When I think ‘disability’, I shudder with the thought of the hardships faced by people who actually are restricted owing to their disabilities…be it malls, theatres…or residential complexes, condominiums and homes. Even more shudder provoking is the fact that, India, is not sensitive towards it. Nonchalance….or pure ignorance….I don’t know, but one thing is for sure, and that is….if you are some one with any kind of mobility disability, you are ‘a dependant’. The effort must begin with your home!
RWAs can play a crucial role in making the neighbourhoods friendly to senior residents and especially for those with disabilities. Subhash Chandra Vashishth, Director, Svayam, shares Tips to make homes accessible for persons with reduced mobility…
Col. (Ret.) Ram Singh was 70 and was living in his ‘golden cage’ at one of the poshest colonies in Delhi, Anand Niketan; golden cage as his house had everything what we could tag as luxury. But man is born free. Col. Singh’s only solace was that he could pull his wheelchair till the edge of his imposing balcony and loom down to look towards the empty road where street children would be seen playing with the dust. Col. Singh would look at his wheelchair dejectedly and then was reconciled to the fact that it was his physical fault which had rendered him useless, and he could not go out and see the world.
One fine day, his son came rushing to tell him that the world out there was changing as more and more people now knew about accessible infrastructure. A month later, Col. Singh was seen using a newly fitted stair-lift, and going out of his home on his motorised wheelchair and asking the neighbourhood club manager to build a ramp to boost their sale. “I would bring many more like me to your club,” he joked.
The crux of the story is that though it’s inevitable that we all reach old age and retire, we can still contribute to society, pursue our hobbies and live with dignity and ease if our environment / infrastructure is accessible.
Your Home Is… Where Access is!
The Residents Welfare Association (RWA) can play a crucial role in making the neighbourhood friendly to senior citizens, and set an exampling as a model accessible colony. Providing minimum accessibility features in a residential complex doesn’t cost too much, while the value on money spent is many times higher, as an accessible infrastructure helps all user groups including the elderly, the women, the children, the sick, the injured, as well as those with disabilities.
Accessibility also enhances aesthetic look of the colony, and minimises injuries, while offering convenience and ease to all residents. At the time of renovation, an RWA can incorporate accessible features. However, if there is already a built environment, modifications or retrofitting remains the only way to make the colony and homes friendly to the elderly residents.
Tips to help RWA make its colony accessible:
- As sensitisation is the key for bringing in a change in the perception and actions of residents, RWA can hold a sensitisation & training workshop every quarter, in partnership with an accessibility/disability NGO.
- Build ramps (in the gradient of 1.15) where there are level differences on the path of travel; watch out for colony entrance, park entrance, residential entrances, etc.
- Fill the potholes regularly.
- Keep pedestrian walkways and access routes level & free from encroachments by parked cars, etc.
- Use fluorescent markings/white street markings in lanes and such other places, so that people with low-vision can navigate easily.
- If there are elevators/lifts, ensure the same is audio-video and braille supported.
- Residents can pool in fund to have their own common accessible vehicle which can help elders, patients in times of needs.
- You can prepare the RWA Access Guide.
- In case there is space, your RWA can consider building an accessible toilet with wider doors, handrails and ramp. Use anti-skid tiles (matte-finish floor tiles).
Tips to help residents make their homes accessible:
- Entry to your home should be step-free; build a ramp to promote visitability for the easy access of wheelchair users and visitors.
- Widen doorways (3 foot wide) and lower thresholds for wheelchair access.
- Install swing away hinges on doors to increase access.
- Use anti-skid tiles (matte-finish floor tiles), especially in the bathrooms and toilets.
- Install grab bars and easy-to-operate bathroom plumbing fixtures to enhance safety for the seniors.
- Add a shower seat and easy-to-use shower spray attachment.
- There should be minimum 900mm wide clear openings in doorways (1000mm preferred).
- Use hard, even, non-slip surfaces for floors, such as tile or wood.
- Use lever action handles on doors.
- You can install a lift, or you can use stair-lift if there is no space for elevator. Stair-lift gets attached to stairs’ frames and remains folded when not in use.
- If seniors have a hobby of gardening, do not let it die. You can have raised beds for gardening (610mm high).
- A step up somewhere can be hazardous and make it difficult for a wheelchair to roll over; you can address this by a portable ramp.
Making your bathroom/toilet accessible:
- Make the washroom attached to the drawing room wheelchair friendly.
- Put grab bars on walls, particularly in or near the tub and shower.
- Use level, no threshold entry for shower.
- Use handheld showerhead with built-in controls.
- Use walk-in tub or tub with hinged seat.
- Use higher toilet seat (432mm to 483mm) with grab bars.
- Use single lever sink and tub faucets.
- Have open access under bathroom sink for wheelchair.
- Install full length or low hung mirrors.
Making your kitchen accessible:
If you want to make your kitchen accessible, get the drawer knobs replaced with pulls that are easier to clasp, while a cooktop with controls in the front can be added. Also, if you widen the space and adjust counter heights, it will make the space safer and easier to use for family members with physical disabilities.
Remember, if your homes and colony become accessible, the elderly/retiree can visit clubs and recreational centres, or just follow their hobbies to avoid the monotony of life. Seniors can remain active, vibrant, and age the way they want to age. This independence can also give relief to carers/attendants and family members from the stress of the full time care-giving, while also boosting the overall happiness quotient of the family.
The Man Who Provoked The Thought……
Subhash Chandra Vashishth is a lawyer by profession & specialises in Human Rights and Disability Law. He is currently the Director of Svayam, a Delhi based non-profit that focuses on promoting accessibility in built environment for sustainable development of all sections society, particularly those living with reduced mobility such as the elderly, the injured, the sick, pregnant ladies, as well as those with disabilities.