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Builders change homes to accommodate walkers, wheelchairs
Redesigning a home gives those with disabilities free range
A kitchenette designed for a physically disabled person. It features a side mounted faucet, angled skirt under the sink and the ability to have electronic-touch control for the faucet.

While Gainesville and the Northeast Georgia area is peppered with dozens of senior apartments, retirement communities and independent- and assisted-living facilities, some Southern natives still prefer to stay in their own home. However, the home is not equipped to handle their developing physical ailments.

But a handful of home contractors and designers in the region aim to change that one house at a time.

Ed Weiler, owner of Weiler and Morgan Construction, has remodeled poorly designed older and newer homes to help their occupants prepare for the future. He can map out a design for the homeowner who may use a wheelchair or walker.

“A lot of times you have to move countertops, plumbing and, mainly, electric,” Weiler said. “Your switches are the most common issue because they are always close to the door. And bathrooms don’t have enough turning radius for people (who) are mobility impaired.”

With size and space always being a major issue for people with disabilities, Weiler will often merge bathrooms with adjoining closets to make one large bathroom.

Weiler advises homeowners to plan for the handicap-accessible contingencies while they are in their 40s, rather than waiting until they are 60 or 70 years old. Simply planning now helps out financially and mentally.

“Later in a person’s life when he or she is  no longer working, things become much more unaffordable because they are on a fixed income,” the contractor said.

Plus, no one will notice small adjustments such as widening doors and changing the light switch’s place on the wall.

“These are all quick fixes, but some of it has to be planned for it to look nice,” interior decorator Lindsey Strong said.

She added devising a strategy for incorporating a place to add grab bars and bench seats to showers can help keep the house looking like a home rather than a hospital.

She also suggested locating the master bedroom on the main floor.

“You have to shift everything if the master isn’t on the main floor and to prepare for that years before is so much easier on everyone,” she said. “Mentally, it doesn’t feel as uprooting.”

Other ways to modify a home for an aging occupant are removing doors from their hinges and adding pocket doors.

Weiler always incorporates wider doorways for his clients.

“Anything that we design or build for anyone, wherever possible we incorporate 3-foot-wide doors everywhere,” he said.

When drawing up plans, Strong and 10-year interior designer Elizabeth Thompson talk to different contractors when contemplating the customer’s needs.

“Anticipating and knowing that my client may need to one day have a home ready for wheelchairs, I suggest ramps instead of stairs, widening hallways and doors,” Thompson said.

Along with doorways and added space, flooring may need to change. Hardwood and tile floors should replace carpeted floors to allow a walker or wheelchair to easily move.

“In flooring, there is (Americans with Disabilities Act) compliant materials that don’t look like they are for handicap,” Gainesville Design Center owner Jason Everett said. “They are there to help with slip resistance and coefficient friction; how slippery the tile is.”

Carpet is safer if someone falls, but will hinder a wheelchair or walker’s movement, Everett added.

Not knowing what the future holds and making slight changes to a home now instead of later makes the task of aging easier, Thompson said.

“It’s not a burden if it is already done,” she added. “It’s one less thing to remind them that they are getting older.”

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