Building a house to accommodate pain and disability
February 13, 2013 7:42 AM   Subscribe

Everything I do, all day, every day, hurts. The more I do things that are painful, the more the pain snowballs. We're going to build a house that we hope will help reduce the accumulation of pain, and maybe even let me recover a little. Help me make sure I'm covering all the bases in house design accommodations.

I want to make this as fully accommodating as possible. Have I missed anything? (I've tried to read ADA accommodation regulations, incidentally, and I can not believe how insanely detailed they are without actually saying anything useful.)

I have injuries, neurological weirdness, joint pain, nerve pain, muscle pain, numbness. I can't walk straight and I pass out a lot. (I fortunately get a touch of warning just before a syncope episode--blacking out--so I can usually make it to somewhere safe to fall.) Bending over hurts my back AND may make me pass out. I can't extend my arms or lift them above my head for long. Most of the time I'm independently mobile (if wobbly). Infrequently, I can't walk independently and either need assistance or a wheelchair.

I'm currently in a house that was custom built for a couple of short people; we didn't realize how much of an effect that would have when we bought it. We've done what we can in small ways to make things easier on me, but to make this house really what I need we'd have to gut it down to the walls and start over. I'll shortly have the opportunity to custom build a house for ME (and my spouse, who has indicated that he doesn't care much about the way a house looks as long as it works out for me, and contains a few things he really wants). I'm 5'10" and he's 2" taller, so custom heights, etc for me should work well enough for him.

Construction companies are willing to work with me to make the house right, but since this isn't a typical disability--not that any are "typical," I think--they're letting me specify what I want in terms of accommodations.

This is the single largest undertaking of my life, and it's so important. If we can get it right, maybe we can reduce the amount of pain I am in all of the time. Every single thing I do hurts; just standing hurts, but then if I, say, go to chop a vegetable, I have to bend in a sort of hunch for a while. That makes the pain worse, and the extra pain causes extra fatigue, and I feel terrible for hours, sometimes days. Everything I do. All day long. It all hurts. The pain all accumulates.

So I really, really want to get this right. We need to minimize obstacles/walls I'll bump into, keep me from having to bend over, sit, reach above my head, or lift heavy things--unnecessarily, or for extended periods of time, or at all where possible.

This is what I have so far:

* Single story, full wheelchair access: from parking, through exterior doors, to throughout interior of house. Not just for the infrequent instances when I'm in a wheelchair, but also to reduce tripping, bumping into walls, and otherwise having the house interfere with my locomotion.
* No high thresholds, smooth low-grade ramping up to and over any necessary changes in height.
* Smooth flooring throughout: no carpet, no changes in height or high thresholds at changes in flooring type.
* 36" minimum all doors, wider if possible. Wide passthroughs (42" if possible), minimal hallways if any, room for safe maneuvering of wheelchair or unsteady person.
* Perhaps double pocket doors typically left open to any room we might want to close off occasionally (MBR, "den," etc).
* Room in master bedroom and bathroom to maneuver wheelchair if needed.
* Round corners on anything that does stick out, like the edges of a kitchen island.

One fully handicapped accessible bathroom: make it easier to sit and stand, make it less likely I'll pass out in the shower--
* Lots of room to maneuver
* Extra tall toilets
* Extra tall vanity (40-44")
* Large sinks with tall faucets
* Grab bars at toilet and in shower
* Roll-in shower (requires floor sloped for drainage) with fixed-height showerhead in convenient place for standing shower
* Shower seat (about 24"x16") with adjustable showerhead centered behind
* Curved shower curtain bar to make shower area as large as possible, and so that when shower curtain is pulled back, shower area is extra maneuvering room.
* No shelves that stick out--particularly in the shower, but also throughout the bathroom itself. (IE, no soap dish)
* Anything that does stick out (edge of vanity counter, etc) rounded off.
* A garden tub would be nice, if I can safely get in and out.
* Grab bars *everywhere*.

