Traverse City Record-Eagle

Body & Soul

June 2, 2012

Adapted in TC: Adapting a home

'Home for sale by owner. Move in condition. Owner moving to condo due to hip & knee replacements. Call for more information & showing."

I came across this local classified ad a few weeks ago.

It brought to light the members of our community living in housing situations that aren't accessible.

Accidents, aging and illness can create new housing needs for people. Sometimes the necessity appears because a person with these needs moves in with us. Military veterans who return home with injures often require home modifications. Other times, the need is more temporary — a pregnant woman on bed rest, or a person healing from surgery or hospitalization. Often, people need specialized equipment.

Housing frequently becomes inaccessible because to stairs. Bedrooms and bathrooms are often upstairs. Laundry rooms are in basements. Safety also becomes a key factor. People fear falling. Loved ones worry they can't lift or carry the person if they do fall. Narrow bathroom doorways block wheelchairs, crutches or walkers.

Yards and exteriors that require extensive maintenance become a drain physically and financially.

Understandably, many people want to maintain their housing independence. Yet the "too much" of it all seems to overwhelm their ability to stay where they have lived. Having not made accessibility changes over the years, they are now faced with moving, hiring in-home help and or trying to adapt their current home.

One of my friends found a wheelchair-accessible rental home by driving through neighborhoods with one-story houses. She also learned that her neighborhood was intergenerational "¦ elderly people able to live alone, families with small children who didn't want stairs and people of all ages with disabilities. She also had good luck finding mobile homes and modulars that had been adapted.

Another friend had her home destroyed by a fire. When she began rebuilding, I suggested that she make her home barrier free.

Though she and her family didn't need the access for themselves at the time, she intended to rent part of the house and wanted to attract the widest range of tenants.

Universal barrier-free design can be attractive, safe, low-maintenance and functional.

Many people want gently sloped ramps rather than ski jumps. They need communication devices such as cell phones, call buttons, cameras and service agency alerts. They want bathrooms with grab bars, roll-in showers and tubs with carpeted platforms built around them for transferring,

Barrier-free design can often include waist-high wall fireplaces, TVs and home theaters, electrical outlets and light switches. Doorways that are wide enough are helpful.

Tile or hardwood floors without carpet or rugs are easy care surfaces that are also safe. Garages that are 9 feet or taller can fit vans with lifts and various storage toppers.

Some new homes with multiple stories have elevators. For some people this is a perfect solution.

For others, elevators are seen as a hazard and non-solution. Those folks may prefer a walk-around sidewalk to reach other floors.

One of the best ways to see what's possible in barrier-free design is to peruse newer hotels. Most places will let you check out their handicapped-accessible rooms and facilities. Design help and ideas are available from therapists, churches, home builders, architects, designers and HGTV. Insurance agents can give you an estimate on the cost.

Barrier-free modifications can be done wrong and it's often due to a lack of standardized requirements, inspection or enforcement. For multi-family buildings, there may be requirements for a certain number of barrier-free units. Sometimes the units may be adaptable, for example, the backing for grab bars is hidden in the wall and ready to be used when needed.

Since my stroke, I have lived in many different housing situations. My parentss home was a quad level and not accessible. At that time, I was able to minimally modify a local apartment and live with a roommate while I attended college. When I was dating my husband, he lived in several different apartments, including, for a short while, a senior high-rise complex.

At one point, I even lived for a bit in an accessible college dorm room. When we were first married, we found a fully accessible apartment in a large garden complex.

In our own home in northern Michigan, we built my ramp around the three sides of our outside attached deck. I have a small ramp into my garage. I used a stair glide to reach our second story. The counters in our kitchen are slightly lower and the kick plate is higher under the cabinets. We have gravel in our driveway that I can easily wheel over, and raised flower beds. Like many people, there are certain parts of the house I don't use much — the basement, for example.

I adapt in some way to all of my surroundings, including my own home.

Susan Odgers, a resident of Traverse City for the past 25 years, has used a wheelchair for 36 years. She is a faculty member at Northwestern Michigan College and Grand Valley State University. She can be reached via the Record-Eagle.

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