How To Retrofit Your Home for Accessibility

Retrofitting a home creates a more comfortable and easy to access area for the disabled.  But, this type of design also works well for people that are aging or aging in place too.

Current Standards vs Client Needs

One example in standards vs what the client wants are doors.  The standard says that the doors should be 36 inches wide.  But, a lot of the remodelers out there call these doors knucklebusters.  Even though they are the standard, they can still be hard to get through.  This is why some remodelers choose a 42-inch door instead of a 36-inch door so the client has plenty of space to get through it.

Entryways And Stairs

If your client needs an affordable option, but also needs the home to be retrofit right away, here are a few features to consider:

  • Make sure that there is ample lighting in the entry doors.  Adding a motion sensor to the doorways is a great way to make sure that light will be turned on.
  • Remove any hazards from the entryway, sidewalk or walkways.  Make sure you also fix things like cracked pathways.
  • Add a bench or a receiving tray for packages to the front door.  A box is more difficult to get into / reach into, especially if they are in a wheelchair.
  • Add a nonslip, nonskid and secured runner to the stairs.  This will create fewer trip hazards and it will keep the carpet in place.
  • Remove toggle light switches and replace them with rocker switches.  Also be sure you place the switches further down than they normally would be.

On the other hand, if you have the money to spend and you have the time:

  • Hire a remodeler that specifically does a retrofit.  The remodeler should be familiar with disability accessibility or aging in place accessibility, depending on who your client is.

Bedrooms and Living Areas

  • It doesn’t matter if someone has a disability or is aging in place, creating a bedroom or sleeping area on the first floor should be your #1 priority.
  • Change at least 1 of the vanities in the bathrooms to a lower height and at least one with a higher height.
  • Instead of a step in shower, design a lower threshold or a roll in shower.  Step in showers can be the biggest cause of injury.


Obviously, the amount of change is going to depend on how often the client uses the kitchen.

For a more affordable option or if you need the kitchen retrofitted now:

  • As with the vanity in the bathroom, there should be different height counters in the kitchen.  Some can be lower for easy access while others can be higher to allow them to roll under.
  • Cabinets should be placed further down as in a lower height, rather than higher up.
  • Remove knobs from cabinets and drawers and replace them with lever style handles.

For a costlier option that will take longer to design, plan and construct:

  • Find a remodeling company as well as a designer with a CAPS certification – Certified Aging-in-Place Specialist.  While CAPS has the word aging in place, CAPS can be for anyone that wants to stay in their home, even if they have a disability.
  • A CAPS contractor should replace ALL of the existing appliances with more accessible versions.
  • A CAPS contractor will also consider replacing or add options to aid in wheelchair users like higher toe kicks, roller under cooktops, or peg system storage for things like dishes.

Retrofitting isn’t just about meeting or exceeding accessibility standards.  It’s about listening to your clients and figuring out what they want.

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