When I first became a wheelchair user, life was particularly frustrating. Most of the world is not built with disabled people in mind, and I felt that keenly. This included my own home. I could barely make the hallway turns; most of the shelving was out of my reach; using the kitchen was an exercise in frustration.
Having a disability is not always easy. Sometimes it’s the little things that can drain our energy or make us angry – especially when those little things start to build up. Our homes are places we want to be relaxed. Over the years I’ve learned a few things that have helped my home become a place that works for me, somewhere I am independent and free of stress. They help me specifically as a wheelchair user, but some of them could apply to other disabilities as well.
If you have a doorway in your house you can’t get through because it’s too narrow or have been looking for a new place to live and have had to turn down properties because you simply couldn’t fit through the front door, consider getting a set of offset door hinges. These simple hardware gadgets literally changed my life – I wouldn’t be living where I am today if I didn’t have them. When first looking at the place I live in now, I found that the bathroom doorway was too small to fit my wheelchair. The door frame itself was wide enough, but with the door added it was not.
My family helped me remove the old hinges and install the new offset ones, giving me another inch and a half of clearance and suddenly the bathroom was reachable to me. Such a simple solution to such a widespread problem!
Installs easily and ADDS 2 INCHES to most any doorway allowing barrier access for most wheelchairs, walkers and transfer chairs. Designed to swing doors completely clear of opening when door is opened 90 degrees
When I was in rehabilitation for my spinal cord injury, I was shocked by how the simplest tasks suddenly turned into huge mountains I was expected to climb (so many mountains). Turning over in bed was one of those tasks. It didn’t help that I was wearing a halo attached to my skull and a large, plastic vest that held me completely rigid all the way from my head down to my waist. My occupational therapist first made me learn to turn over with no assistive devices – I remember her saying, “What if you’re at a hotel and you don’t have any?” This frustrated me to no end because I knew that assistive devices for this task existed, but she wasn’t letting me use any. It was like the time my physical therapist wasn’t letting me use my pantlegs to help pull myself up when I was lying on the floor. I said to him, “You mean if I’m lying on the floor with no pants on??” Of course, he replied in the affirmative, and made me sit up without using my pants to help.
But I digress. A bed strap makes those middle-of-the-night turns so much easier and less strenuous. Not everyone turns themselves at night, but many need to turn at other times, such as during dressing and even sexual activities. Finding straps that work is a matter of knowing what to search for. If you simply search online for “bed straps,” you’ll find things like bedsheet holders, patient restraints, and a few NSFW entries. What points you toward something that works is “twin to king” – that is, converting two twin beds to a king-sized one. There you’ll find long straps with a way to secure them together at the ends. Have someone help you to put one underneath your mattress, widthwise, about a foot from the top end and wrap it around just under your pillow and pull it very tight. When you’re done it should look a bit like the mattress strap shown in the product picture. You may need to adjust it up or down for comfort under your head and to get the best grip.
The Mattress Strap is a 10cm / 4″ wide Loop Tape strap with a black triglide that secures around a bed mattress. It allows various Sleep System positioning devices which have Hook Tape underneath to attach to it, to hold them in place. The width allows for the positioning device to be placed either in line with the bed, or on an angle.
Fire Extinguisher Next to Bed
Something that many disabled people worry about – especially if they live alone – is dealing with a housefire. When your mobility is affected in a way that makes you move more slowly, you start to see the world in a different way and realize that you’re more vulnerable in certain situations than you were before. One way I personally help myself feel less vulnerable is to try to be prepared. I’ve always kept a fire extinguisher in my kitchen, but it wasn’t until a few years ago that I started keeping one next to my bed. As a person with paraplegia, it can take me up to ten seconds to get into my wheelchair, which doesn’t sound like a long time — except when there’s a fire. Additionally, I’d be unable to climb out my bedroom window. Having a fire extinguisher nearby gives me hope that I could take care of something small or buy myself time until help arrived.
Kitchen Cabinet Doors Off
One thing I quickly noticed when I was in the kitchen was that opening the bottom cabinet doors was a pain in the neck – or the joints, as it were. To get close enough to reach them usually meant that my wheelchair would be blocking the door, so after grabbing it I would need to swing my chair out wide or back up to make room to open the door, then move forward to reach whatever it was I needed, then swing back out once more to close the door. All of this added up to energy being wasted and extra movement on my joints. As wheelchair users, it is important that we “move smart” and conserve our energy as well as minimize wear and tear on our joints.
