Staying Put Part Two: Making Your Home Fit Changing Needs

— Written By Trudy Pickett and last updated by

This is the second in a three-part series about adapting your home to your family’s changing needs.

Existing houses can be modified to provide comfort, convenience, safety, and an attractive living environment for persons with limited mobility, poor vision, or hearing problems.

You or another family member can handle some modifications by “doing it yourself” but some changes may require professional assistance. Entrances and steps are two places that most always need to be adapted. Here’s how:

The front entry of your house should be protected from the weather by a roof overhang, awning or porch. The entry area should have a slip-resistant surface and be at least 5 by 5 feet. Floors inside and outside the entry door should be on the same level, and door thresholds should be as flat as possible. Screen or storm doors can be difficult to open and should be removed whenever possible. You may have to adjust or change weather stripping if the door is hard to close. A shelf or table near the entry will give a convenient surface for keys, purses, backpacks, etc. Lever type door handles give better access for all.

When there are too many steps to climb or steps are too high, you may want to add a portable or permanent ramp. Ramps must be shallow in slope. Ramps should have handrails running the complete length of the ramp as well as slip-proof surfaces and edge protection.

All steps in a series should have the same tread width and riser height. Single steps and open risers can be trip hazards. Close off open risers with strips or pieces of wood. The surfaces of all treads should be non-slip, and the color of the stairs should contrast with the color of any pavement or floor around the stairs. Adhesive back non-slip tread strips can be added easily to make existing step surfaces safer. Adequate lighting will also make stairs much safer. Consider motion sensitive lighting to give hands free control to lighting.

The website for The Center for Universal Design at NC State University at has a wealth of information and construction plans for building and remodeling homes for people with disabilities.

Resource: Lifestyle Housing, NCSU Cooperative Extension