Kitchen accessibility requirements: keep me from having to hunch, bend down, reach up for longer than absolutely necessary--

* Lots of room to maneuver
* Extra tall counters (40-44"), sink, faucet (possibly in an island, leaving counters under wall cabinets at normal height)
* Large sink
* Investigate countertop dishwasher (drawer dishwasher)
* Side-by-side refrigerator
* Large pantry
* Roll out shelving (drawers) for below counter storage
* Hanging storage: from ceiling, from walls , to keep most everything at chest/shoulder height so I minimize reaching down or up

* Owner parking (ie, garage) opens directly to kitchen: smooth transition (no bumps, no high thresholds), for wheelchair or for hauling in groceries etc in wheeled cart.
* Easy to use interior, exterior and garage doors, car-height and people-sized (you only have to have one sticky or heavy-without-good-framing or hard-to-open door, when you're like me, to feel like you need to specify this).
* Electric outlets and light switches at easy-to-reach standing height (about 48", I think)

~ ~ ~

I do not know if, at some point in the future, I'll spend more time in a wheelchair than I do now. I *think* the right thing to do is to build the house for me at standing height, because sitting is the single hardest thing I do regularly. I currently spend as much time as possible either standing or lying down.

So, aside from "building everything at this height means that I won't be able to reach it if I'm eventually wheelchair-bound", am I missing anything, major or minor?

Side note: we have lever door handles in this house, and I *hate* them. The mechanism seems fragile; different parts wear out and the handle gets to where it's harder to use than a round doorknob. Are there other alternatives? If we have mostly pocket doors inside, that's one thing, but there are still exterior doors.

On that note, is there anything that can make a sliding glass door easy to open, and remain easy to open?
posted by galadriel to Home & Garden (35 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
If you can afford to build a house, can you afford to hire an ADA compliance consultant? Not that ADA compliance will necessarily be what you're after, but a person like that will have all kinds of ideas about accessibility and easing.
posted by seanmpuckett at 7:54 AM on February 13, 2013

It depends on your budget, and it makes for a more complicated house in terms of maintenance, but it may be worth thinking about remote controls as a supplement, both for lighting (as this makes the lighting height independent), and for the external doors. Electric glass sliding doors are both easy to open and stay where you want them.

If at all possible, and it may be difficult, I would try out a range of options, ideally in other houses, or in an accessibility lab. What seems easy on paper, and based on your current experience of less helpful otions, may not feel as good when you try it out - this is really the standard "measure twice, cut once" advice but it's especially important for non-standard arrangements where the fact that the standard way doesn't work for you may create an unjustified halo around a different way - which might not prove better in practice. This is another good reason for going to a consultant as they may have access to other adapted properties or mock ups that you can try out.

Good luck with getting something that works for you.
posted by Gilgongo at 8:02 AM on February 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

* Roll-in shower (requires floor sloped for drainage) with fixed-height showerhead in convenient place for standing shower

My apartment has one of these, and it's very difficult to keep all the water inside the shower. I'm sure my place was built to meet just the minimum requirements, but I'd ask if there is some way to avoid this. The curved shower curtain bar will mitigate this bit, but over time the moisture will still take its toll.
posted by Room 641-A at 8:11 AM on February 13, 2013

I saw a TV program recently about an adapted flat, and the lady there had a bench the length of a wall that moved up and down. It looked like it would work at her wheelchair height (she had quite a tall motorised chair), regular chair height or standing height, although only one of those things at a time!

I also have the impression that you can remote control everything, but if you want it all integrated you will be paying through the nose, and if it is not all integrated you end up with six little remote controls laying around each room and needing new batteries and generally being fiddly and user unfriendly. YMMV, depending on how user unfriendly the alternatives are for you!
posted by emilyw at 8:12 AM on February 13, 2013

I think you should put a little more thought into future wheelchair use as that will also be hard to change later. For example, lower light switches and perhaps instead of custom height cabinets consider standard height units on a raised base that could be removed and the base cabinets lowered in the future. Also make your garage extra wide so that there is room to fit a wheelchair around the vehicles. If you will have a basement consider leaving space or even rough in framing a space for a personal elevator. If the house is designed with this in mind future installation is much easier and cheaper.

It seems possible that given your level of pain you may one day want/need live in care. Perhaps when designing the guest room space consider making it more of an "in law" suite perhaps with its own external door.

