Tackling Accessibility

Barriers to physical mobility are typically tackled two ways – by using assistive devices and/or by making the most of the built environment through design or modifications.

Assistive Devices Back to Top

A photograph of a power wheelchair Power wheelchair
Power wheelchair

Assistive devices for people with limited mobility are tools or equipment that help individuals move around, see, eat, get dressed, and do other basic activities of daily life. Examples include:

Wheelchairs:

  • Manual wheelchairs are wheelchairs that are self-propelled by the user, by grabbing the handles on the wheels and pushing them to maneuver.
  • Power wheelchairs are wheelchairs that use an electric motor to propel them (typically battery powered). Power wheelchairs vary substantially in size, turning radius, and ability to tilt/raise/lower with a user in them.
A photograph of a walker, a pair of crutches and a manual wheelchair Assistive devices: walker, crutches and wheelchairs.
Assistive devices: walker, crutches and wheelchairs.

Scooters are a mobility aid with a seat over 3-5 wheels, a flat area for the feet and a handlebar/steering column with hand controls to propel and steer the chair.

Canes or crutches are devices used to assist the walking and movement of individuals, typically by transferring some body weight away from the leg or foot), or to provide stability when walking (by providing a wider base or support). Typically held by a hand, attached to the arm, or fitting under the armpit. They are typically made of aluminum.

A person’s forearms and hands using arm brace crutches There are many types of crutches.
There are many types of crutches.

Walkers are mobility aids used to aid a person in walking, consisting of a lightweight portable framework, about waist-high, made of metal tubing, with four widely placed, sturdy legs (sometimes attached to wheels).

Smaller items like reachers or grabbers, adapted kitchen implements, and other day-to-day items can assist you in activities of daily living.

Chrome automatic door opener on interior door Home automation solutions include automatic door openers.
Home automation solutions include automatic door openers.

Home automation solutions, including automatic door openers, light and temperature controls, and internet and television controls linked to tablets or smartphones.

Modifications to the Built Environment Back to Top

Modifications are changes made to the built environment to make it, useable by everyone. In the home, modifications help people be more independent and safe and they reduce the risk of injury to themselves or carers. There are several key areas in the home that can be modified to ensure accessibility. These definitions of the basics of accessibility (italics point to other terminology sometimes used to describe the feature).

Thresholds

Thresholds (also known as zero-threshold entrance, no-step entrance) are the strip of metal, stone, or wood that is located on the bottom of a doorway and that you walk, step or roll over to pass through the doorway. For accessibility, thresholds need to be as “flush” as possible with the flooring on either side of the doorway (at as close to the same elevation as possible), so a wheel can easily pass from one side of the doorway over the threshold to the other side. Typically, 1/8” thresholds are viable for wheelchair users, as achieving completely flush thresholds can be very difficult.

A lever door handle Lever handles are an important universal design choice – useable by anyone!
Lever handles are an important universal design choice – useable by anyone!

Doors

Lever door handles refer to the hardware used to open doors. Lever handles are typically L-shaped and are easy to hold and turn. (In contrast to levers, doorknobs that are round require more grasping strength and are not as easily used.)

Standard swing doors are the most common doors found in homes and public facilities, and they swing open and closed.

An interior pocket door separates a room from the hallway. Pocket doors save floor space and improve circulation.
Pocket doors save floor space and improve circulation.

Barn doors are sliding doors that move along a metal track that is secured to the wall, and remain flat to the wall while open or closed.

Pocket doors (also known as sliding pocket doors) have an open doorjamb on one side and can be pushed inside the wall. When pocket doors are open, they are entirely inside the adjoining wall and take up no room in the rooms on either side.

Automatic doors are sliding or swing doors with a motion sensor or accessible button that automatically open when a user approaches or activates the button.

A woman using a wheelchair at the kitchen counter stirs a pot on the stove Adapted counters provide users space for their legs and wheelchair while they complete tasks in the kitchen.
Adapted counters provide users space for their legs and wheelchair while they complete tasks in the kitchen.

Counters

Lowered counters refer to counters that are typically 30” high (as compared to a standard 36” height in most homes).

Height-adjustable countertops are countertops that can be made higher or lower using a crank or electric motor.

Wheel-under counters have open space underneath the countertop surface for the legs and feet of a wheelchair user.      

Two helpers use a Hoyer lift to lift a man up from a chair. A portable mechanical lift
A portable mechanical lift

Lifts

Ceiling lifts (also called track lifts) use a metal track installed on the ceiling with a sling and motorized lift attached to the track. A person can be transferred into the sling and lifted out of their wheelchair. The sling moves along the track to transfer the person into bed, another chair, or a bathing environment.

Portable mechanical lifts (such as Hoyer lifts) are stand-alone machines that also use a sling to transfer people from one place to another. They require a certain amount of accessible floor space to allow for the base of the system to move around.

Stair lifts use a track typically attached to the floor and wall along a staircase, with a chair that moves from one end of the track (e.g. the bottom of the stairs) to the other end of the track (top of the stairs). Stair lifts require someone to be able to transfer safely (whether independently or with assistance) from a wheelchair to the stairlift seat.

Porch lifts (also called vertical platform lift or deck lifts) are devices with a platform that travels up and down a shaft/tower to move a user from one level to another. A wheelchair user rolls onto the lift platform, pushes a lift button to raise the platform, and then rolls off the lift.

A residential shower with multiple grab bars installed. Grab bars can improve the accessibility and safety of spaces throughout the home.
Grab bars can improve the accessibility and safety of spaces throughout the home.

Grab bars are safety devices that are attached securely to a wall to provide support for individuals with poor balance, decreased mobility or who fatigue when standing

Transfer poles are floor-to-ceiling grab bars, often with horizontal extensions, that provide support for users during transfers (especially in spaces where there is no wall to attach a conventional grab bar).

Turning circle (also called a turning radius) is the circular space a person in a wheelchair needs to turn in a full circle without having their movement impeded. Adequate turning circles are generally accepted to be 5’ in diameter, but can vary depending on a user’s mobility device and their device’s manoeuverability.

A glass shower enclosure with no change in tile surface between the inside and outside of the shower. Curbless showers allow users to movein and out of a shower space with no change in the height of the floor.
Curbless showers allow users to movein and out of a shower space with no change in the height of the floor.

Wet rooms are open concept bathrooms, where everything can get safely wet, with no thresholds or change in flooring surface. Wet rooms are intended to be fully accessible, as they provide space for maneuverability in a wheelchair or for a ceiling lift as needed.

Accessible showers (also called a curbless shower, wheel-in or roll-in shower) are showers with no lip, a continuous floor surface extends from the bathroom directly into the shower space with no change in height.

Photograph of wood plank flooring Hard surface flooring can handle consistent wheelchair use.
Hard surface flooring can handle consistent wheelchair use.

Hard-surface flooring (also called vinyl plank flooring): practical, synthetic flooring that comes in a range of wood- or stone-looking styles. It is durable, water resistant, and a fraction of the cost of hardwood flooring. Hard-surface flooring is normally installed in industrial or commercial grade as it can withstand the wear and tear of wheelchairs and other equipment.

Other Terms Back to Top

Ambulation refers to moving from place to place, most often to walking independently (with or without a device).

Transfer refers to a move from one position to another (such as from sitting to standing) or from one surface to another (such as from a wheelchair to a bed).