Choosing the Right Home for Wheelchair Access
Many people reading this guide will already be living in an apartment or house they need to make wheelchair accessible. However, if you are planning to move, finding a home that is already accessible or has “good bones” for accessibility will save you a lot of time and money. Please check out our guide to accessible housing that covers this topic in detail.
Make Your Home Wheelchair Accessible with Little or No Remodeling and on a Budget
Exterior Accessibility and Wheelchair Ramps
The first and most important step to making your home wheelchair accessible is… not having steps. Stairs are the biggest barrier to independence if you have limited mobility, but thankfully, there are many solutions. I’ve created an entire guide for just this topic.
Making Exterior and Interior Doors Wheelchair Accessible
Now that you’ve made it to the door, you need to get in. This section covers everything you’ll need to open and close doors in your home safely and easily if you use a wheelchair or rollator.
Exterior Door Accessibility
Many people with disabilities find keys difficult to use due to limited hand strength and dexterity. It’s hard to put a key in a lock and turn it while pushing a wheelchair or using a walker or crutches. With a smart lock, you just have to tap your phone or use a voice command to unlock your door.
Smart locks also increase your safety and security if you have personal care assistants, as they log who enters your home and you can easily remove people’s access at any time. Some smart locks have an included or optional keypad as well, although I don’t recommend using a keypad if you are concerned about security as it’s too easy for people to give the code to someone else.
August Smart Lock Pro + Connect Hub - Wi-Fi Smart Lock for Keyless Entry - Works with Alexa, Google Assistant, and more – Silver
3 used from $200.00
Smart Garage Door Opener
If your home has an attached garage, I recommend a smart garage door opener as an easy way to get in and out on a daily basis. This is especially helpful if you have chosen to install your wheelchair ramp in the garage.
Liftmaster myQ Smart Garage Control - Wireless Garage Hub and Sensor with WiFi & Bluetooth - Smartphone Controlled, 821LMC-S, White
3 used from $49.97
Automatic Door Opener
Automatic door openers are expensive. I keep hoping they will get cheaper as automation technology goes mainstream, but unfortunately, it hasn’t happened yet.
Olide DSW120 Swing Door Opener/Closer Residential/Commercial,Automatic Residential/Commercial Door Opener/Operator+2PCS Wireless Handicap Push Buttons
Interior Door Accessibility
Older homes often have narrow doors. You might assume you’ll need to tear into the walls to widen the doors enough to accommodate a wheelchair, but fortunately, there are easy and affordable alternatives.
If your older home is like mine, you probably have 30-inch wide interior doors, but with regular hinges, the actual usable opening is only about 28 inches due to the thickness of the door. That’s about the same width as my Permobil power wheelchair, so I would be scraping the door and frame every time I entered and exited a room. Offset or swing-clear hinges shift the door completely past the opening, giving about two additional inches of clearance. I use offset hinges in my home and it saved thousands of dollars compared to widening doors.
Barn doors have become trendy lately, and many wheelchair users have discovered that they also work great for accessibility. They’re easier to slide open and closed without bending or reaching, and don’t require much arm strength. If you install a barn door, you can also remove the molding around the door frame, giving you a few more inches of clearance for your wheelchair.
I installed three barn doors in my house for less than $200 each. I purchased a couple of barn door kits from Amazon like the ones I recommended below, then went to my local Habitat for Humanity Restore and bought beautiful old doors that enhance the appearance of my home for a low price. Then I paid a handyman to repaint them and install them using the kits.
Lever Door Handles
The wave style and hook style levers are often easiest to operate for people with limited hand dexterity due to cerebral palsy, paralysis, arthritis, and other conditions. Door levers are cheaper when purchased in bulk, so if you can afford to, I recommend replacing all your doorknobs at once.
If you cannot replace a particular doorknob, you can use a lever adapter that attaches to the knob. I don’t generally recommend lever adapters, as they cost at least as much if not more than replacing a knob, and they tend to slip off. But if you have unusual front door hardware or some other situation where replacing a knob isn’t feasible, they are an option.