Good luck with this huge project!
posted by saradarlin at 8:22 AM on February 13, 2013 [7 favorites]

I think having an ADA compliance consultant is a great idea. I would think about two areas in designing your house. I would look into what type of technology you could use to make things easier, such as being able to wirelessly control lights and temperature, or remotely answering the door. I would also want a plan for what type of accommodations you might need in the future, so it might make sense to make some of your counters adjustable.
The suggestion of visiting other adapted living spaces is a really good one, I would want to visit several before drawing up house plans.
posted by florencetnoa at 8:23 AM on February 13, 2013

Regarding doors, just a thought, but can you use the kind that commercial buildings have--sliding doors with sensors? There would probably be some networking involved but you could also use swipe-card locks, to save yourself some effort of opening/closing. Although you would want it to be designed to your particular needs and have fallbacks for overrides, etc, technology is sometimes amazingly efficient for reducing physical effort.
posted by epanalepsis at 8:27 AM on February 13, 2013

Be careful with the pocket doors. We had some in our house about 15 years ago and they became quite difficult to wrestle out of their pockets over time; you really had to pull to get them moving. Hopefully they make more user friendly ones these days but I wanted to point this out in case you've not experienced this before. Good luck with your house design!
posted by DingoMutt at 9:00 AM on February 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

You sound like a very courageous and strong person - good luck with your new house.
My grandmother had similar problems for the last decade of her life, and eventually she moved to a custom-made apartment with all the same specifications as yours. In many ways, this was a great improvement for her, I hope it will become that for you, too.
In retrospect, several things didn't work perfectly. Like you, my grandmother hated sitting in chairs, and insisted on standing while cooking. After a while, she found it more comfortable to use a sort of standing-chair, but for that, she needed a little extra knee-space. Maybe the ideal solution would be for the work-counter, with sink and cooking range, to be adjustable in height and open underneath? And then have another counter with drawers and dishwasher (also drawers) under it. This other counter could be used for everyday easy-access stuff, like your favorite cup and saucer, the bread box, etc. My gran stopped using over the counter shelves the minute she figured
she didn't have to anymore, and used her island for everything she needed frequently.
Seconding the room for in-house help. We had planned such a room, but ended up using it for extra storage, to keep the main rooms as free of clutter as possible. And we missed having space for a nurse - or for me - when we needed it.
The main access to the apartment was through an elevator with sliding doors. It looked a bit unsual with the steel doors in a home, but everyone seemed to find it cool - like in a James
Bond movie.
I wish we had had some sort of elegant railing in the hallway between the living area and the
bedroom, like ballet-rails or something. What we did have was sturdy furniture in the middle
of each room, so there was always something to hold on.
Remember to have something nice to look at from where you lie down. Maybe a "vertical garden" views of nature have been proved to be more soothing than walls or tv-screens.
posted by mumimor at 9:14 AM on February 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

* Owner parking (ie, garage) opens directly to kitchen: smooth transition (no bumps, no high thresholds), for wheelchair or for hauling in groceries etc in wheeled cart.

This would probably not pass code as there usually needs to be a berm or threshold to keep liquids from the garage from getting into the house. So you should consider sizing the garage to accommodate a ramp to get you over the hump.

Also this season on This Old House they are doing a gut rehab to make a single level ADA compliant living space. Lots of good ideas there.
posted by Gungho at 9:29 AM on February 13, 2013

I heard an interview once with an architect who's job was to design ADA friendly houses. I don't remember much, but from what I do remember, you definitely want to hire someone to help you with this. There are hundreds of things which you are likely not to think of, but an expert will have dealt with before. Even if it's just a short consultation, I think this is the best money you'll ever spend on this house.
posted by markblasco at 9:35 AM on February 13, 2013 [5 favorites]

Couple ideas from a total non-pro:

1. Heated floors in all the bathrooms. I find cold hard floors to be just awful on the feet.

2. Cushiony floors. I moved recently and was astonished at how terrible the stone tile floors in the new house felt on our feet, legs, backs. Wood or pergo with cushiony underlayment makes a huge difference and might be better than carpet if you're going to be in a wheelchair?

