82.1 F
Charlotte Amalie
Monday, December 4, 2023


What if you became disabled and everything around you in your home became suddenly inaccessible? What would you do?
I recall that at one point in my pregnancy the doctor said not to climb stairs. I found myself immediately and unexpectedly unable to do many functions for myself that I had previously done at will and independently.
I did not like the feelings of frustration and unfairness that overcame me. I did not like having to ask someone to do for me what I had previously (and easily) been able to do for myself.
This, however, was for a brief period; I cannot really imagine how people who are either permanently disabled or disabled for a long period cope, but I do know that if I were going to construct a house I would make sure that it is as accessible as possible.
I really think that we all need to purchase or build a house with the full knowledge that one day we will have limited mobility as we grow older. As we grow older, most of us have to live with:
• Limited mobility caused by arthritis.
• Loss of balance and the propensity for falling/tripping easily.
• Natural aging problems with depth perception as we climb or go down stairs.
• Other sicknesses that may cause mobility impairment, such as a stroke.
Why not be prepared for the future? Why do we construct houses as if we will be permanently young and agile? Are we aware how expensive it is to renovate an existing home to make them fully accessible for wheelchairs or for use by a person with a walker or cane?
Unfortunately, it is not just a matter of creating ramps to allow us to get into our houses. Among other things, we will also need to address the following:
• Make sure that our bathrooms can be used when we are in a wheelchair. Will we have enough room to maneuver? Do we have at least one shower stall in our home in case we need to use a shower chair to bathe? Are our toothbrush/soap dispensers reachable from a sitting position?,
• Can we get through our doorways in a wheelchair? Are they wide enough? Are there lots of stairs?
• Do our kitchens have space under the counter for our wheelchair wheels to fit when we want to prepare a meal? Are all of our appliances accessible to us from a sitting position?
• Do we have doorknobs or door levers? I read somewhere that if you want to see what it is like to open a doorknob with arthritis, try closing your fist and opening the door. Would it not be better to have all doors with lever handles instead of knobs? How about our windows?
• Could we not put in fire alarm monitors that flash, besides sounding, for the day when we may be hard of hearing?
• Could we not install light switches that you press to turn on rather than having to flip them up?
These ideas are not original and they are not intended to be all-inclusive. They are just suggestions that we reconsider how we build or renovate our houses to make it possible for us to use them in either our senior years or if we become physically disabled. Remember, it is quite likely that you will be living on a fixed income just when this type of renovation is necessary.
Editor's note: Catherine L. Mills, a former commissioner of Human Services, has a master's degree in social work.

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