Probrico Satin Nickel Modern Hook Style Privacy Levers Interior Door Handles, Heavy Duty Keyless Locksets for Bedroom and Bathroom(6 Pack)
Probrico Satin Nickel Modern Hook Style Privacy Levers Interior Door Handles, Heavy Duty Keyless Locksets for Bedroom and Bathroom(6 Pack)
A door closer can solve the problem of trying to shut an inward-facing door without your wheelchair getting in the way.
Door and Wall Protection
If you’re making your home wheelchair accessible without remodeling, you may be left with some narrow spaces to navigate. Wheelchairs, walkers, and other mobility aids can be hard on doors and walls even in larger areas. But you can still keep the paint in your home looking nice by protecting surfaces from bumps and scrapes.
An extra tall door kick plate prevents scratches caused by footrests and wheels.
Wall and Furniture Protection
You can repurpose a banister guard for wall protection in a hallway or cut it to whatever size you need.
Waterproof wainscoting can help protect walls from scratches and dirt, and you can easily replace it if it gets damaged.
Protect the edges of your walls from scrapes and chips with paintable corner guards.
Prime-Line MP10069 Vinyl Corner Shield, White, Pack of 6 – 2-3/8” x 48” – Durable Vinyl Corner Guards, Easy to Install, Protects Wall Edges from Paint Chips, Wallpaper Tears, and Fingerprints
How to Make Your Kitchen Wheelchair Accessible If You Can’t Remodel
Kitchens can be one of the trickiest areas to make accessible without major remodeling. However, there are some things you can do that will really help.
If you can’t roll under the sink, open the cabinet doors and see if there is a piece of wood dividing them in the center. If there isn’t, you could simply open the doors when you need to roll under the sink. If there is a divider and you own the home or are allowed to make modifications without approval, you can cut the divider out to give yourself space to roll under. This may be hidden by the doors when they are closed, but if it isn’t, you can remove the doors and add a decorative curtain instead.
Kitchen Sink Faucet
Install a faucet with an integrated hose so you can easily pull it closer to you for washing hands or dishes. I recommend a sensor faucet so you don’t need to reach the handle to turn it on and off. Choose a faucet with a sensor and a lever for when you need an uninterrupted stream of water, as levers are much easier to turn than knobs. If you have installed a lever faucet but still have difficulty reaching all the way to the back, keep a small dressing stick by your sink to turn the water on and off.
GIMILI Touchless Kitchen Faucet with Pull Down Sprayer, High Arc Single Handle Motion Sensor Smart Activated Hands-Free Kitchen Sink Faucet, Brushed Nickel
If you have a dishwasher but struggle to reach the bottom rack, a reacher or a pair of scissors-style kitchen tongs may help you to remove lightweight items such as utensils.
I often see people with disabilities struggling to do dishes by hand and wonder if they know about portable dishwashers. If you live in a rental that doesn’t have a dishwasher, a portable countertop dishwasher will allow you to wash your plates, bowls, and utensils. They are generally too small for big pots and pans, so they don’t solve the problem entirely, but they save a lot of time and energy.
Farberware FDW05ASBWHA Complete Portable Countertop Dishwasher with 5-Liter Built-in Water Tank, 5 Programs, Baby Care, Glass & Fruit Wash-Black/White
If you’re able to replace your dishwasher, a drawer-style dishwasher can be placed at any height that is convenient for your needs.
Fisher Paykel DD24DAX9N 24 Inch Drawers Full Console Dishwasher with 6 Wash Cycles, 14 Place Settings, Quick Wash, in Stainless Steel
Wheelchair Accessible Stove Solutions
Stoves are very difficult to make accessible for wheelchair users, especially if you live in an apartment or a rented home. If your cooktop is separate from your oven, you can check to see if opening the doors would allow you to roll under, or if you could modify the cabinetry below as I suggested for the sink. However, if that’s not possible, I suggest not even trying to use the stove and getting yourself a portable cooktop instead.
Portable Induction Cooktop
This is not your grandma’s hot plate — these cooktops are fantastic. Induction cooking is revolutionary for people with disabilities because it is safe, easy, and affordable. They only heat the pot or pan, greatly reducing the risk of burning yourself or starting a fire. You can buy a simple one-burner or two-burner induction cooktop and place it on a counter, table, or wherever you can reach. I’ve seen people mount them in a kitchen drawer or under a counter so they can slide out of the way when not needed. If you are able to remodel your kitchen, I highly recommend installing an induction cooktop instead of a regular electric or gas stove because they are so much safer for kids, adults, and seniors, and they’re very easy to use.
