Home & Garden

Ask Angie: Options for improving disability access

Q: Where can I get professional advice about making our home accessible for the disabled? We need a ramp with a railing so someone can get from the street to our front door.

Sidney L., Silver Spring, Md.

A: You’re not alone in wanting to make your home work better for people who use wheelchairs, walkers, crutches or have other special needs. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, one in five Americans has some kind of disability.

The cost to add an outdoor ramp and railing will depend on a variety of factors, but it can start around $500. If space is too limited for a concrete or wooden ramp, another option would be a vertical platform that lifts and lowers. These cost from $6,000 to $10,000.

Service providers who can help you with this kind of work include handymen, carpenters and general contractors. However, for a more detailed or comprehensive look at how you can make your home more accessible to disabled people, you might appreciate the expertise of a contractor who is a certified aging-in-place specialist.

Contractors who hold this designation, which originated with the National Association of Home Builders, the AARP and other organizations, take classes to learn best practices for retrofitting or remodeling a home to meet an individual’s needs throughout senior adulthood.

Certified aging-in-place specialists can review your home and recommend minor or major adjustments. Projects can range in cost from a few hundred dollars to tens of thousands.

Meanwhile, there are guidelines that can help you or a professional assess your home’s accessibility. For instance, while private residences generally aren’t required to comply with federal Americans with Disabilities Act guidelines, most contractors follow those standards when making adjustments to a home.

For example, wheelchair widths vary, often making it difficult to maneuver from one room to another. ADA guidelines require that public doorways be 34 inches wide. Using this standard as a residential guideline ensures that wheelchairs can pass freely through doorways. Depending on the location, widening a doorway can cost from $500 to $1,000.

Besides handrails, other common accessibility adjustments include adding grab bars to a tub or shower, converting a tub or shower so it’s wheelchair-accessible, raising the height of a toilet and adding grab bars and adding doorway threshold ramps.

In addition, it’s a good idea to make simple adjustments, such as moving items to lower cabinets for easier reach and removing thick floor coverings that can hamper wheelchairs or walkers.

When hiring any contractor, remember to confirm any claimed credentials, as well as insurance, bonding and any required licensing. Consider only companies that have positive reviews on a trusted online site, and be sure to get all pertinent project details in writing.

Angie Hicks is founder of www.AngiesList.com, provider of consumer reviews and services. Send questions to askangie@angieslist.com.