Once you’ve improved the access into the house from outside, you may need to consider moving around inside the house!
This article deals with horizontal circulation, our next article will deal with moving between floors.
When considering the circulation within each storey of the house you should try and remove level changes where possible, even the small ones which could be a result of two different thicknesses of floor finish! At the very least any level changes should be reduced wherever possible. Where it’s not possible to fully remove a level change than a ramp should be used. The length of a ramp should not be too long, and the gradient not too steep. The building regulations recommend gradients between 1 in 12 (with short lengths of ramp) and 1 in 20 (with longer lengths of ramps) but in existing situations achieving this kind of gradient is not always practicable. There is more information on ramps in our previous article called “Just Getting In“.
There are two main issues with doorways:
The first is that they are usually the narrowest part of the home, narrower than the circulation areas they lead either from or to. The clear opening needs to be a minimum of 750mm wide to allow a wheelchair to pass through. You can check the clear width of a door opening easily. Simply open the door until it is 90 degrees from the wall, and measure between the face of the door and the nearest bit of wood on the opposite frame. That’s usually what is termed as a doorstop. If the distance is less than 750mm then a wider opening will need to be considered. If it’s in a studwork wall, this is relatively easy, however, if it’s a structural wall then the work will be a little more complicated. It is always advisable to get the situation checked by a qualified structural engineer.
Secondly, if the disability involves the use of a wheelchair, these do not like doors. In many cases there is a simple solution to this problem! Remove the actual door! Of course this should be considered very carefully, as some doors are fire doors! This is where an Architectural Designer will be able to make the assessment for you! Another advantage of removing a door is that it increases the effective width of the opening immediately! Sliding doors are an option, but either require wall space on one side, or require special pockets to be constructed for them to go into. In a structural wall, this is a lot of work!
Wheelchairs and other mobility aids can cause damage and take their toll on finishes. It is worth considering this from the start and including surface protection to susceptible areas among your first adaptations. For example, kick plates can be fixed to doors to protect them, or clear plastic sheets fixed over venerable wall finishes. These adaptations may not look as good at first, but they will look better than surfaces which have been ruined by constant contact after a short time.
The narrowest point of most homes, excluding the doorways, are corridors and other circulation areas. If they need to be widened then this will often be a major job, and professional help in the form of Architectural Designers and Structural Engineers should be sought. Often, in fact, they are wide enough though and just keeping them clear of clutter and furniture will suffice. As a guide a corridor or circulation area should be at least 900mm wide. This is enough space to allow people to pass each other.
As with the front door, additional support for those who are unsteady on their feet will help at strategic locations. Therefore, grab rails should be provided where needed. We all assume that this will be in the toilet or bathroom, but there are other places they are useful like near steps and ramps, or where people often pass each other.
In all the above items we have talked about making it easy for someone to circulate in their own home. Unfortunatley, if the disability involved is dementia, then it may be worth considering doors which can be locked in either the open or closed position, depending on the need. It is also important to consider doors that are self-shutting or lockable, as these can be confusing for people with dementia. They can get scared and shut in, sometimes trying to find another way out which may be dangerous, such as through the window. Try to avoid locks on the outside of internal doors as people with dementia can accidentally lock their carer in.
How can Clive Elsdon Building Design Help?
Clive Elsdon Building Design, drawing on many years of experience in domestic, commercial and public building design including many projects specifically aimed at improving access, can help you with your access issues. We can work with your Health Care Professional to produce designs which ensure that you get the best adaptations to your home to suit your individual needs!
Please feel free to comment on this article or ask any questions that you have. Look out for the fourth article in the series, “Going Up” coming soon! In that article we will be addressing vertical circulation issues.
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