Adapting your home for a disibility – Article 4 – Going Up!

Changes in level can be challenging!

Going Up? Changes in level can be challenging!

The Challenge

Getting from floor to floor at home can be challenging for a person living with a disability. Where space is available it is often more practicable to adapt the home by making it possible for a disabled person to live on one level only, usually the entry level or ground floor. A lack of space, or indeed the very wishes of the person living with the disability, may prevent this.

As with our previous article entitled “In the House” dealing with moving around on one level, it remains important where possible to reduce the number of level changes. This can often be done cheaply and effectively by the use of ramps or even careful consideration to floor finishes etc.  Unfortunately, moving from one storey of the house to the other cannot be catered for in this way.

Improving the existing stairs.

Some people living with a disability are still capable of walking and indeed climbing stairs, but may require a little extra assistance.  There are some basic and cost effective measures that can be introduced to make the stairs a safer place in these circumstances.

Surface & Lighting.

In domestic situations many stairs etc. have a carpet finish.  This in itself is not usually an issue, however, any carpets should be completely secure in order to reduce the risk for tripping and falling.

In the case of partially sighted people highlighting the individual steps can be an advantage.  This is why contrasting stair nosing’s are seen in commercial and institutional buildings, and even contrasting surface finishes on landings compared to the stairs and ramps.  Whilst contrasting colours may not be what we want in our homes, good, well thought out lighting can also be used to help highlight the individual steps.

Handrails Provide Support.

Many domestic stairs have handrails, but often only to one side and more decorative than useful.  Check that any existing handrails are well fixed, suitably placed and will provide the support needed.  We have listed below some of the key points about handrails.


The vertical height to the upper handrail (Yes, there can be two handrails!) should be between 900 and 1100mm above the pitch of the stair (or ramp).  This is measured vertically from the nose of each step, or from the surface of a ramp. (The pitch of a stair is actually a line that touches the nose of every step.)  If a second handrail is fitted, the top of this should be 600mm above that pitch line.  This is usually fitted to assist children or people of smaller stature, and is the reason you will often see a double handrail in commercial or institutional buildings.  You would only fit this in a home if it was relevant to the person / disability being catered for.


A handrail to a stair or ramp should, where possible be continuous.  That means that it should continue around a landing to help provide support and security there, but also that is should extend beyond both the bottom and the top of any flight of stairs or ramp.  The ideal distance is 300mm.  This extension should level out, being approximately the same height above the landing as the handrail was above the pitch of the stairs.

While dealing with the end of a handrail, another point that many do not think of is to design the end so that it does not easily hook onto clothing.  This is why you often see commercial handrails returning to the wall, or at least bending down for a short distance. This should be enough to stop it hooking a sleeve!

Shape & Fixing

Handrail Size Distance

Diagram showing prefered handrail sizes and distances.

The shape and size of the handrail is very important.  An ideal size for the actual handrail is between 40 to 45mm in diameter.  Non circular handrails should be 50mm wide an any radius that they have should be a minimum of 15mm. The nearest face of the handrail to a wall should be between 60 to 75mm away from the wall.  For best support the brackets which hold it to that wall should be about 10mm in diameter and mounted to the bottom of the handrail plus allow a reasonable clearance below the rail before the bracket returns to the wall or meets another obstruction, 60mm is the distance laid down in the building regulations.  If the handrail is mounted on top of a wall for example, the nearest edge of the handrail should not be more than 50mm back from the actual stair.  The diagram of a handrail below is similar to that found in the Building Regulation Document relating to Disabled Access.

Slip Resistant & Warm

The surface finish of a handrail should be suitable for its function.  It should be slip resistant to help the person use it for support, and it should be warm to the touch so as not to cause discomfort while being used.  If the person using it has reduced visibility, a contrasting colour to the wall or background should also be considered.

When the Stairs will no longer do.

There will be occasions when using the stair will not be possible.  For some this may be occasionally, for others it may be every day.  In either case, when altering the layout to live on one level or moving to a home with a single storey is not an option or indeed a desire, then a lift is required.  There are a number of types of lift available to the domestic market, and the choice will depend on individual requirements, space and budget.


Stannah Starla Stair Lift

Stannah Starla Stair Lift

Stairlifts are fitted to the existing stair in the home and therefore take up the least space and are often the easiest solution to the problem providing the existing stair case is a sutable width and layout.

A rail is usually mounted to the stair treads or on the wall beside the stairs. A moving chair or lifting platform is attached to this rail. A person on the chair or platform is lifted as the chair or platform moves along the rail, following the pitch of the original stair. The simplest installations are on straight stairs, however, there are solutions which will allow the chair or platform to turn on landings, wind up circular stairs or even to cross doorways using removable or hinged sections of rail.

