I have used a wheelchair for most of my life. I have also been a renter for most of my life. Put those two things together and limits will be hit. Landlords are not usually open to big changes to their property. So accessible closets, doors, windows and other things require work-arounds instead of real alterations. Over the years I have come up with a few small but very helpful mods.
This Instructable will demonstrate how to create 5 simple modifications to use in a bedroom to make it more disability friendly and wheelchair accessible.
I also offer a little advice for able-bodied persons who are interested in helping an elderly or disabled person enhance the comfort and safety of their bedroom.
Free advice offered:
* Design/layout tips
* Safety tips
These are the mods offered:
1) Extend 3 mini-blind tilt wands from 24” to 48”
2.) Remote controls for fan(s) and light(s
3.) Add removable hooks
4.) Add wheels to make a mobile furniture: a night stand and a mobile shelving unit
5.) Low tech door opener/closer
Additional suggested helpers: grabbers, garage door opener, magnetic pick up tool, suction cup devices
Step 1: Design/Layout/Safety Advice
I have watched a lot of interior design shows so what I am going to tell you will be the exact opposite of everything I have learned about furniture placement and room layout. Designers I’ve seen on television always suggest moving furniture away from the walls and advise to not leave big open spaces in the middle of the room. Wheelchairs users should ignore that advice and in fact, do just the opposite.
Don’t make “trails” in the room. There should be no need to squeeze between or go around furniture to reach a closet or bed. Wheelchairs need pivoting space, the more the better. Keep it simple. Move the furniture against the walls and leave the center of the room open.
Keep the floor clutter free as well. Don’t use throw rugs or scatter wires across the floor. They will be obstacles to roll over and sometimes get bound up in the wheelchair wheels themselves. This can bring everything to a frustratingly dead stop! For people who use crutches, throw rugs are a real slip and fall hazard as well.
Step 2: Windows and Mini-blind Mod
If you are able-bodied and you are trying to help make a room more accessible, then you first need to try to see the room from the prospective of the person who is mobility challenged. The most effective learning tool is a borrowed wheelchair (or other mobility aid). If you cannot get a wheelchair, then a regular kitchen or office chair will do. If you can’t borrow crutches, get a broom (or something similar) and do everything using only one leg, leaning on the broom for balance.
Now sit quietly in the chair and look around the room. Imagine moving about the room with your butt glued to the chair.
Place the chair near the window and sit down. Now try to open or close the blind, curtain or window. Don’t cheat and stand up. If the person you are helping is weak, try to do these tasks using one hand. If they use crutches or a walker, do it with one hand balancing on one leg.
Is the tilt wand of the blind hard to reach? Is the window lock hard to turn? Does the window stick?
If the window sticks, rub some wax on the runners. If the lock sticks use a few drops of machine oil.
I often have trouble reaching the tilt wand of min-blinds. Usually the wands are too short so it is a struggle to open or close the blinds. I solved this headache by making customized tilt wands for my blinds.
3 5/16” X 48” wood dowels
11/16” eye screws
total cost $6
The rest of the stuff I had in my garage or around the house:
dremel with 1/16” bit
white spray paint (choose whatever color you want)
Construct Tilt Wands
1) Measure tilt rod extensions to see how long to cut dowels
2) Cut dowels with hacksaw
3) Sand ends smooth with emory board or fine grit sandpaper
4) Hold eye-screw next to end of rod, to determine the depth of hole necessary, let's say about 1/2"
5) Put a small piece of painter's tape on drill bit as a depth guide (1/2", to tell you how deep to drill for eye hole placement)
6) Drill starter hole in one end of each dowel the depth of tape guide
7) Add a drop of wood glue into hole
8) Screw in eye screw
Let glue dry
1) Thread string through eye screws and hang dowels
2) Spray paint
Lastly, remove old tilt wands from blinds. Install new accessible tilt wands.
Step 3: Remotes and Lights
Move your chair into the doorway. Is the light switch easy to reach from a sitting position? Now close your eyes and imagine trying to find it in the dark.
My light switch, like most standard light switches, is about 6-8 inches too high for me to reach without straining. At night I often have to hunt blindly in the dark, trying to locate it high above my head. I solved this dilemma by purchasing a small, inexpensive indoor wireless remote control with three transmitters. The remote has 6 buttons: 3 sets of ON and OFF buttons, numbered 1 through 3 to match each transmitter. The set cost about $20.