3. Would a walk in tub be helpful? I found this article interesting, discussed some issues I hadn't thought about.
posted by fingersandtoes at 9:50 AM on February 13, 2013

I don't have specific recommendations, but wanted to suggest that you might find it useful to look into Universal Design principles. Many of their approaches are based on the idea of building a home that will work for people across their life course, which includes planning for transitioning to different types of mobility later in life (for example, to needing a wheelchair more).

This might be more helpful than an ADA consultation, since that will be focused just on the law, rather than actual use.
posted by OrangeDisk at 9:58 AM on February 13, 2013

To solve the shower/moisture problem-use kerdiboard to line your whole bathroom. It is an awesome product and schluter Kerdi makes a whole line of products for curbless shower (the technical term you are looking for).

The stuff is expensive but it works and is quick and easy to install. And it solves the moisture problem if your whole bathroom is waterproof.

You don't really want a ADA specialist (I work with ADA compliance issues daily) you want an aging in place (or universal design) specialist. It is a big and growing field and will help you tremendously. Like you said the ADA is really technical, tedious and unhelpful and was really targeted at public works agencies, not private construction.

There is a type of door with no threshold. But it isn't going to be cheap.

On preview i see Orangedisk beat me to the universal design link.
posted by bartonlong at 10:05 AM on February 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

Some products/ features to think about

1. Get a range hood custom made. No more hitting your head because it can be high enough. Ours has a 45 degree side slope, so you would need to be eight foot to hit your head and with commercial grills and fans so that it actually works

2. Miele do a side opening oven. They also do roller rails. This means you can open the oven, pull out a shelf to its full extension without your dish falling off. Very handy for stirring casseroles without lifting a hot heavy pot.

3. Hospital track shower curtains. To stop water going everywhere in the bathroom

4. I didn't look to see where you live, but hydronic floor heating or in slab heating

5. Ceramic lever taps. These rock for arthritic hands.

6. Ducted vacuum with a dustpan opening that is foot operated

I would suggest a robot vacuum, but you need to picK them up to clean

7. A kitchen big enough for a table on wheels. This can be high enough for all your chopping needs whilst standing, but can be easily moved for wheelchair accessibility. On the same note, maybe pull out counters in the cabinetry for a wheeled person.

There are a few general Australian guides that may be useful
posted by insomniax at 10:14 AM on February 13, 2013

For your kitchen sink, think shallow with a commercial on-a-spring type sprayer. I am not quite as tall as you, but my very deep sink causes me much pain from hunching over.

Baser low profile door knobs might be an option for you. I think pocket doors are a bad idea. They get hard to pull after a few years and the mechanism/door latch is so small and difficult to grasp. There are lots of companies that will service your sliding glass doors for you to keep them rolling smoothly.

I have a curbless shower in my home too. You can find rubberized strips that are made for keeping the water in yet allowing a wheelchair to pass over easily. Make the shower larger than you think you need. Don't build in a bench because it will just eat up the space if you end up in a wheelchair. You can always use a teak bench instead of built in (softer on the noggin if you fall, too).

Good luck! This sounds like a fantastic opportunity to change your life!
posted by PorcineWithMe at 10:17 AM on February 13, 2013

Foot controls for sinks? If it is easier to move things with your feet than your hands, they can really make a difference.
posted by gingerbeer at 10:34 AM on February 13, 2013

YouTube has a number of people with disabilities giving home tours of the accessibility mods they've made. Not all would apply to your situation, but might spark some ideas.

Search for terms like wheelchair house tour, quadriplegic house tour, paraplegic, amputee, disability home modifications, accessibility, how I shower, how I dress, morning routine, etc.
Some of the mods I noticed included:
No under-sink cabinets so a wheelchair or chair fits under the kitchen/bathroom sink (ie, you might like to sit in a wheelchair or regular chair to do dishes or wash food)
Easy to use lever faucets or motion sensor faucets
Extra space around laundry machines
Touch-pad entry to the house instead of keys
Hiding ramps and modifications at the back of the house, so the front doesn't advertise to potential bad guys that a resident may be less physically able to fight back or run
Light switch and power outlet height and placement
Lever-style doorknobs that don't require gripping to rotate them

My impression of a lot of the users who make these video tours is that they are experts in the area of personal accessibility, and also that they're eager to share their expertise. Many seem like they would be happy to make suggestions if you contacted them directly for advice, so I'd say, don't be shy to reach out to (more) people online.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 10:40 AM on February 13, 2013

I don't know if it's common in the US, but here in Germany I've seen dishwashers built into separate cabinets instead of under the counter so a normal dishwasher is up higher, sort of like in this photo. We used to have it in our old apartment, and I found it very comfortable even without disabilities.