The stair lift itself comes in two main types. There is the type with their own seat which you sit on and the type which has a plate or lifting platform that you can stand on, or will carry a wheelchair.  The type to be installed will depend on the needs of the individual, and also on the space available.  A Health Care Professional will be able to help decide which option is best for each circumstance.  In the case of either option, and indeed the type of lift we will discuss below as well, these should be installed by a specialist.

Either of the types of lift mentioned above can be bought outright, costing in the region of £1,500* or they can be rented for something in the region of £10* a week, plus an installation charge.

An example of a stair lift is the Stannah Starla

Vertical Lifts

A Platform Lift or Home Lift is installed totally separate to the existing stairs.  It moves the user vertically to the room above or below.

Platform Lift

Gartec Prime Platform Lift

Gartec Prime Platform Lift

This type of lift takes up permanent room on all the levels it serves, much as a conventional lift or commercial /institutional platform lift.  It is fully encased and has doors on each floor. The platform moves up and down inside its own shaft, and can be left at any floor.  This type of lift is relatively expensive and in a home situation is only likely to be fitted if more than two storeys need to be served or if the lift needs to be fitted external to the original floor plan and therefore provide it’s own weather protection.

An example of this sort of lift is the Gartec Prime Series   The Prime 7000XT (pictured) being specifically designed for external use.

Home Lift

Stannah Stratum Home Lift

Stannah Stratum Home Lift

Firstly there is a type which “parks” on the upper floor where there is usually a small permanent guarded area with an access door such as the Stannah Stratum . The bottom of the lift forms part of the ceiling in the room below.  This type of lift is usually on rails fixed vertically to a wall.  In the room below, these rails together with a “square” in the ceiling are normally all that is visible. When the lift is required, it is lowered into the lower room, leaving an opening in the ceiling which is protected in the room above by the permanrent guarding.  This means that the lift only takes up valuable space on the lower floor when not in use, but always uses space above.

Stannah Salise Home Lift
Stannah Salise Home Lift

Then there are lifts that are almost “pod” or “tardis” like such as the Stannah Salise .  They can be parked in either the upper or lower room, taking up space only in the room they are parked in.  The bottom of the lift, when it is parked  in the upper room, forms the ceiling in the room below.  Alternativley, when the lift itself is parked in the lower room, the top of it forms the floor in the upper room.




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 fifth article in the series, “What’s Cooking” coming soon! In that article we will be addressing issues with kitchen design relating to adapting your home for disability.

To read other articles in this series, please Click Here

* Please note that Clive Elsdon Building Design does not supply any of the items mentioned in this article therefore prices quoted are approximate for information and guidance only and subject to change. Please contact suppliers direct to obtain costs for your own installations. While some suppliers are noted in the text, there are other suppliers of the products and services mentioned.




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

Adapting your home for disability – Article 2 – Just Getting In!

Adapting the entrance

Adapting the access to your home to allow for disability is essential in many cases.


Until relativley recently very few buildings had level access, so just getting into their own home can be a serious issue for anyone with a disability!


Access Ramp

A ramp does not have to be ugly!

A permanent or portable ramp to the front door, and perhaps other doors, will help someone in a wheelchair, on crutches or who is unstable on their feet. Many ramps are “functional” and think nothing of image, but this does not have to be the case.  An Architectural Designer, such as Clive Elsdon Building Design, can help design a ramp which will work well and look good.

Gradient:   The length 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 this is not always practicable.

Landings Top & Bottom (plus mid landings for longer ramps!): There should be a 1.2m square landing at the top and bottom of the ramp. The same applies if intermediate landings are required. If the ramp is very long, it should have a change of direction in it, if that is through more than 90 degrees, the mid-landing will need to be bigger than 1.2m square.

Ramp Width:  1.2m is about the minimum width for a ramp.  Again, this is not always practicable, and the specific situation will need to be assessed. Conversely, the ramp should also not be too wide!

Ramp Surface:  The surface of a ramp should be non-slip, and there should be an upstand at the edge of any ramp that is not between walls to stop wheels going over the edge. Contrasting colours or tactlie paving should be used to help define the landings and ramp.

Handrails:  Ideally any ramp should have handrails. This is easy if it’s right next to a wall of some description, or if a permanent concrete ramp is being installed, but not so practicable for a portable ramp.  The handrails should be sufficiently strong for their purpose.  Many portable ramps will perhaps omit this desirable feature.

Portable Ramp

A Portable Ramp could fulfil your needs and may provide a more flexible solution.

This portable ramp can be supplied by Rampman, visit their website at:


Platform Lifts

External Platform Lift

An external platform lift installed where a ramped solution would be impracticable.

Platform lifts are usually seen inside public or commercial buildings to cope with changes in internal floor level. There are however versions available which can be installed externally to provide access into a building. This solution is expensive to install and requires on-going maintenance throughout its life. An external platform lift should only really be considered once all other measures have been exhausted!

