Keep the following points in mind before you decide to overhaul your home to make it wheelchair accessible:
Weigh your needs carefully
Ideally, changes should be designed specifically for the individual. The optimum width of a wheelchair accessible doorway, for example, depends not only on the width of the wheelchair and the angle of approach, but on the ability of the person who has to get the chair through it. Consulting with a rehabilitation therapist familiar with your case can help. Careful assessment will ensure that you end up with the features you need and save you time and money by eliminating those you don't.
Difficult as it may seem, it might just be easier to move. Some floorplans are either to difficult or prohibitively expensive to adapt. A two-story home can certainly be made wheelchair accessible, but you may not want to give up the space or money required to install an elevator. Ultimately, the choice is personal.
Look at the big picture
It's function you're after, but form needn't suffer as a result. As with any home alteration, changes should complement the existing design whenever possible. Matching existing materials will give your project a seamless appearance. Keeping this in mind will not only make your changes more pleasing to the eye; it will preserve or even enhance the resale value of your home. Intelligently designed, well built, barrier-free homes have flowing floorplans and are inherently spacious.
Look for reliable help
The scope of your project may require the use of a contractor and/or an architect. If possible, choose folks who are knowledgeable and experienced in barrier-free homes. They should be able to listen to your specific needs and be willing to depart from common standards, if necessary, to accommodate you. Check their references carefully and ask to see an example of their completed work.
-- Gabriel Wolff is a former biology teacher and lab technician at UC Santa Cruz who specializes in home remodeling.
Martha F. Somers. Spinal Cord Injury: Functional Rehabilitation. Appleton & Lange. Norwalk, Conn: 1990, 339 pp. See Chapter 18: Architectural Adaptations.
Nondiscrimination on the Basis of Disability by Public Accommodations. Federal Register. Department of Justice, Office of the Attorney General. 28 CRF Part 36.
Adaptable Housing: A Technical Manual for Implementing Adaptable Dwelling Unit Specifications. Boston, Mace, &Long, 1987.