How to Set Up a Safe Home for a Child with a Disability

If you are a parent of a child with a disability, it’s crucial that your home is set up for safety and wellbeing. You can adapt your existing home or find a new one that meets your needs by making just a few updates and changes to your space. Always make sure that you hire a qualified home inspector who can help to ensure that your new home is structurally sound, safe, and accessible. 

When you make these changes, you’re providing your child with the best possible start for a wonderful life. Read on to learn more about making home modifications for disabilities, so your child will feel confident at home, which is one of the best ways to help them thrive. 

How to make home modifications for a wheelchair

If your child uses a wheelchair, creating an accessible home that’s safe and easy to navigate is extremely important. Here are some ways to update and adapt your home to make it safer, easier to maneuver, and easier to access inside and outside the home.

  • Flooring: If your current flooring has a slippery surface, replace all of it with non-slip materials like textured vinyl, hardwood, or ceramic. Choose laminate flooring to make it easier for your child to navigate without getting stuck or frustrated. Laminate is highly durable, and it’s also easy to clean if you encounter any scuff marks. While carpet is also a non-slip choice, stick to low-pile carpeting rather than thick, high-pile carpet or shag carpet.
  • Exterior and home entrance: Widen the front door of your home to at least 36 inches, so it follows the current ADA guidelines. Install an entrance ramp if stairs lead in and out of the home. Ensure that the entrance is step-free and level. If there are no steps, use a small ramp so your child can get in and out easily. Make sure that all walkways and sidewalks around your home are level and that traction control is added. Provide a space of at least five square feet in your home’s foyer or entryway so that it’s easy for your child to maneuver the wheelchair. You can also add motion-sensing lights so they can see the entryway when it’s dark.
  • Bathroom: Make sure that the main bathroom is big enough for the wheelchair to turn around and eliminate any obstructions that make it difficult to get in and out of the tub or shower. Doorless showers can be beneficial for a child with a disability. Install grab bars on the side walls of your shower so your child can get in and out as easily as possible. A shower chair or bench makes it easier for your child to maneuver to and from the shower to the wheelchair. Always ensure that your floor has a non-slip surface and lower the mirror so it’s easier for your child to see when sitting in their wheelchair.
  • Kitchen: Designate at least one low-level cabinet or drawer, so your child can easily grab their favorite snacks or utensils. Design your kitchen to be as open and wide as possible so that it’s easier to navigate. Use a kitchen table that is at the correct height so your child can use it to eat meals, do their homework, or participate in arts and crafts activities. A grabber device makes it easier for kids to grab lightweight items that are out of reach.
  •  Stairs: Ensure that all of the hallways in your home are at least 42 inches wide and that all doors are between 34-36 inches wide or more to make maneuvering easy. For staircases, different solutions are required for different degrees of mobility. Many families find rambler-style homes to be the best fit for their mobility needs. If your loved one is able to safely get in and out of a wheelchair or mobility device, a chair lift can be a good solution for the stairs. Keep in mind though, that this requires a wheelchair on both levels of the house. If a stair lift isn’t an option, families do have the option to install a vertical chair lift to get from one level to another. These are more expensive solutions that may not be financially feasible for all families.
  • Bedroom: Leave a wide-open pathway to the bed so there are no obstructions. Always keep electrical cords off the floor (this applies to every room). Avoid using area rugs, as they can obstruct the movement of a wheelchair. Always ensure ample room for your child to turn around and move freely in the bedroom and other rooms of your home.

How to make home modifications for children with visual impairments

Whether your child’s visual impairment is mild or significant, they might still be able to perceive light and shapes. Making home modifications will help them perform everyday tasks more efficiently.

  • Lighting: Make every room as bright as possible and install 60- to 100-watt lightbulbs in all fixtures. Try a few different bulbs, including warm incandescent and cool fluorescent, to determine which ones work best for your child. Update your window treatments to adjustable shades so you can allow more natural light to come into the home during the daytime. Place flashlights around key areas of the home just in case your child needs some extra light. Paint all light switches in a dark or contrasting color from the wall so they’re easy to find.
  • Color and contrast: Brighter colors are easier to see, so use solid hues like orange, red, and yellow for items near key pieces of furniture. Avoid patterned rugs or upholstery since they can cause confusion. Apply bright colored strips to stairways and add some fluorescent tape to doors and cabinets so they’re easy to locate. Don’t use clear glasses, dishes, or bowls. Instead, opt for bright-colored dinnerware so it’s easy to hold onto and to see in the home. Paint all door frames and doorknobs bright colors and paint the ceilings a different color from the walls.
  • Texture and touch: Incorporating textured items will improve your child’s sense of touch so the home is easier to navigate. Use textured upholstery so your child can easily recognize the furniture in different rooms. Apply embossed letter stickers to different things like light switches and label them so they’re easy to identify. Braille labels can also help. Mark toothbrushes and other implements with rubber bands so they’re easy to find and use.
  • Organization: Develop a color-coding system and label essential items so your child can easily find the things they need. Always remember to put things back once you’re done using them so they’re always in the same place. You can also use anything from fabric paint and rubber bands to pipe cleaners to create tactile labels.
  • Furniture arrangement: Design every room to create a smooth, open flow of traffic to prevent your child from accidentally bumping into furniture. Always arrange furniture to create a wide, open pathway to and from each room. Place a comfy chair next to a window to give your child some natural light for reading or working on arts and crafts.
  • Eliminate safety hazards: Always use bright colors and exit lights to improve visibility. Push chairs in when you’re done sitting at a desk or table. Keep electrical cords secure and behind furniture, away from traffic areas. Install handrails on the stairway and grab bars in the shower and tub. Clearly mark stairs and raise thresholds with brightly colored tape or other distinguishable markings. Create a family evacuation plan so your child can quickly get out in an emergency.

