Staying Put Part Three: Making Your Home Fit Changing Needs

— Written By Trudy Pickett and last updated by

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

The kitchen and bathroom require special consideration when modifying your home’s accessibility. It is possible to provide comfort, convenience, safety, and an attractive living environment for family members with special needs while making these spaces work for all.

Altering a kitchen for a hearing-impaired person is largely a matter of replacing audible signals like buzzers with visual signals. A kitchen used by a visually impaired person may need to have Braille knobs, have hard surfaces to aid in sound detection, and use high-contrast colors. Gas ranges are often recommended for the visually impaired because the cook can smell when they are turned on or are malfunctioning. It is more difficult to make a kitchen work for a cook who must sit a lot or use a wheelchair. A wheelchair needs a 5 foot turn-around area to maneuver easily. Most kitchens will need to be enlarged to accommodate a wheelchair. Counters and cabinets should also be lowered for wheelchair accessibility.

Changing a bathroom to allow more space for people who have trouble getting around or need help bathing can be a real challenge. The average size of a full bathroom is 7 by 5 feet, not large enough to maneuver with a walker or wheelchair. It may be possible to use adjacent closet space or bump out a wall to enlarge an existing bathroom. Doorways will need to be widened, grab bars installed, counters lowered, and toilets raised. Also, thresholds may need to be removed, lighting improved and floor coverings changed to improve safety and maneuverability. Additional door clearance can be obtained by using offset door hinges, which can increase the door opening by about 2″. This is often enough to provide the necessary minimum width for a wheelchair or walker to pass through the doorway without removing moldings and expanding walls. It IS possible to remain in your home when your needs change. Planning and attention to details will make the finished project work for you and your family.

Additions that can be made without altering room sizes are Grab bars and safety rails. These will insure more stable balance. Safety bars provide stability for everyone, including the elderly and those with physical limitations.

Bathtubs can be very hazardous. Transferring from a wheelchair or walker to the tub can be difficult. The tub area must be carefully designed to provide maximum safety. Bathtub and shower grab bars can be installed to provide support. Tub transfer seats allow persons to sit in the tub and take a bath or shower without having to lower themselves to the tub floor. Bathtubs can be replaced with showers. There are several ways tubs and showers can be modified to improve accessibility. Home modification specifications can be found at
Toilet seat height requirements can vary from one individual to another. Consider replacing a standard height toilet with a 19″ toilet or installing a raised seat with a grab bar. In the bathroom, sinks can be installed to allow wheel chair access and faucets can be replaced with single lever controls. Consider the use of anti-scald temperature controls that prevent the water temperature from exceeding a safe limit. Many of these modifications and additions can be done without hiring a contractor at moderate cost. Small changes can make your home more accessible to everyone who lives there, not just those with physical limitations.

Resource: Lifestyle Housing, NCSU Cooperative Extension