Opening those cabinet doors was also frustrating, especially when I would realize I’d forgotten to grab an item just after closing the door. Eventually I decided that the cabinet doors had to come off. I had my mom come over with her electric drill and we made quick work of it, storing the doors in the back closet. I didn’t like the look of all my food products and pots and pans out in the open, but the ease of access made it all worthwhile. If I was cooking on the stovetop and needed a can of beans, I could back up a little bit, reach down, grab it, and inch forward right back to my cooking. It may sound simple, and it is – that’s the beauty of it!
However, the visual chaos of having my cabinets fully exposed was still nagging at me. The solution my mom and I came up with was two-fold: Large rectangular baskets to put the goods in, and little curtains to cover them up. We used baskets like these wire ones that have a handy scoop front (be sure to measure your cabinets to find ones that will fit). For the curtain rods, we purchased small tension rods that are adjustable (no tools needed to install, they’re spring-loaded and squeeze to fit), one for each cabinet. I have some sewing skills, so I put them to use and made mini curtains for each cabinet opening. If you don’t have sewing skills or just don’t want to make a bunch of tiny curtains (believe me, I get it), then simply using baskets or bins makes a big difference.
The Small Scoop Basket from Spectrum provides a simple and effective storage solution for any room in the home. Organize lotions and soaps in your bathroom, items in your pantry or washcloths in your linen closet. Organize your kitchen or bathroom cabinets, the pantry closet, or the office.
Grabbers or Reachers
One of the best things I took home from my spinal cord injury rehabilitation center was a grabber (they gave it to me — I didn’t steal it!). When you have a back that’s been broken and put back together again, leaning down to pick things up over and over isn’t fun. Nor is it fun to see something up high that you need but can’t get because none of the standing people are home right now.
The type of grabber you buy matters. There are claw-shaped ones that are fine for picking up papers and smaller, lightweight items, but for heavier items — like cans of soup – I’d recommend a rubber-cupped one. They have a wider grip area and are usually made of aluminum, which is sturdier than the plastic the claw-shaped ones are often made of.
It’s a good idea to buy more than one grabber and place them in different rooms in the house – that way you won’t find yourself having to search for one when you need it. Have one in your bedroom, the kitchen, and the bathroom, at a minimum. In the bathroom you may want to place it near the bathtub or shower, because it can be very frustrating to have the soap slip out of reach before you’ve even had the chance to use it. In the kitchen I’ve found the rubber-cupped grabbers work the best due to their ability to handle heavier items such as cans and boxes of food.
Easily pick up small items that are far from reach or in tight spaces with ease using this amazing long reach grabbing tool that makes collecting things so much easier!
Easily reach high shelves, behind furniture and appliances and in other tight spaces with the suction reacher by Vive. The lightweight brushed aluminum frame is corrosion-resistant and provides an additional 32” of reach for any individual. Perfect for those with limited mobility, arthritis, painful back conditions and those recovering from surgery.
Plastic Office Mats
In a perfect world we’d all have the accessible houses of our dreams: no stairs; wide bathrooms; and hardwood or tiled floors. However, in the real world many of us must work with what we can get, and many of our houses are carpeted. When I first became disabled, I learned very quickly that wheelchair wheels are rough on carpets. It’s kind of like having a bicycle in the house. After several months the carpeting in my apartment showed signs of wear in spots where I had to turn sharply, the tread of my tires eating away at it.
What can help protect these areas are plastic office mats, the kind that sit underneath office chairs. The one I linked to is a bit pricey (on sale for 68% off as of this writing) – that’s because I have experience with the cheaper ones, and they are not worth the hassle. You need one that is not going to curl at the edges and catch your wheels, crack under the pressure of your chair, or move around on the carpet. You probably need one that is rated either “high” or “medium” pile – pile meaning the thickness of the carpet. This will ensure that the mat will resist moving under your wheels. If your carpet is flat like an office carpet, a low-pile mat would work just fine.