20 Design Tips for a Wheelchair Accessible Home

Universal home design (also known as inclusive architecture or accessible design) is a principle that benefits people with varying needs and levels of mobility, from the differently-abled to those aging in place. If you're building or remodeling with accessibility in mind, get started with our thoughtful design ideas.

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May 19, 2020

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Design for All

Approximately 26% of Americans live with a disability, a majority requiring the use of a wheelchair or other mobility device. As the population ages, that number is on the rise. The ADA (Americans With Disabilities Act) attempts to ensure that persons with disabilities have equal access to — and convenience in — public spaces via a range of codes and recommendations. Unfortunately, many private homes lack basic accessibility features. While no two people have the same set of needs, many universal design features can be added to an existing home or included in building plans to allow those with varying levels of mobility to live as independently and safely as possible without sacrificing style.

A Grand Entrance

As seen on Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, this beautiful ADA-friendly home was completely renovated to suit the needs of a California teacher with a prosthetic leg. To make coming and going a breeze, the designers created an inviting front pathway out of wide, flat, non-slippery concrete for easy navigation. The path leads to a wide front door with no front step, which can be a tripping hazard or barrier for wheelchairs.

SEE MORE: Remodeling a Charming Ranch to Improve Accessibility

Lever Handles

Mandated by the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act), lever handles are easy to operate whether or not someone has full use of their arms and hands, and they don't present difficulties to guests in wheelchairs.

Wide Open Entry

To be ADA-compliant, the width of an entry must be a minimum of 32 inches when the door is fully open. But many designers recommend 36-inch to 42-inch openings for those who have to pilot their own wheelchairs, making busted knuckles a thing of the past. Seen here, a wider-than-normal front door opens into an open-concept kitchen with sufficient space for a wheelchair to navigate.

Knee Space

In the kitchen, removing lower cabinets around sinks and installing plumbing pipes tight against the back wall allows wheelchair users to roll right up to the sink. Setting sinks and other countertops at 30 inches, rather than 36 inches, also aids differently-abled cooks. Keep this rule in mind in the bathroom, laundry room and home office as well.

Side-by-Side Refrigerator

Where many refrigerators feature a stacked design, with the freezer on the top or bottom, a side-by-side unit offers equal access to both the fridge and freezer so wheelchair users can grab and go with relative ease.

Accessible Microwave

Integrating a touch-control microwave into your lower kitchen cabinets is not only functional, but it frees up counter space for a less-cluttered look overall. The bottom of the microwave cut-out should be 15 to 37 inches from the floor in order to be ADA-compliant.

Pull Up a Chair

A dining table with plenty of legroom below and ample space to navigate around ensures access for all without sacrificing style. We love this rustic dining table paired with simple black chairs that can be removed or shuffled around as needed.

Ramps + Rails

In this ranch-style home, designers removed and replaced thresholds and small steps with permanent, gradual-incline hardwood ramps. Beautiful wood handrails were added to further meet code and accommodate the homeowner's disability.

SEE MORE: Remodeling a Charming Ranch to Improve Accessibility

Motorized Curtains

In the living room of this condo designed for two survivors of the Boston Marathon bombing, motorized curtains were installed, allowing the couple to control the room's lighting with more facility.

SEE MORE: Boston Marathon Survivors' Accessible Condo Makes Everyone Feel Welcome

Room to Roam

Wheelchairs require about 5 feet of turnaround space, so an open floor plan is key. This airy living room features wide walkways and empty floor space, improving accessibility for the homeowner, whether walking or using a wheelchair. Light, modern furniture accents the room, offering space for the whole family to come together and relax.

Seamless Transitions

Where possible, lay flooring so that it flows seamlessly from room to room without the addition of thresholds or transition strips. When this isn't an option, ADA-compliant transition strips are available at most hardware and flooring stores.

A Place to Park

This antique trough-style vanity is equal parts stylish and accessible — the bottomless design allows a wheelchair to roll easily underneath while a large mirror is set lower so everyone can see themselves. The stylish bathroom also offers plenty of room to park a chair out of the way when it's not being used.

SEE MORE: Bathrooms With Disability Access

Thoughtfully Stylish

This beautiful bathroom is fully accessible for all. The open shower has no curb, making it serviceable to the homeowner regardless if he's using a walker or wheelchair and features a built-in bench and grab bar. On the floor, small penny tile with lots of grout creates a less slippery surface underfoot. Outfitted with lots of easy-to-reach storage and flooded with natural light from a private backyard, this bathroom is a true retreat for all. Note: Before installation, safety grab bars should be tested to support the user's weight.

SEE MORE: 75 Walk-in Shower Designs for a Luxurious, Spa-Like Bathroom

Pivot Mirror

A vanity mirror that can be angled up or down ensures every member of the household has a clear view.

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Seating + Storage in the Bedroom

A bench at the end of the bed provides a cozy spot to get dressed, relax or put on and remove prosthetics. Continuing the theme of stylish functionality, two bedside dressers act as beautiful storage for equipment, prosthetics and more, when not in use.

Go Doorless

A widened hallway flows effortlessly between this bathroom and master bedroom thanks to a door-free entryway. With fewer barriers, nighttime bathroom trips are less of a hassle and the risk of falling or getting stuck is reduced. Designers lined the hall in custom wainscoting that continues into the bedroom for a seamless look.

Easy to Reach

As a rule of thumb, 50 percent of storage should be easily accessible. This means everyday items like clothing, dishes and office supplies should be stored in lower cabinets or shelves, relegating occasional-use items like seasonal decorations or formal wear to harder-to-reach areas. When it comes to cabinetry, the ADA recommends countertops should sit 28 inches to 34 inches from the floor.

Home Elevator

If it's within budget, consider retrofitting your multi-story residence with an in-home elevator. An elevator can usually be installed at the back of the home where a deck currently exists or inside where two closets are stacked. The typical cost of a hydraulic, pneumatic or cable-driven elevator ranges from $10,000-$40,000 and can be built without a dedicated machine room, shaft or pit. This beautiful elevator, with its wood floor and white millwork, perfectly complements the home's traditional style.

Smooth Transition

Don't forget about the back door! To be ADA-compliant, all exterior doorways should feature a recessed threshold that's no more than a quarter-inch in height. We love the way this painted wood porch flows seamlessly into the home's hardwood flooring, creating an effortless entrance for all.

Outdoors for All

Time spent outside walking, gardening or just enjoying the sunshine is essential for good mental health. But outdoor areas often pose an issue for wheelchairs, walkers and canes. Common ground coverings like grass or pea gravel are hard to navigate and uneven terrain can be downright dangerous. In this gorgeous, accessible backyard, raised garden beds are separated by wide pathways so every member of the family can enjoy the great outdoors and participate in gardening. To accommodate a wheelchair, the yard was leveled off and grass removed to make navigation a breeze.

SEE MORE: Accessible Gardening Techniques

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