How To: Prepare Your Home for Guests with Limited Mobility

Hosting Thanksgiving dinner this year or in charge of Christmas brunch?

Do you have a parent who uses a wheelchair, or a cousin with a disability that limits their mobility, who will be visiting you during the holidays?

Since most homes are not built to accommodate people with disabilities, you may want to consider some additional preparations beyond the menu planning. A few thoughtful steps on your part will make the day, weekend, or extended stay of your guest more comfortable and have them feeling welcomed with open arms.

Place portable wheelchair ramps over the front steps to get your guest into the house easily and safely. Many are constructed of lightweight aluminum, and some wheelchair ramps even fold up when not in use so that they can quickly be stored away. Make sure the sidewalk is completely clear of snow and ice, and relocate planters or other decorations that may get in the way of a scooter, walker or power chair.

Outdoor steps should be in good condition, free of debris and have non-slip stair treads for the most secure footing possible. Inside, if a staircase is not carpeted, adhesive non-slip strips can be added to make them less slippery.

Measure doorways to make sure they are wide enough for a wheelchair or other mobility equipment to fit through comfortably. Many wheelchairs are at least 26” wide, so a door opening of 36” will accommodate most. If necessary, temporarily remove a door from its hinges to gain an additional inch or two of space.

Remove tripping hazards such as throw rugs, loose cords or wires, baskets or plants, and rearrange or relocate unnecessary furniture that creates an obstacle for a wheelchair or walker. Even worn carpeting or uneven flooring can cause someone to trip and fall, so be sure to seek out those trouble areas with a critical eye. Tame unruly cords with cord covers (not beneath a rug) to prevent getting tangled underfoot, or better yet, place electrical cords along walls to keep them out of traffic areas altogether.

Children’s and pet’s toys should be gathered and out of the way, and, if your guest’s stay is only for a short time, you may want to consider kenneling your pet or confining them to a separate part of the house if they tend be over enthusiastic with guests or in the thick of the household activity.

A threshold leading from one room to the next with a significant rise or drop in floor level presents yet another risk. Low profile threshold ramps (one on each side, if necessary) make the transition from dining room to living room smooth and accident-free.

The bathroom is where most accidents occur, particularly if your guest stays overnight and requires use of the shower or tub. An elevated toilet seat or grab bars help if your guest has limited leg strength to rise and lower. A slip-proof shower mat, a hand-held shower head, a bath seat or even a long-handled shower sponge are all valuable accessories to assist your guest with limited mobility to remain safe and stable in the tub. Remember, towel bars are not weight-bearing and should never be used to pull yourself up.

Overnight guests will appreciate the use of a master bedroom or other main floor bedroom closest to the bathroom. Master suites also have the additional room needed by someone who uses a wheelchair or rollator to turn around and maneuver. A generous-sized nightstand keeps important items such as the telephone, glasses and medications within reach.

Make sure your hallways and stairs are well-lit for those who may not see well at night or wake up disoriented. Nightlights placed strategically in bedrooms, hallways and bathrooms are helpful.

If you anticipate your guest will spend time in the kitchen during their stay, make a point to turn pot handles away from the edge of the stove top and keep drawers and cupboards closed. You may even want to rearrange some of the more accessible kitchen drawers and cupboards with often-used utensils and dishes like extra coffee mugs, teaspoons and the like or move favorite foods to an accessible bottom shelf in the refrigerator.

Just a few carefully thought-out preparations and adjustments around your home will help make the season a joy for you, your guest with a disability and the rest of the family alike. Happy holidays!

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