Portable Induction Cooktop, iSiLER 1800W Sensor Touch Electric Induction Cooker Cooktop with Kids Safety Lock, 18 Power 17 Temperature Setting Countertop Burner with Timer
Small appliances and alternative appliances are often easier for people with disabilities to use because they can be placed anywhere you can reach.
I’m pretty sure that microwaves are the go-to cooking appliance for many wheelchair users. But sometimes it can be difficult to remove your food without spilling it when it’s hot. If you have a slide-out cutting board in your kitchen, I suggest placing the microwave on the counter right above it so you can use that as a safe place for food while it cools. You can also place your microwave on top of a drawer with an insert to achieve the same result.
If you have poor hand dexterity, an app- or voice-controlled microwave will allow you to cook without pressing buttons.
TOSHIBA ML-EM34P(SS) Smart Countertop Microwave, Sensor Reheat, Works With Alexa & Remote Control, Kitchen Essentials, Mute Function&ECO Mode, 1100W, 1.3 Cu Ft, With 12.4" Turntable, Stainless Steel
Convection Ovens, Air Fryers, and Instant Pots
Many wheelchair users are not able to safely use a standard oven. If you’re not able to install a wall oven at the correct height, or that still wouldn’t address your limitations, you can use a countertop convection oven, toaster oven, or air fryer to cook just about anything that would require an oven, albeit in smaller quantities. An instant pot can also be a good substitute for a stove in some cases.
Oster Convection Oven, 8-in-1 Countertop Toaster Oven, XL Fits 2 16" Pizzas, Stainless Steel French Door
15 used from $138.12
Instant Vortex Plus 6-Quart Air Fryer Oven, From the Makers of Instant Pot with Odor Erase Technology, ClearCook Cooking Window, App with over 100 Recipes, Single Basket, Stainless Steel
7 used from $89.96
Instant Pot Duo 7-in-1 Electric Pressure Cooker, Slow Cooker, Rice Cooker, Steamer, Sauté, Yogurt Maker, Warmer & Sterilizer, Includes App With Over 800 Recipes, Stainless Steel, 3 Quart
If you have difficulty opening and closing a trash can, use a touchless sensor can. It’s more hygienic, too!
NINESTARS DZT-50-9 Automatic Touchless Infrared Motion Sensor Trash Can, 13 Gal 50L, Stainless Steel Base (Oval, Silver/Black Lid)
8 used from $49.54
How to Make Your Bathroom (Kind of) Wheelchair Accessible Without Remodeling
Ah, the bathroom. It’s the most important room to make accessible for many wheelchair users, and often the most difficult or expensive to remodel. Due to the severity of my disability, I cannot physically live in a home without an accessible bathroom. However, for people with milder disabilities or for temporary housing, these bathroom hacks can help.
Bathroom Sink Accessibility
As I described above in the kitchen section, you may be able to open the doors under your sink to get underneath, or remove them and modify the cabinetry.
I needed to buy a new bathroom faucet couple of years ago and was thrilled to find that you can buy bathroom faucets with integrated hoses as well. You could potentially use this system to wash your hair in the sink, or wash dishes if your bathroom sink is accessible and your kitchen sink is not.
LEPO Touchless Sink Sensor Faucet, Automatic Motion Sensor Bathroom Sink Faucet Single Handle Brass Faucets Ideal for Kitchen Bathroom Basin Hotel
Grab bars are a must in both the toilet and shower area. They generally need to be installed by someone with basic home repair skills, but there are a few “no drill” options available. Since they provide an essential safety function, if you’re renting, you may not have to pay to have them removed when you move out. Today, there are many attractive grab bars to choose from that will fit your home’s aesthetic.
Moen R8716D1GBN Home Care Safety 16-inch Bathroom Grab Bar with Comfort Grip Pad, Brushed Nickel
6 used from $26.18
If your toilet is too low and you have difficulty transferring to it or standing up after you’ve been sitting for a while, seat risers are inexpensive. However, they are not the most stable during transfers, so I recommend replacing your toilet if you can.
