Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Fred’s Tips: How to Make Your Front Door Accessible Inexpensively

What happens when someone is newly paralyzed and is about to return home after being in the hospital for quite some time? While the individual has changed drastically, it is likely that their home has not. Fred Sandberg is going to share his insights, based on 34 years of experience as T-8/T-9 paraplegic, adaptive equipment and home modification expert, in a recurring feature on Disability Insight. Fred’s feature is designed to allow newly injured individuals and their families to learn cost-effective ways of making their home accessible.
By: Fred Sandberg:
The patient gets out of the hospital and back to their home and there is a 4 or 5 inch step up to get into the front door of the house; now what do they do? First, we will look at cost and having it done as fast as possible, with the presumption that the front door is already wide enough for a wheelchair user to get through the door.
Hopefully, before the patient gets home somebody has either built a ramp or bought a ramp for them, considering that the patient has probably been in the hospital for several weeks. Custom made aluminum ramps save wheelchair users money in the long run as they will not have to go through the ramp purchasing process twice. Custom made aluminum ramps are generally the best option for a Florida-like climate because they are held down by two screws mounted at the base and can be removed in case of a severe storm or hurricane. Aluminum ramps are also lighter and less expensive than stainless ramps. Thinner gauge aluminum is used to carry less weight and heavier gauge aluminum is used to carry more weight. If the wheelchair and its user combine to be extremely heavy, then its important that heavier gauge aluminum is used. If the wheelchair user has a high budget for the purchase of a ramp and would like a stainless steel ramp, that's also an option used by some, albeit a much more expensive option than an aluminum ramp.

The rule of thumb is for every inch of height you go up you have to go out one foot. So a four inch step would require a four (4) foot ramp. The ramp should be made out of at least ¾” plywood with the proper supports. It can be made fast and cheap.  But importantly, whoever makes the ramp should know what they are doing. The surface of the ramp should have a non-skid material. If the wheelchair user is in an electric wheelchair then the ¾” plywood must be doubled for added strength and support.
The newly paralyzed individual is no longer a patient and is now a wheelchair user, so he or she must now be able to shut the front door and any other door in the house that they are using. How is he or she going to be able to do this? It is doubtful that his or her family is going to put a nice handle and drill a hole into an expensive front door. If it’s a rental home then the family likely cannot drill a hole into the front door and put a handle on it. In addition, if a handle is placed on the door, it needs to be placed as close to the inside of the house as possible.  
If you do not have the ability to place a handle on the front door, have someone go to Home Depot or Lowes, etc. and buy a pack of “Command” Utensil Hooks and some thin rope and tie the rope around the door knob and hang the rope on the hook. The hook should be placed inside the house or on the closest part of the door and then hang the rope over the hook and tie a knot on it. When the wheelchair user comes into the house they can take the rope and pull the door shut behind them with little or no effort. The whole cost for this project should be under $5.00. Most importantly, when you remove the hook, you will not remove any paint or any other coating and it’s an easy and quick solution to the troublesome issue of using the front door.  In addition, this can be used on any door in the house.
What if the newly discharged guy or gal has weak hands and may not be able to turn the door knob, what can be done?  Order a set of “Door Knob Turners” for a cost of approximately $28-$30.00 and extend four (4) inches straight out, making it easy to open the door. Plus, door knob turners are easy to install and can be ordered through any durable medical equipment (DME) dealer/catalog. They are so easy you can install them yourself.
While all of the tips regarding doors are not permanent solutions, they do provide inexpensive ways for a newly injured individual to get into his or her home and use their doors. Once the newly injured person has had more time to settle into their new life, having someone add a permanent fix such as a handle or automatic door closer is likely advisable if the individual can afford it. In some cases, the individual is able to regain enough strength that permanent fixes are not required because the individual can use doors without assistive devices. 
Look for the next installment of Fred’s Feature with more inexpensive tips for making your home more accessible.
-Fred Sandberg was injured in January 1978 in a snow skiing accident and became a T-8/T-9 paraplegic. He returned home and entered the workforce in various roles, including the financial arena, marketing of durable medical equipment and selling franchises. He’s been married for over 25 years. In addition to working, he is an active scuba diver, fisher and wheelchair racer, peer counselor, mentor and disability advocate. He has participated in the Boston Marathon twice and has frequently participated in the 7 Mile Bridge Race in Marathon, FL. Fred focuses his life on “my abilities not my disability” and living life to the fullest. If you would like to contact Fred, he can be reached at fredfast@aol.com, and (561) 714-8500.

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