You can do the same with the oven, like this. Combine this with an oven door that either opens sideways (like a cabinet door) or downwards and slides into the cabinet for easier access, like this (YouTube video).
posted by amf at 10:40 AM on February 13, 2013

I used to live in a house that was custom-built for someone who used a wheelchair. Some features that house offered that haven't yet been mentioned include:
  • oversized windows that went down almost to the floor;
  • barn doors on bathrooms and closets which slid on overhead tracks
  • overly wide garage, presumably to help with getting in/out of wheelchair-accomodating van;
  • remote control drapes
  • raised garden beds and wheelchair friendly paths around the yard, to deck area, etc.
  • super wide hallways, as well as doors.
  • motion-sensor faucets
  • in addition to lightswitches, other placement accommodations included higher electrical outlets, lower temperature controls, etc. for easy reaching from a chair
Have fun!
posted by carmicha at 10:44 AM on February 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

Consider radiant heating: A friend with chronic joint pain has resorted to spending most of his time in the portion of his house that has radiant heating in the floor, because his joints feel so much better when he's there. Even with the air temperature the same, radiant heat is noticeably more comfortable for chronically sore joints.
posted by Corvid at 10:53 AM on February 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

Re the sliding glass doors, we added something like this to the sliding glass door in my mother's house, which helped her open and close it more easily.
posted by neutralmojo at 11:15 AM on February 13, 2013

Seconding radiant slab heating. It can work under some kinds of wood or wood-like flooring. In stead of sliding doors you could use French doors.
posted by mareli at 11:22 AM on February 13, 2013

There was an article in the Seattle Times about remodeling a house for a family that had one member who didn't use a wheelchair, and two who did.
posted by The corpse in the library at 12:09 PM on February 13, 2013

Just want to second: consider the hardness of the materials you're using. The currently fashionable "high end" materials like granite, marble, tile, etc -- all of them are very hard. You don't want to fall on them or drop things onto them. Put in the most bouncy resilient materials you can, even if they are "cheaper" or your builder suggests that fancier materials will help resale -- investigate this, but just at a guess, maybe cork for floors; consider what underflooring there is to add more cushion; laminate rather than granite for counters, etc.

Work with a designer or architect to design for both seated and standing use - eg in the kitchen, one section of counter at a good height for seated use, and with a gap underneath where you can roll your knees, and another section of counter at a good height for standing use. Can also build in wall/undercounter spaces for rolling carts/islands, which you could bring out for chopping and then put away when you're not using them.

And yes, if you're going to build on more than one level, you can design it so there are spaces (eg closets) stacked over each other that would allow you to put in an elevator if you wanted to in the future.
posted by LobsterMitten at 12:51 PM on February 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

Is it reasonable to think about double things - 2 sinks, one high and one low. 2 light switches. 2 bathrooms - one with low counter/sink the other with regular height. Counter tops with part low and part high.
posted by CathyG at 5:23 PM on February 13, 2013

Taunton's The Accessible Home is probably the gold standard in terms of a non-technical treatment.

Don't be afraid to insist on an architect who understands fully what you're trying to do.

Be careful with the pocket doors. We had some in our house about 15 years ago and they became quite difficult to wrestle out of their pockets over time; you really had to pull to get them moving.

FYI, generally pocket door hardware uses vinyl wheels that are inexpensive to replace (but a bear to get the door out). Short of that, they respond well, in my experience, to judicious application of silicone spray to the axles and a very light application of lithium grease in the tracks.
posted by dhartung at 5:41 PM on February 13, 2013

Response by poster: I started to make a really, really long response, then decided to break it up so it's not just a wall of text. So here we are in stages....

--> Just about everything on my requirements list is there because I have seen/used it just as I describe it and it was a huge improvement over my own house. It's the things that haven't yet actively hurt me that I need to brainstorm now.