I plugged my lamp into transmitter number 1, plugged the transmitter into the outlet then turned the lamp to ON. I plugged a bedside reading lamp into transmitter 2. In transmitter 3 I plugged a surge protector (with a couple other items plugged into it). This allows me to turn on/off several things at once.
The remote is very small, about 2”x3” and comes on a keychain. The backside of the remote has a clip. I use this clip to stick the remote to the shelf of my night stand when I go to bed. During the day I keep the remote on a (removable adhesive) hook next to the door. I placed it lower and closer to the door frame than the light switch. Now I can easily turn on/off a light when I enter the room. No more fumbling in the dark.
Something else to consider is the ceiling fan. If there is a ceiling fan in the room, does it have an attached light? How is the fan turned off and on? How about the light? Most ceiling fans are operated with pull chains. Usually they are way too short for a person in a wheelchair to reach. Once more ask yourself, can the chains be reached from a sitting position?
A ceiling fan with attached light was already installed in my bedroom when I moved into the house. Of course. the on/off chains were way too short for me to reach. I could have simply gotten someone to tie a cord onto the chains (as I have done in the past) to make them somewhat accessible. This would not remedy the problem completely however. If I wanted to turn my fan or the light off or on while I was in bed I was still limited in where I could place my bed and still be able to reach the cords. Unfortunately, if I placed my bed close enough to reach the cords, then this would make it difficult to reach the cords when I wasn’t in bed. As I would have to reach across the bed while sitting in my wheelchair. Also, I would have two stupid and unsightly cords dangling in the middle of my room, over my bed.
To resolve this problem, I purchased a ceiling fan remote control kit from the hardware store. It cost around $30 and a friend installed it in about 10 minutes. The kit included a small remote control that not only turns the ceiling fan on and off but the attached light as well. It also allows me to select the speed of the fan and dim the light as well. It is awesome!
The ceiling fan remote came with a holster which attaches to the wall. It was a simple peel and stick job. I placed the remote next to my keychain remote control. Before I climb into bed I grab both of them and place them on my nightstand.
Step 4: Removable Hooks
What about the electrical outlets in the room, can you reach any of them while sitting in the chair? Or are they all buried behind furniture or otherwise out of reach?
I placed wall hooks throughout my room for various purposes. I use removable adhesive strip hooks, so I don’t have to make holes in the wall and I can easily move the hooks around if I want to put them in a different spot. Plus the hooks are so easy to install I can do it by myself.
I often can’t reach electrical outlets because heavy furniture or other things are blocking the way. Sometimes the outlet is just slightly out of reach, perhaps under the cut out of a desk or underneath the edge of a shelf, I can just barely reach it and then only with a struggle. It can be very exasperating.
This is where the hooks come into play. I have someone plug in a surge protector or if I can reach, I plug it in. Then, a removable hook is placed higher up so the surge protector can hang from it (see photo). The short cord of the surge protector is just the right length for hanging. It makes the outlet accessible without adding a lot of extra wire length like an extension cord does. I get the anti-surge protection for my electronics and more outlets to plug up additional gadgets. And with a single button, I can power off all my gadgets so that electricity is not sucked away as they sit in ready mode.
Step 5: Mobil Furniture, Pt 1
Wheels are important to accessibility, obviously. So putting wheels on furniture can enhance accessibility in design choices and functionality.
I recently moved and haven’t decided what furniture I want in my room. In the meantime, instead of a dresser I am using a shelving unit. I keep my clothes in stacking, lightweight modular boxes I got at a big box store on sale. In order to make this unit more accessible, I bought a set of wheels at the hardware store for $20 and installed them. Now I have an inexpensive yet sturdy, easy to use, mobile unit that I can move around with little effort. If I need to get to the electrical outlet or need to retrieve something that rolled underneath or just want to change my room around, I can move the shelf unit unassisted.
It also makes cleaning my bedroom floor an easy task. Furniture can be rolled out of the way for sweeping and mopping.
This was a simple mod:
3" screw in wheels
1) Flip shelf on side.
2) Remove stem on each leg by unscrewing by hand
3) Screw in new wheels. Done.
Step 6: Mobile Furniture, Part 2
The placement of my nightstand has always been a contest for me. Like many people with physical disabilities, I need to be able to reach my nightstand while in bed, yet have it placed so it is not in the way when I transfer from bed to wheelchair. Also, sometimes it may need to be closer or further away while I’m in bed in order to reach or place items on it.