How to make sensory-friendly home modifications

Children with sensory processing difficulties need an environment that makes sensory integration easier. This ensures that your child can manage any sensory input they receive to make better sense of sights, sounds, and smells, as well as other sensory inputs.

  • Lighting: Use as much natural lighting as possible in your home and choose bulbs with a color rendering index (CRI) that are as close to 100 as possible. Avoid flickering lights such as fluorescent and CFL lighting, and switch to LED lights instead. Ensure that your lighting isn’t making a buzzing sound which can be uncomfortable for children with sensory processing issues. Use dimmable light switches to control the light level in your home. Keep glare to a minimum by paying attention to glare from sunlight, glare on TV and computer screens, and glare that may come off surfaces like mirrors or hard surface flooring. Window tinting can help to reduce or eliminate glare from the sun.
  • Colors: Decorate your home with calming, soft colors and avoid using colors that are too bright. This can be overstimulating for your child. Red is an example of a color that you should avoid. Instead, use furniture, flooring, and décor in soft colors with a neutral color palette like pale pink or cool colors. Keep items simple and avoid decorating with pieces that are too “busy” or too bright.
  • Open home design: Make your home as open as possible and remove barriers that can interfere with the line of sight. Choose a home with an open concept floor plan if possible and remove non-load-bearing walls to open things up. Keep every room clean, neat, and clutter-free so that there are minimal visual barriers. Map an in-home walking loop that allows children with pacing behaviors to walk around to reduce stress.
  • Sounds/Noise: A noisy home can be distressing to children with sensory processing difficulties. Try to keep your home as soothing, quiet, and calming as possible. Give your child a pair of noise-reducing headphones so they can play and spend time at home without auditory distractions. Ensure that your floors have ample padding and use area rugs to help dampen the sounds that come from footsteps, especially if you have a two-story home. Consider adding more insulation to your home to help block or dampen outside noises. Install windows made of thick glass or that have an insulating film that is designed to block the noise from getting inside, too.
  • Smells: Try to keep smells in your home to a minimum and avoid using scented candles or air fresheners that have a powerful scent. Look for paint, stain, and flooring that has a low level of VOCs, or volatile organic compounds which could trigger smells that affect children who are highly sensitive to scents. Keep your home well-ventilated and always use the hood fan whenever you’re cooking foods on the stove. Opt for scent-free cleaning products and laundry detergents when cleaning your home. Upgrade your home’s HVAC filter to one with HEPA filtration, and make sure that your entire home gets good ventilation.
  • Bring nature indoors: Add a few safe houseplants to your home to help soothe your child. Bringing some nature indoors is a good way to create a calming environment. Plants also provide your child with something they can see and touch. Add a sensory garden to your backyard that will stimulate all five senses. Encourage your child to spend as much time there as possible.
  • Sensory room: Designate one room to provide all the sensory items your child needs so they have a safe area that meets their needs. You can add a swing and other play equipment to the room to encourage motor movement. Rocking furniture or a small indoor slide are good examples. Use bean bag chairs and other furniture your child can sit on to enjoy a calming sensory experience. Keep the room cool and comfortable, and add soothing lighting and plenty of tactile and sensory items. Organize everything so that the room is open and uncluttered.

Home safety for kids with disabilities

There are other key things you can do to make your accessible home as safe as possible for your family. Keep these tips in mind to ensure that your space is safe.

  • Hidden gas valves: Consider moving the gas valves for your stove or fireplace to a discreet location out of the reach of children so that it doesn’t accidentally turn on or ignite without you knowing.
  • Kitchen safety: Always keep knives and other sharp objects up high, secure (ideally in a locked drawer), and out of sight. Ask about getting appliances with special safety features, such as a hidden on/off switch or one with buttons that must be held down for a period of time for them to work.