstall it with epoxy (c.f. Step 19). The pin should catch on the angle bracket, making it less likely to be misplaced. You may want to secure the locking pin to the bottom rail with a short lanyard, through the hole in the handle. It can also be secured with a 1/4" external retaining clip -- I used a Dremel tool to cut a shallow groove around the locking pin 1-1/8" from the end. After putting the pin through the angle bracket, attach the retaining clip in the groove.
Step 21: Alternative Latch
After a couple of months, my wife noticed that the locking pin was not aligning well with the receiver. She found it difficult to use, especially during our daughter's overnight feeding. The problem is that the angle bracket is attached to the rail with a single screw, and over time it can loosen and rotate out of true.
I decided to attach a different kind of latch mechanism, to see if it worked better for my wife. I choose a simple brass hook attached to the end panel with a #8 wood screw, and the receiving loop nailed onto the end of the bottom rail, as shown.
Step 22: Mind the Gap (2)
The moving rail is two inches away from the mattress, far enough that a baby's arms or feet can "fall in" and get stuck. Insert a block of high-density foam, 25" x 3-1/2" x 2", on top of the moulding, between the mattress and the railing. The foam can be attached permanently with "Gorilla Glue" or some similar adhesive; be sure that it doesn't extend past the inner edge of the mattress support panel.
Step 23: Safety First -- Keep the Railing Locked
With the rail assembly installed, there are still some safety issues to keep in mind. First, don't leave your baby in the crib unattended with the door open. Once they start moving around on their own, babies have a terrific knack to find whatever cliff is around them to fall off! Do not leave the crib closed without inserting the locking pin through the receiver.
The locking pin I chose has a T-handle and is removed simply by pulling. An alternative would be a push-button release pin (McMaster-Carr 90293A114, $17.99) -- the "two action" removal is more secure, but not as accessible for parents with limited finger dexterity.
Step 24: Safety First -- Cover the Railing Posts
When the rail is opened and closed, the moving vertical posts can trap little hands, arms and legs between them. A crib bumper such as the Breathable Baby Bumper (Babies'R'Us item 2529738) can protect against this when your baby is small.
Tie off a free end to the far end of the moving rail, tie off the center of that side at the middle on the fixed rail (you'll need to sew a fabric ribbon onto the bumper), and again at the corner of the fixed rail. When the rail is opened, the bumper will flex and fold, keeping the rail posts covered.
Step 25: A Good Night's Sleep
With this project complete we can put our beautiful baby daughter to bed, and get her up in the morning, without having to lift her up over the railing or "drop" her down to the mattress. When we open the crib, the mattress is right there, just inches off the floor. My wife and I can both get the baby into and out of the crib, day or night, with no extra effort.
Resources and Additional Information
Parenting With a Disability from the Toronto Centre for Independent Living
Through The Looking Glass, Berkeley, CA
Crib Safety for Parents from the
U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission
Step 26: From Design to Reality
Update 12 Nov 2008:MAKE has accepted a 500-word article about this project! Look for it in Vol. 17, February 2009.
Update 29 Nov 2008: I received a check from O'Reilly for the article!
Update 12 Dec 2008: MAKE's photo editor is coming on Monday to do a shoot.
Update 25 Feb 2009:MAKE 17 is available online! My article will be on page 37; available on newsstands 10 March.
Update 1 Apr 2009: I've received e-mails from a couple of people who adapted my design to their own needs. That's a really great feeling!