Once I drew the layout of the house from the measurements I had taken, Wally looked at my plan and suggested that we close the sale of our house one month after we took over the house we needed to renovate.

In some partnerships and marriages, both like to cook. That would mean adapting the kitchen to wheelchair use as well, but Wally rarely made tea, let alone coffee, so the kitchen was my domain. I didn’t have to consider him when I redesigned it.

For the rest of the house, I searched the Internet for wheelchair accessible building specifications. The first thing to estimate was the size of wheelchair Wally would need. Wheelchairs differ with the shapes and sizes of people who fit them. Wally had sufficiently shrunk from his six-foot frame that he could fit a small wheelchair. These are narrow enough to pass through existing 33-inch doorways.

If he had needed a wheelchair wider than the doorway, we intended to remove the frames and mount sliding doors that move on tracks (similar to a barn door) above the entrances to the bathroom and master bedroom. We were also working with the smallest room size possible for a wheelchair-accessible bathroom—8 feet by 8 feet. Between the sink and entrance to the shower, there had to be at least a three-foot turnaround space for a wheelchair to rotate. This meant installing conventional two-foot-wide bathroom cupboards was out of the question.

Most pictures of bathrooms built for wheelchair use looked sterile and institutional. I was determined that our bathroom would not remind anyone of its principal use. There was no second bathroom, and for older couples, one bathroom could be a disaster if one couldn’t wait for a turn to use it. Luckily, the den was on a solid foundation and the crawl space linked to the piping under the main bathroom next to it, so, on my plan, I took four feet off one end to create a second half bathroom. We also decided that we would make the exit for the wheelchair to the deck and build a ramp down the side of the house to the driveway.

Flooring is another major consideration. Hardwood isn’t always the best answer. Whatever is chosen must be able to withstand the weight and repeated motion of the wheels over the floor. Tiled floors in a bathroom for an unsturdy person are risky. They are too hard and inflexible. If someone falls, the resulting injury may be worse than it needs to be. I selected a wheelchair-resistant cushioned flooring for both bathrooms.

Next I wanted to engage a contractor so I could be guaranteed full-time work on the new place during the month before closing the sale of our house. I interviewed ten contractors. To each of them I showed my plans. A few immediately told me what I could and could not do—no outside-the-box thinking for them. Others didn’t like the idea of my working with them. Too many had such high quotes that it made my sell-high, buy-low plan unaffordable. A group of four handymen disbanded over arguments about how to implement my plan. I was getting discouraged until I interviewed the tenth contractor. He seemed more open-minded, showed no hesitation in letting me become involved in doing some painting and wallpapering, but what impressed me most was, at the end of our discussion, he asked to take my plans for a few days. He wanted to do some of his own checking before he got back to me with a quote.

During those few days, he visited area long-term facilities to see their standard solutions and asked myriad questions. When we next saw him, he not only had a quote we could afford, he had great adaptations to suggest to my plan.



About Bonnie Toews and John Christiansen

Bonnie's Blog Posts invite our readers and free spirits everywhere to share life's adventures with us. I talk about writing my novels, reading books, chatting with other writers and John's and my journeys around the world. We welcome your anecdotes to our experiences and discussions.
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