ADA or Comfort Height Toilet
Comfort height toilets are usable for many people with disabilities and cost the same as regular toilets. You may be able to find one at a local Habitat Restore or salvage yard if needed. I highly recommend choosing a toilet with an elongated bowl for comfort and safety.
Kohler K-3999-0 Highline Comfort Height Two-piece Elongated 1.28 Gpf Toilet with Class Five Flushing Technology And Left-hand Trip Lever, Seat Not Included, White
If showering and/or wiping are difficult for you, a bidet can be life-changing. Bidets range from simple models that attach to your water line and don’t require any power to fancier models with heated seats and air-drying functions, and are priced accordingly. Some feature handheld sprayers for those tough-to-reach areas. I can’t recommend them highly enough! Truly a bidet is a must-buy for anyone with a disability, or even an able-bodied person. Plus, you’ll never have to worry about a toilet paper shortage again.
LUXE Bidet NEO 120 - Self Cleaning Nozzle - Fresh Water Non-Electric Bidet Toilet Attachment (Blue)
2 used from $34.19
Arofa Handheld Bidet Sprayer for Toilet-Adjustable Water Pressure Control with Bidet Hose for Feminine Wash, Stainless Steel Brushed Nickel Cloth Diaper Bidet Toilet Sprayer for Baby Wash
ALPHA BIDET JX Elongated Bidet Toilet Seat, White, Endless Warm Water, Rear and Front Wash, LED Light, Quiet Operation, Wireless Remote, Low Profile Sittable Lid, 3 Year Warranty (Elongated)
10 used from $351.26
The shower is one of the most challenging areas to make wheelchair accessible without remodeling, but these tools can help.
If you have a tub, I recommend getting a shower chair that goes over the tub, not one that just sits inside it. Small shower chairs are unstable and you don’t want to risk falling. A bench that goes over the tub or a shower chair with feet both inside and outside the tub will give you stability when transferring in and out. I also recommend these types of chairs for shower stalls for stability reasons. If you are remodeling or you’re allowed to attach something to the wall, you can install a flip-up shower seat.
36" ADA Compliant Foldable Teak Wood Shower Seat Bench, 400lb Capacity, Clear Coated for Extra Protection, Folding Wall Mount Modern Chrome, Medical Fold Up Bathroom Stool Chair
Powered bathtub lifts will get you in and out of the tub so you can take a bath instead of a shower. However, unless you have a very deep tub, you won’t get the full experience of a true bath. In most cases, your money would be better spent on buying a large, comfortable shower chair or high-end sprayer.
Need more showering help? Check out our article: Safe Shower Chairs and Bath Benches
A handheld shower sprayer will allow you to wash your body more thoroughly. Choose one with several settings so you can find the right amount of water pressure and flow for your comfort and cleanliness. I especially like the Waterpik brand for providing strong water pressure.
Waterpik High Pressure Hand Held Shower Head With Hose, PowerPulse Massage 6-Mode, Chrome XAS-643E
9 used from $16.29
Shower Sprayer On/Off Switch
One of the most common challenges for showering with a disability is being unable to reach the controls from your seat. With an on-off switch attached to your shower sprayer, you can set the temperature before you get in, then turn the water off at the handheld shower head and turn it back on when you’re ready. This simple, inexpensive shower accessibility hack can save you thousands of dollars in remodeling costs.
Water Flow Control Valve, Arofa Shower Head Shut Off Valve Solid Brass G1/2 Flow Pressure Regulator (Female and Male) Shower Shut Off Valve for Handheld Shower, Bidet Sprayer, Brushed Nickel
Water Barrier/Leak Solutions
If you have a roll-in shower that leaks, or if you’ve had to remove shower doors or make other bathroom modifications that have led to problems with water flowing out of the shower area, try these ideas to solve the problem.
Shower Dam Collapsible Water Barrier
If you’ve ever had a roll-in shower, you know they are notorious for leaking. This squishy rubber material helps keep water in without creating a barrier for wheelchairs, as you can simply roll over it.