The lift pictured is by Access & Platform Lifts Ltd. You can visit there website by clicking on the picture.  This particular platform lift travels along the pitch of the existing steps and could possibly be considered to be a more robust version of a stairlift (which is to be covered in a later article in this series).  In the photograph the platform is in it’s stowed position, showing that access using the existing steps is still possible. There are of course other makes available and versions where the platform travels vertically rather than following the pitch of the steps.

 Grab Rails

Grab Rails by Entrance Door

Two different grab rails located near entrance doors.

Whilst the ramp or lift will get you to the door, it won’t get you in.  Many people living with a disability are not wheelchair bound, but may be unsteady on their feet.  Fitting a grab rail or handle near to the door is a simple cost effective solution that will help someone steady themselves while inserting a key, turning the handle, or even while stepping over a threshold.  The positioning of the grab rail needs to be well thought out so that it offers the maximum assistance possible.

More information about the grab rails pictured above and a lot of other useful information can be found by visiting the website of the Disabled Living Foundation,

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 third article in the series, “In the House” coming soon! In that article we will be addressing internal circulation issues including door widths and level changes.

To read other articles in this series, please  Click Here

(Products shown are for illustration only and are neither recommended or endorsed by Clive Elsdon Building Design. Other manufacturers and Suppliers are able to provide similar products.)

Adapting your home for disability – Article 1 – Introduction


Disabilities are not limited to Mobility Issues alone!


This is the first in a series of articles we are planning about adapting your home for disability.  This first article will cover some of the basics, where you will find out about what is needed, what is available, and how an Architectural Designer (such as Clive Elsdon Building Design) can assist and a little on the financial element.

Later articles in the series will go into more detail about adaptations that are available.  The ones we have drafted already include floor finishes, access ramps and stairlifts among other topics.

We have started a new “Disability” category on our blogs so that you can easily search for articles in this series!  Keep looking, we will gradually add more!

Please comment and feel free to ask questions about the articles and about adaptations that are available.  Whilst we will always recommend that a health care professional such as an Occupational Therapist helps you choose which adaptations to suit your particular needs, in many cases we have a good idea of  the standard ones ourselves.

Initial Assessment

As Architectural Designers we usually get involved with adapting a home to suit a particular disability only after the domestic requirements have been subject to an initial assessment by someone like an Occupational Therapist (OT). This health care professional will have been sent out by a Hospital or by the Social Services to assess what is actually required, and if it goes beyond a few special gadgets it’s then that they will call in the Building Design Experts!  It is therefore often the OT, rather than the end user that will liaise with the Architectural Designer, advising them, or “briefing” as we call it, on what is necessary to meet the needs of the individual.

Some changes (fitting a grab rail for example) may be very easy, and quick, but if extensive changes (widening openings, altering kitchens etc.)  are needed these can take longer in both the design stage and the actual time it takes to carry out the work.

Where to Find Out what is Possible

There is a lot of help available, from Small Gadgets that assist with independence right up to major adaptations to the home. None of the major alterations are cheap, so it is important to get as much help and advice as possible before starting any work.

Much of this advise is available through Social Services, your Local Authority Housing or Environmental Health Departments, or in many cases through specialist organisations set up to support particular disabilities.

For the sake of this article, as it is about how an Architectural Designer can help with the process, we will have to assume that whatever adaptations are needed involve alterations of some form to the home. With that assumption, in relation the general disabilities such as mobility or impediments in hearing and sight, an Architectural Designer should also be able to provide good advice, especially if used in conjunction with a Health Care Professional such as the OT mentioned above.  Most would be willing to attend the first feasibility meeting free in their own area. Clive Elsdon Building Design offers this on any project within DL & DH Post Code Areas anyway!


If you’re planning to move, don’t overspend on work that will most likely be removed when you leave.  Make sure the people who are helping you decide what is needed know this.  A concrete ramp will last forever (almost) but be expensive to install, and expensive to remove.  A metal or timber ramp won’t last as long, but is easily removed and possibly could even move with you!

Conversely, if you know you want to stay in your house for a long time, it is worth spending that bit extra to both ensure that the facilities last a long time and to make sure they look good as well. A good Architectural Designer will try and make the adaptations look as good as possible.


Funding is available for adaption’s to a home in the form of a disabled facilities grant. This can be up to £25,000.00 per home for necessary adaptations. There are also sometimes low cost loans available.  Both of these are means tested though, so your income and savings are taken into account. You may be deemed able to afford the work yourself!

You can get more information by visiting the government’s web site at or by contacting your own Local Authority.


Some work, such as the installation of lifts between floors and ramps can be carried out at zero-rated VAT. This currently saves 20% of the cost compared to normal building work.  The HMRC website at should be able to help you out there.

We hope that you have found this Introductory article useful.  Our next article will be titled “Just Getting In!” and will cover access to your home from outside.