--> I understand where people are coming from when they suggest I put more thought into actual wheelchair access instead of focusing on the times when I am mobile. But here's the thing: the land where we are building is not a suitable location for someone who is mostly wheelchair bound. (I didn't even go into all the things we're going to need to do to the property outside; I want to focus on the house.) If there comes a time when I am spending more time in a wheelchair than independently mobile, we'll probably need to move.

I outlined the problems, and they are problems. They seem to be degenerative, from our understanding of the various diagnoses. But I'm not *always* incapacitated by this. Sometimes I have good days. We're hoping a house that allows me less pain will mean more good days. We're hoping a house like this will mean I never reach the point of being wheelchair bound.

Currently, if I am, it's because the most noticeable problem that day (pain, dizziness, nausea, tremors, whatever it is that's picked that day to be overwhelmingly bad) is SO overwhelming that I can't walk. It also means I can't think clearly, or use my hands, or communicate much to anyone besides The Spouse, who has gotten to know me nearly to the point of telepathy (he's an amazing guy). So there's not a lot of point in designing, say, the kitchen for someone in a wheelchair; at this stage, if I'm stuck in the wheelchair, I am NOT cooking, doing dishes, or anything else I'd need counter access in the kitchen to do--and possibly not even eating. Fortunately those days are very, very few and very far between.

I've learned to cope with a daily level of pain that I understand most people would find unacceptable. Probably if I were continuously wheelchair-bound I'd learn to cope with the reason why. But not in this house.

I do think the thing to do right now is to assume that either 1) I will be mostly independently mobile, or b) we will move again, to a place entirely designed for wheelchair accessibility.
posted by galadriel at 12:01 PM on February 14, 2013

Response by poster: --> Huh. Remote controlled lights. Yes, wow, that could definitely be something that would make life easier, and would be a heck of a lot easier to do while building than to go back and do after the walls are complete.

--> Is an electric glass sliding door really an option for a residence on a residential homebuilding budget? Wacky! What about bedroom doors? That would not only solve a lot of potential problems, we could find some way to make it whoosh like the doors on the various /Star Trek/s, and that would make us deliriously happy multiple times a day. A little panel next to each door, with a chime-doorbell and a manual-open button and oh the possibilities.

--> "Barn" doors, instead of pocket doors. That's a really intriguing possibility. All things considered, I would have serious difficulty restraining myself from painting them to look like stall doors. (grin) It's a great suggestion. I'll see if it's feasible. (Bing! WHOOSH!)

--> I've only run into pocket doors in a few houses, and those ones all worked well--but Florida is the very devil for heat, humidity, and warping wood, so I'll be discussing pocket doors in depth with the construction contractors before deciding one way or another. I appreciate the tip about the wheels, though, dhartung. That should help immensely if we get them.
posted by galadriel at 12:06 PM on February 14, 2013

Response by poster: --> No, I *definitely* want a built-in shower seat. I am sick of having the seat shift under me every time I move so much as an inch, because nothing stays solidly still on a wet shower floor. The idea is to *reduce* the likelihood that I will fall and hit my head in the shower. The built-in solid shower seats I've used have felt so much safer. (The person who mentioned it "eating up space" if you have a wheelchair--you do realize people don't shower in their wheelchairs, right?)

There are fold-down ones in handicap-accessible hotel rooms, but they don't feel particularly solid, either. And for some reason the hotels always position the adjustable-height showerhead so it doesn't *quite* point at the shower seat, but it isn't *quite* right if you're standing and the seat is down. Either way you have to contort to get under the stream. It only works if the seat is up...and then what's the point of having a roll-in shower?

It looks like the only real solution is to have a showerhead pointed right at the built-in seat, like the suction shower hose holder I have on the wall pointed at my slip-n-slide shower seat here. Except the suction has a bad habit of coming off the wall randomly, often at 3am, waking us up and freaking us out until we figure out what happened. The aim it allows also isn't particularly good, incidentally, if anyone is thinking about getting one.

-->So far, the builders are not trying to push me towards expensive or trendy materials. They have been extremely reticent in making suggestions on ...well, anything. I think they may be terrified to make a recommendation that later turns out to have been wrong. The closest they've gotten is to outline a pricing range for various materials (for example, they said that carpet is cheapest, followed by tile, followed by pseudo-wood, and then wood; they did not make any suggestions about which I should be using).

