Adapting your home for a disibility – Article 3 – In the House

Yes I Can get around in my own home!

Just being able to move around their own home with ease will give a great feeling of independence to someone living with a disability!

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.

Level Changes

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.

To read other articles in this series, please Click Here

8 thoughts on “Adapting your home for a disibility – Article 3 – In the House
  1. Thanks Clive for an interesting read. I shall pass the info onto a friend who now has her elderly Mother living with her after her Mother became wheelchair bound. I’m sure she will find your posts useful and informative.

  2. Do you know something… I’d never have thought of half of these things, Clive. Very, very useful article, indeed… especially as I approach my dotage!!


    • Hopefully you won’t need to be doing any of these adaptations in the near future Phil. There will be nore articles coming soon. Keep an eye out for them. The next one will be about moving between different floors in the house, as not everyone want’s to be forced into moving to a bungalow!

  3. This is a really useful article. Its often the case that door widths need to be measured before buying wheelchairs or wheeled walking frames…. just to make sure they go through !

    • Caroline,

      Yes, it’s normally OK in a modern building, but it’s more of an issue in older ones. We are curently working on a project to make access to the bottom of the stairs possible in a wheelchair. There is already a stair lift there, but at the moment the doorway and the small lobby mean that the person has to be helped from the chair to the stair lift. Not an easy task. We may refer to that one in more detail in our next article.

    • Gillian,

      If there is an actual door in the opening, making it too large can cause a couple of issues. One of them is that the larger door will require more clear area and manoeuvring space. The second is that it will be heavier, and therefore harder to open. This is why we see so many mechanically assisted doors in public buildings where openings need to be wider for access or escape reasons.

      I tend to design domestic doors based on a 910mm structural opening. This usually gives a door leaf size of 826mm. With 12mm door stops and allowing a width of 44mm for the actual door this will give about 770mm clear opening, which is slightly greater than the 750mm opening mentioned in the Building Regulations. That should be ample for a wheelchair to pass through but not take up too much room or cause excessive manoeuvring.

      If for any reason I feel that is not sufficient, for example if the approach is awkward or not straight on, I occasionally design the door width based on a 1010mm structural opening, which running with the figures above gives a clear opening of about 870mm. This door width conforms with the building regulations for non-domestic buildings for entry into a Disabled WC or Changing Area for example.

      I personally don’t feel that going above these sizes gives any significant advantage to a wheel chair user.

Comments are closed.