3" High Shower Water Splash Guard 67"Collapsible Shower Threshold Water Dam 3 Inch Tall Shower Barrier Water Stopper To Keep Water In Shower Dry And Wet Wheelchair Accessible (5.6Ft）
Curtain for Shower Chairs
If you have a roll-in or wet room shower, you may encounter issues with standing water and humidity. Installing a powerful bathroom fan can help, but if that’s not possible or if it doesn’t do enough, an adjustable fan will dry the floor faster.
Vornado 460 Small Whole Room Air Circulator Fan with 3 Speeds, 460-Small, Black
11 used from $38.58
If your bathroom has too much moisture buildup due to shower drainage issues, mini dehumidifiers are inexpensive and can make a real difference in a small room. I use this model all summer in my bathroom and it no longer feels like a Florida swamp.
Dehumidifiers, Small Dehumidifiers for Home Bedroom 2300 Cubic Feet with Auto-off, Ultra-Quiet Mini Dehumidifier with Lights Energy Saving for Basement Bathroom Office RV
How to Make Your Lighting and Home Control Systems Wheelchair Accessible
Too-high light switches and thermostats used to be a major barrier for wheelchair users. Not anymore! With smart home technology, you can control everything in your home by voice or phone app.
Smart Outlets and Light Bulbs
Kasa Smart Plug Mini 15A, Apple HomeKit Supported, Smart Outlet Works with Siri, Alexa & Google Home, No Hub Required, UL Certified, App Control, Scheduling, Timer, 2.4G WiFi Only, 4-Pack (EP25P4)
7 used from $36.40
meross Smart LED Light Bulb, Smart WiFi LED Bulbs Compatible with Apple HomeKit, Siri, Alexa, Google Home & SmartThings, Dimmable E26 Multicolor 2700K-6500K RGBWW, 810 Lumens 60W Equivalent, 2 Pack
How to Get Funding for Wheelchair Accessible Home Modifications
1. Pay out-of-pocket and write it off.
This guide lists mostly-inexpensive items that you can purchase or realistically obtain with the help of family and friends, online fundraising, etc. You can deduct the cost of accessibility modifications from your taxes and from your countable income. If you are in a Ticket to Work or Working Disabled program, they can be counted as Impairment-Related Work Expenses (IRWEs).
2. Contact your local Center for Independent Living for resources.
Centers for Independent Living are nonprofit disability-led organizations that help people access equipment and services. Some centers have an equipment library or donation program and may have items such as shower chairs. They can also help you find local organizations that will assist you with home modifications.
3. Pursue assistance from government programs such as the Veterans Administration, Medicaid, and Vocational Rehabilitation.
Various state and federal agencies offer assistance with making your home accessible. If you receive Medicaid, search for “Medicaid home modifications [your state]” to find out what services are available. If you work or you’re seeking employment, your state Department of Vocational Rehabilitation will pay for modifications that enable you to get or keep a job, including a ramp, accessible bathroom, kitchen remodel, etc.
State and federal programs can be extremely helpful for more extensive bathroom and kitchen remodeling. However, it can take a minimum of several months and potentially two or more years to get through the complicated process of receiving assistance. Therefore, I recommend implementing the small, low-cost solutions in this guide while you work with government funding sources.
Getting Help with Personal Care and Household Tasks
For many people with disabilities, me included, no amount of remodeling would be enough for us to do everything for ourselves. If you receive Medicaid, you should be able to qualify for in-home care so you can safely address your personal needs. Don’t go without cooking healthy food or bathing and risk your health and hygiene because your home isn’t accessible enough to do so without assistance. Check out the following resources for more information:
Learn More About Wheelchair Accessible Housing
This guide is part of a series on wheelchair accessibility. Check out our other articles for further resources.
Got more wheelchair accessible home tips?
This article is an evolving resource and we want your feedback! Do you have ideas for easy home accessibility modifications that we didn’t include? Please leave a comment below or contact us and we will update this article periodically. If we share knowledge, we can make life better for us all.
Founder and Editor-in-Chief of The Ability Toolbox. I received my BA in English from Stanford University and MA in Clinical Psychology from Antioch University Los Angeles, and have worked in entertainment and health media for over 20 years. I also blog about traveling with a disability. As a wheelchair user with cerebral palsy, I am deeply committed to amplifying the voices of the disability community through writing and advocacy.