But they're mostly telling me that the way they operate is to say, "Okay, this week, go pick out your [flooring|lights|countertop material|etc, etc, etc] and let us know what you've decided on, and we'll tell you how much it'll cost after purchase and installation."

I just can't GO out and about in order to pick out materials at the drop of a hat. And I've got other things to do; I can't let picking materials monopolize my time like that, and it would; it would use up all my going-out-and-doing-things time, and not leave anything for, say, doctor appointments, or grocery shopping, or just having dinner somewhere with The Spouse. I may be going with the highest-cost construction company of the bunch *just* because they have a warehouse with samples where I can make all these decisions in a day. (I probably won't be able to walk for few days after, but at least I won't be using up all of my out-of-the-house time for weeks, months on end just picking out materials.)

FWIW, though, I fairly frequently fall on tile set directly on a concrete slab. And I drop things onto it. We have lots of plastic dishes. I just wish I were faster than the dogs; they have allergies and they're not supposed to be eating...that. Oops!

So I'm not too concerned about hard surfaces, Unless I put rubber bumpers on *everything*, I think the best I can do for safely passing out, construction-wise, is to make sure anything that sticks out anywhere is rounded. I may hit it, but at least it won't slice me open.

Truth to tell, the wobbliness is easier to control the less squishy or slippery or unsteady the ground is. I have been seriously considering just staining the concrete of the slab and not putting in any flooring at all.
posted by galadriel at 12:47 PM on February 14, 2013

I suggested electric sliding doors because I've seen them domestically in the UK (here's an example). They are more expensive, but not much more if you're doing at design stage.

I love the idea of adding a Star Trek woosh. I bet it would be easy to do. You could have the same remote control for the lights and the doors and style it like a communicator
posted by Gilgongo at 12:54 PM on February 14, 2013

Response by poster: Regionalism is intriguing. It's really fascinating how many people interpreted "single story" to mean "might include a basement or more than one level." In Florida, of course, we don't put in basements, and for lifelong FL residents, it doesn't even occur to us to mention that we won't :) (We do often have "attics" --unfinished crawlspaces above the ceiling, occasionally suitable for storing stuff if you lay plywood across the joists--but be sure not to stay in there more than about five minutes, or you'll cook.)

And heating is only an issue for about two weeks total every year. The rest of the year is spent wishing there were some way to air-condition the great outdoors, and that the insulation in the house were thicker. No matter what level of insulation you have, it should always be stronger, in Florida summers (9 months of the year).

No, indeed, "roll-in shower" *is* the term I am looking for, at least in discussions with anyone in my region. I admit I have not had reason to encounter them outside of Florida. This is the term used by the construction companies I have ...hmm... interviewed, as well as the hotels where I have used them, and everyone involved in the remodel of a friend's house where one was installed, from the architect to the remodeling contractors.

The reason I want one, by the way, isn't actually to roll into it. It's the same reason I am specifying no high thresholds or gradual ramps up to any req'd thresholds. Here we have a shower stall with a minimal lip and a shower curtain, and it's still a tripping hazard. Especially after I've just finished a shower, with my arms above my head for much too long for safety (washing my hair). So a tiny rubberized strip may be perfect, thanks PorcineWithMe :) We have noticed that hotel roll-in showers don't exactly contain water well, but most of them look altered after building, with the drain actually outside of the shower stall area.

The friend whose house was remodeled for full wheelchair access hasn't had any problems with keeping the water inside the roll-in shower. So I've been assuming that as long as it's done right, it's only a small issue. And I've been making it clear to the construction companies that when I specify something, I intend for them to do it right. I wonder if I need to provide them with the required specs for things like this; they all keep assuring me that they've done this sort of thing before, and are qualified to handle the alterations I want.

~ ~ ~

The really awesome thing about a roll-in shower, by the way, is that it's essentially just a drain and a showerhead. It can encompass all the space needed for maneuvering in a bathroom; it can *be* the whole bathroom. I know someone who lived in Hong Kong for a while, and that's how his bathroom was: the toilet, sink, etc around the outside, and the shower drain in the center. To use the shower, you closed the curtain; the rest of the time, you just kept the curtain pulled back. He says there was never a problem with containing the water there, either.

