Interior Accessibility Issues

Okay, our wheelchair user has approached the house, ascended the porch, and entered the house. Now they have to get around inside the house. Getting around inside a house with a wheelchair can be impossible if not laid out well with a wheelchair in mind.


Hard surfaces are easier for manual wheelchair users to propel over and require less power for power wheelchairs to travel over. Wooden, asphalt tiles, linoleum, concrete and similar floors are the easiest for wheelchair users. Ceramic tiles are easy to move on but can be very bumpy for some wheelchairs. Carpeting is terrible for wheelchair users to try and get around on especially when the pile is thick. The energy required to manoeuvre on carpeting is increased exponentially with pile thickness for both manual wheelchair users and power wheelchairs alike. I've seen power wheelchairs stall out and refuse to move on thick piled carpeting with heavy users.

Some people may still like carpeted homes regardless of the difficulties in moving but should try and restrict the carpeting to areas where it isn't normally necessary to turn the wheelchair.

Corners and Turning

Many of today's power wheelchairs are mid-wheel or front-wheel drive designs that give them a smaller turning radius than conventional rear-wheel drive designs. A smaller turning radius means they are more manoeuvrable and function better in smaller areas. (Front-wheel drive means the drive wheels are mounted at the front of the wheelchair frame, mid-wheel drive, the middle of the frame and rear-wheel drive, the rear of the wheelchair frame.)

Manual wheelchairs on the other hand have the drive wheels (wheels that the user propels) at the rear of the wheelchair making the turning radius larger than many power wheelchairs. This larger turning radius when combined with a manual wheelchair's extra width often means it is much more difficult to get around inside houses and other tight spaces.

As with exterior doors, interior doors are normally 32", 34" or 36" wide and again, the wider the better especially in hallways where 90 degree turns are often required to enter rooms. In addition to wide doorways in hallways, the hallways themselves should be as wide as possible to enable turns. I had a 6" 8" man purchase a power, tilting wheelchair from me who wanted to be able to travel down his 34" wide hallway and make a 90 degree turn through a 34" doorway into his bedroom. Because of the large turning radius and length of the wheelchair this was impossible and he ended up having to change to another room for a bedroom.

Another issue regarding getting around inside a house is, furnishings. One can have a large open layout but if they fill it up with an excess of furniture it can be just as difficult to get around in as a small house. When a person is furnishing a house for a wheelchair user, a minimalist style is preferable.

Accessing Different Levels

When designing a new house the best layout is to have every thing on the same level to avoid having to deal with changing levels.

Ideally every one who uses a wheelchair will live in a bungalow with no basement but this obviously is not the case. There are not a lot of options to get to second floors or basements for wheelchair users. Other than getting off the chairs and bumping up and down stairs on their bottoms or having someone carrying them up or down stairs the wheelchair user usually must have a lift of some type.

Stair lifts are basically chairs that ride on a rail up and down a staircase that will carry a person from level to level. While working well for people who use walkers, have balance, strength, respiratory or cardiac problems, they are not usually functional for wheelchair users. The user must stand up to transfer onto or off the stair lift and they have a wheelchair waiting for them at the level they are heading to.

Inclined platform lifts are platforms that are mounted on the wall or stair treads and travel up and down the stairs carrying a wheelchair with it's user. These lifts while excellent for wheelchair users can be dangerous for ambulatory people to use as they aren't designed for people to stand on. Normally these lifts require a minimum of 36" width in the stairway and a lot of room at the bottom of the stairway for the platform to lower all the way to the floor. For more information on incline platform lifts please visit

Elevators are the most versatile of all the lift options for changing levels in a house. The will work equally well for wheelchair users, walker users and ambulatory people with balance, strength, respiratory or cardiac problems. They can be operated in a seated position in a wheelchair or in a standing position. While the cost of an elevator is comparable to a inclined platform lift or a curved stairlift, the construction costs to install an elevator plus the space they require will sometimes make the option unattainable.

Elevators for home use work basically the same as the commercial models found in apartment buildings, office towers etc. The doors to the home elevator are swing doors that usually are matched to the other doors in one's house. These doors can be operated with power door openers but this feature is an extra expense if needed. There will be call buttons on each floor but the elevator will not move if any door to the elevator shaft is not closed securely. Home elevators can usually be used to access up to 5 stops and approximately 25' of travel. Travel is defined as the distance from the floor at the lowest level to the floor level at the top level.

When choosing a lift for one's house the chance of power failure should be considered. The majority of stairlifts, incline platform lifts and elevator models will offer a battery back up system or actually run on batteries. No one wants to be stuck between floors when using any of these products in the event of a power failure. In the event of mechanical failure, all of these products offer manual lowering devices but usually have to be used by someone who is not using the product.

Home Accessibility Links

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