Based on how he retrofit a 950-square-foot, second-floor apartment for his elderly mother’s use in a building he owned, architect Alan Johnson has come up with some interesting and relatively inexpensive ways to achieve accessibility.
His mother’s issues were advancing age and failing eyesight. His goal was to make her life easier.
Johnson describes the accommodations he made to the building for his mother as "not perfectly acceptable under the standards of the Americans With Disabilities Act." But what he did would meet the everyday requirements of many people with disabilities.
It required an elevator, but accommodating one was possible - the building already had a shaft from its days as a food-processing plant that could be easily extended.
The second floor also had a large, tiled bathroom with a double shower, once used by plant employees at the end of their workdays.
In that space, Johnson crafted a wheelchair-accessible shower from pieces, including a seat, bought at Home Depot. Removable foam on the floor of the shower leveled the space with the bathroom floor outside. He spent less than $1,000 crafting the shower, after seeing estimates of more than $3,000 for prefab models.
The chief goal was to condense his mother's world while preserving it - keeping what was absolutely necessary to soften the effects of the move, while reducing the contents of the two-story house in which she had lived since the early 1950s.
The decision on what and what not to keep was left to his mother. To help her, he gave her 12 pieces of masking tape and told her to pick a corresponding number of pieces of furniture that she wanted to take with her.
Much to his surprise, she did it quickly and efficiently, with little visible emotion.
To help him design the new space, he photographed his mother’s house to provide three or four views. He believed that if he could re-create the same feeling in the smaller apartment as she had sitting in the den of the old house, looking out the window at the maple tree in the yard, it would ease the transition.
Let’s start from the front door to see what he accomplished.
Entry is easy. Near the front door is a concrete ramp with a two-tiered railing. The end at the sidewalk can be lowered even farther, for easier wheelchair access. The door to the building opens out, permitting a 90-degree turn.
It was designed so that the person entering, if he or she were in a wheelchair, could be assisted.
In designing the entrance as he did, Johnson answered another challenge of accessibility known as "visitability." Not only can the occupant leave and enter easily, but visitors with disabilities can as well.
Once inside, you face the door of a one-stop elevator. The elevator runs from the ground to the second floor, but Johnson figured that, rather than spend more money later on, he had to build the shaft to incorporate more floors.
For safety's sake, the shaft and elevator doors have two-hour fire ratings, as well as a telephone jack for an emergency phone. To get the elevator to move, the user must close the gate, which signals a computerized mechanism travel is safe.
The final cost was about $40,000.
A hallway leads from the elevator to the door of the apartment. Clearance required to open the door and enter in a wheelchair meets or exceeds the 32-inch government standard. Since the doorstop on the bathroom could not be readjusted to a 32-inch clearance, Johnson spent $30 each on a pair of offset hinges for the bathroom door that helped him achieve that standard.
To create plenty of sources of natural light to help his mother cope with her failing eyesight, Johnson installed large windows and self-flashing skylights from Home Depot.
Color is almost as important as light in accessible-housing design. For example, to help his mother find doors to rooms and the apartment itself, he painted them yellow to make them easily distinguishable from the walls.
The kitchen was a design challenge, and an expensive one at that, because all the appliances needed to be accessible from a seated position. A wall oven and separate range added up to $1,000, about three times the cost of a comparable combined version.
The single sink became a double one, with the garbage disposal in the smaller side, which opened up the space under the larger sink for accessibility and storage.
Because the kitchen was white, different colors of masking tape were used to distinguish cabinets, the stove and oven, and the like.