~ ~ ~

So. Regional terms and assumptions maybe make some of the suggestions above kind of complicated. The only ADA compliance officers I know of locally are the ones who help large businesses remodel/build for compliance with ADA business accessibility codes, and those are--as I mentioned above--both extremely detailed and extremely unhelpful. (I did already know, before I went looking, that the range of acceptable compliance can be bizarre; you can have a technically ADA compliant "wheelchair accessible" restroom stall that a wheelchair cannot fit into. "ADA compliant" is not entirely the same as "handicapped accessible.") So. It never occurred to me that there might be consultants available for a single homeowner who genuinely wants accessibility. I wonder what they could possibly be called around here. I will have to start looking.

And I will have to ask all of those construction companies that I mentioned above why none of them suggested one. (Perhaps there *aren't* any after all...But I will certainly find out.)

~ ~ ~

Universal design seems rather fascinating, and I wish I had found out about it months ago. It still looks like it has elements that will be harder for me than the way I've specified things, though, because making it possible for someone in a wheelchair to reach means that I'd have to bend way down to reach--like making windows lower down, for example. I've been reading through the Florida housing Universal Design specifiations--so much clearer than ADA!--and a lot of it sounds just like what I've already listed, and some of it sounds awful. I have found a few things I've added to my notes, though; I do appreciate learning this term!
posted by galadriel at 2:07 PM on February 14, 2013

Response by poster: Bib-bib-beep! Scotty, beam me up! WHOOSH!
posted by galadriel at 2:18 PM on February 14, 2013

It sounds like you have some really amazing ideas! (Which I am keeping in mind as my own family member ages with their chronic condition, thanks!)

Do you have an Aging and Disability Resource Center nearby? They are organizations that provide many services, but specifically assistance (free consultations, recommendations, demos) with your exact situation. My understanding is that there are grants and other kinds of assistance that may be available to help with your costs. These organizations are the absolute bees-knees when it comes to knowledge and experience in personal accessibility. (In the interest of full disclosure, Reggie Smith is my personal hero and I can't guarantee that all organizations will be as amazing as his.)

As for the remote control recommendations, you might consider trying to tie as many controls as you can into one device. Trying to keep track of a remote, or trying to reach it, can be difficult sometimes. (I've tied a few devices into my smart phone and it's been delightful to never lose the "remote".) You may consider wiring your automated lights/windows/thermostat through a computer in order to centralize your controls. (My cousin used a basic PC tower and "smart house" packaged software + iDevices and can currently change the lighting, turn on the ceiling fans, change the thermostat and control the tv/stereo without leaving the couch.)

You don't mention your closet. I'm not sure about how much time you spend dressing/hanging clothes, but lowering the bar (heh) in the closet has saved my family member a lot of effort and pain. You mentioned that you live in a house built for someone with a shorter stature, so it's possibly you already have this alteration. If you do, be sure to inform your builders.

And speaking of clothes: front-loading machines on a raised platform + rolling cart would remove a lot of bending for laundry. You may also want a laundry room wide enough for open door + wheelchair + chosen tool to help with laundry.

Good luck with your new home!
posted by Vysharra at 2:29 PM on February 14, 2013

Response by poster: We don't really use our closet. On the home plans we're reviewing, I keep turning it into a small home office, with the assumption that if we ever sell it the next owners will have a HUGE walk-in closet ;) I keep my clothes in 40-gal Rubbermaid containers, set on this stick-together modular shelving around the bedroom so it's about waist high. The Spouse has started doing the same, I think out of apathy about sorting ;) (I keep mine mostly sorted in a number of tubs, but he mostly sticks his clean laundry in one tub and his dirty in another.) Of the things I have that *have* to be kept on hangers, we keep them in the guest room closet (wedding dress, The Spouse's one suit, etc--we're not exactly formal people, and all our clothes are crushable :)

I do want our next house to be *slightly* nicer, so I'm keeping an eye out for bedside tables and bookshelves and benches that match our bed, to set the big Rubbermaid containers on. Fancy!

Thanks, everybody.

posted by galadriel at 9:12 AM on February 15, 2013

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