Want to make home more livable for someone experiencing intellectual/developmental disabilities (I/DD)? When it comes to providing home improvements for accessibility, most of the information you’ll find refers to obvious solutions, like wheelchair ramps*. But there are less visible home accessibility solutions that can make life markedly better for people with I/DD and they may not be on your radar.
*If you do need to know how to build ramps for home accessibility, you can find good information at the Home Wheelchair Ramp Project ).
Of course, the first step in planning for home improvements for accessibility is to ask the person with the disability what they need. But for that to work well, the individual with the disability needs to know exactly what difficulties they face, which tools or resources can help, and how to communicate that—all tasks that can be especially difficult for people experiencing I/DD. “The barriers to accessibility faced by people with intellectual disabilities are not always apparent and, therefore, require exploration and clarification,” Professor Shira Yalon-Chamovitz writes in her publication, Invisible Access Needs of People with Intellectual Disabilities: A Conceptual Model of Practice (Ono College, Israel). She identifies the four main accessibility challenges faced by people with intellectual disabilities as:
Pace: Multiple studies have reported that people with intellectual disabilities have relatively slow reaction and processing times.
Complexity: Complex instructions, products with many parts or ones that require several steps to use can all be barriers for people with intellectual disabilities.
Literacy: Studies show that 87% of people with intellectual disabilities function at the lowest level of literacy skills.
Stigma: At first glance, stigma doesn’t seem like a physical access issue, but it can keep people with intellectual disabilities from fully integrating into residential communities.
Luckily, there are simple ways to address the barriers above—and to make homes more accessible to all, not just people with intellectual disabilities. Universal Design, as defined by The Center for Universal Design at North Carolina State University, is “the design of products and environments to be usable by all people, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaptation or specialized design.” By using Universal Design, you can create environments for people of all ages and abilities, without having to use products or design that are “special” (and therefore expensive). Think wider doorways, level handles on door and sinks, and electrical outlet you don’t have to bend down to use.
Universal Design’s seven core principles assist everyone, but may be especially helpful when creating home accessibility solutions for people with I/DD, as they address the challenges of pace, complexity, literacy, and even stigma:
You can integrate some of these principles at little or no cost. For example, provide more space by using side tables on either side of a couch instead of a coffee table in front; replace any knobs (doors, sinks, etc.) with lever handles; increase lighting in dark areas; use color contrast at any changes of level; consider motion sensor lighting, and /or make pictograms for microwave or stove instructions.
Though using Universal Design may save you the cost of specialized equipment, you’ll still spend money retrofitting a home. The following may help ease any financial burden:
In addition, the Northwest Access Fund lists a number of nonprofits, grants and potential government assistance for home accessibility improvements.
At ALSO, we strive to give people with I/DD independence in all facets of life, from home accessibility to supported employment. We work to provide information and education (like this article) that can help our community grow and thrive. We believe in choice, in full community, and in person-centered service. Contact us today to learn how we can assist you.
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