Once again I decided the answer is a shelf on wheels. I had a small two level matching shelf to my larger "dresser" shelf but finding wheels for it turned out to be expensive. So, I went online and bought a wire rolling cart, a trolley of sorts, with three adjustable shelves. Not only is the wheeled shelf unit larger and more functional but it came with three shelves, instead of two. It is very sturdy and the total cost was not much more than I would have had to pay to buy wheels for the smaller unit.
I was able to customize the shelf placement on the new cart, making them different levels to suit my needs. I also made sure each shelf was installed upside down. In other words, when disassembled, the shelves have a "lip" or raised edge of about 2 inches all the way around. Usually this lip faces downward, so that it makes a sort of decorative "frame" around the bottom edge of the shelf. I flipped the shelves over, making each have a raised border or frame so items would not roll off the edge.
I modified the cart further by adding a hanging shelf on the underside of the second (middle) shelf. (I had a left over part from a shower/commode chair which fit perfectly.) Thus had 4 shelves instead of three. If I hadn't of had the spare shelf I probably could have used one of those inexpensive little shelves designed to go inside a school locker. It would be simple to just turn it upside down and attach the legs to the underside of the cart shelf with zipties. I've included a picture of one so you can see what I'm talking about.
I placed a tray on two of the wire shelves (so small stuff wouldn’t fall thru) and a large wicker basket on the bottom shelf to hold magazines and books. I also attached a clamp-on reading lamp to the top shelf.
This mobile nightstand provides me with a place to set all my stuff at night--water glass, cell phone, book, book light, etc. I can also hang my grabber (easy reacher) on the side of the cart. At bedtime I can roll my nightstand as close as I need it and in the morning I can roll it back out of the way. Smooth.
Step 7: Door Opener/Closer (low Tech)
Since it is a multi-step process for me to get into and out of bed, I like to avoid that hassle as much as possible. One thing that happens a lot is I lay down and then want my door either open or closed. The trick was how to not have to get up to accomplish that task.
I thought and thought about this project, googling and searching.
The workaround I came up with is very low tech and cheap. I purchased a hinge spring closure from the hardware store for $7. This little device closes the door. It works really well and it only takes about 5 minutes to install in the hinge of the door. It comes with directions but it is simple to install: pull out the hinge pin with a screw driver and put in the spring hinge.
To open the door (from my bed) I use a retractable dog leash lashed to the inside door knob. The leash was for a large dog and I think it cost about $17.
To hold the door open, I purchased a doorstop with a built in heavy duty magnet. (See photo. It's just a photo I got off the net, not really my bedroom.) I bought it at the hardware store for about $8. It was simple to install and works great. The door stop keeps my wall safe from door knob holes and the magnet is strong enough to hold the door open once seated into place. The only issue I have with it is that once I am in bed and close the door, I have to pull it open just right or the door will just hit the door stop and bounce off. Sometimes it takes me 5 or 6 "bounce" tries before I get the magnet to grab the door. Then, other times I get it on the first try. Either way, it is much easier than having to transfer to my wheelchair and roll over and open the door. All in all, I am pretty happy with my low tech door opener/closer system.
Get extra garage door remotes
Many times I have been home alone and expecting someone like a friend or family member to drop by the house. A lot of those times I also know I will be in bed when they arrive (I like to sleep late). I dreaded making them wait while I dragging myself out of bed to open/unlock the door.
I am fortunate to have an electric garage door opener on the garage door. So, when I know someone is expected to come over, I simply leave the inside door unlocked and keep the garage door remote by my side. When the person arrives I can let them in via the garage door without getting out of bed or making them wait. It has been liberating both for me and my visitors!
Something I have seen others suggest and I do as well; keep a grabber in every room of the house. I have one in almost every room, especially the kitchen, bathroom and bedroom. I keep one next to the recliner I sit in to watch TV. Sometimes I even carry one on the back of my wheelchair, hooked next to my push handle. I use this simple assistive device at least 5-6 times a day, if not more.
Suction Cup Devices and Magnets
I am always on the look out for little "helpers" for around the house. I find them at big box stores, hardware stores and online. I recommend heavy duty locking type suction cup devices. Depending on their style, they can be very useful. Don't bother buying any suction hook or otherwise, unless it is the kind that has a "locking" mechanism. In other words, you stick it to a surface and then there will be a lever or something to push down to really make the suction tight and "lock" it on. (note picture)
Lastly, I highly recommend a telescoping magnetic pick up tool (see picture). I carry one in the backpack on my wheelchair at all times. It is about the size of an ink pen so it can fit in a pocket or purse. I have used it many times for retrieving small metal objects which roll out of reach or drop onto the floor.