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Designing for Special Needs


Just briefly, I want to cover designing and decorating for persons with special needs. Many people are faced with special needs, sometimes they are temporary disabilities (such as when they have broken a leg) or sometimes lengthy. Adapting the home in order for ease of accessibility (called universal design) is crucial for the individual to be able to function as normally as possible.

Wheelchair Use & Clearances

  • For wheelchair clearance, you will need to allow a 5' clear circular area in order for a wheelchair to make a complete turn. Otherwise the occupant will need to back up, which can be difficult and tiring.
  • A 36" doorway is ideal for total clearance of a wheelchair.
  • Countertops should have knee clearance underneath them and be at a height of 28" - 30".
  • Remove any loose area rugs and make sure that furniture is positioned so that a wheelchair can easily maneuver around the room.
  • Ramps down steps shouldn't be so steep that they are dangerous. A ratio of 12' of sloped ramp per 1' of height should provide a good even slope.
  • Light switches should be lowered so that they are accessible from a wheelchair.
  • Any exposed hot water pipes underneath sinks should be wrapped so that they are not hot to the touch.
  • Eliminate any window treatments or tablecloths that "puddle" or pool around the base on the floor.

Vision Impairment

  • Paint door frames in a bright or high contrast color to contrast with the wall color. Light switch plates can be a bright color so that they are very visual.
  • Floor level changes, or the treads and risers of steps, may be easier to see if a different contrasting color is used to bring attention to the level changes. Bright yellow tape can be purchased for this purpose.
  • There should be plenty of illumination in all rooms, especially at floor level changes or steps.
  • If door thresholds are raised, the threshold itself should be in a contrasting color from the rest of the floor to keep from tripping.
  • Avoid flooring that has a shiny surface. It may create a glare and can become dangerously slippery when wet.
  • Contrasting colors in cabinets, cabinet pulls, and countertops will help in the kitchen or bathroom.
  • To avoid "bumping" into furniture, do not use the same color on upholstery that you have selected for the flooring and walls.
  • Area rugs should be removed if they are in a general path of foot traffic, especially if the rug pile is very thick or the edges tend to curl up.
  • Window treatments (especially on windows that face the south) should block and eliminate any glare.

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