Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Understanding Accessible and Universal Design – Creating a Barrier Free Home

By creating a home environment that removes obstacles, we are better able to maintain our independence.  Instead of just accepting the loss of some abilities, maybe a few changes can overcome barriers.  This essay is the first in a series of articles to address problems causing stumbling blocks to self-sufficiency and possible solutions to these problems.  

Let’s start with the basics:  The “in” words are Universal Design.  With this in mind, I began my research at The Center for Universal Design in North Carolina.   It did not take me long to realize I was oversimplifying the solution.  There are two types of housing designs that I will address - Universal Design (UD) and Accessible Design (AD).  Their purposes are different.

Universal Design (UD) – The intent of this design is to build environments more usable by as many people as possible at little or no extra cost.  Universal Design benefits people of all ages and abilities.  This concept would be used by someone who wants to build a house that will likely meet their needs for their entire lifetime.  People choosing this design do not have disabilities but want features in their house that will work for them during normal aging.

Accessible Design (AD) - People looking for housing features to overcome barriers for specific disabilities need Accessible Design.  Accessible Design usually turns out best if a health care professional, such as an occupational therapist, works with the homeowner, the designer, builder, or remodeler to consider the specific needs of the person who will be living in the home.

People looking for architects, designers, or builders with knowledge and experience in Universal Design, or Accessible Design, might want to try contacting their local Center for Independent Living.  This is a nationwide network of centers whose job is to be knowledgeable about the professionals and services for people with disabilities in their geographical region.

The Center For Universal Design -
This website is a wealth of information.  Publications that are a must read if you are considering ways to make you home more accessible:  
  • Home Modifications and Products for Safety and Ease of Use
  • Simple Solutions: Home Automation Technology for Easy, Safe, and Accessible Living
  • Universal Design and Accessible Housing Resources
  • Home Modifications and Residential Remodeling Resources  
Center For Independent Living - This website will provide a list of Centers For Independent Living (CIL) throughout the country.  One of their responsibilities is to be aware of services for people with disabilities in their geographical area.  Contact the Center closest to you and ask for names of knowledgeable architects or builders.
National Association Of Home Builders - Another source of professionals who do modifications for accessibility are CAPS (Certified Aging in Place Specialists) graduates.  They are not Universal Design experts but they were interested enough in learning how to make modifications for people with disabilities that they took the CAPS program.  For a list of builders or remodelers who have a CAPS certification, go to the website of the National Association of Home Builders Research Center.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Help for visual problems

I am so excited I found this product and believe it can help many people with visual problems.

The PenFriend creates a talking label - how ingenious!.  Place one of the labels on the object and then record a description into the pen recorder.  When the tip of the pen is placed on the item label it will speak the recorded message.  This would be a great aid when taking medication, identifying containers of freezer or refrigerator foods, and an assortment of daily living activities.

Click on the picture to link to the product.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Memory Problems

Memory problems first showed up for me on my job when I had a case I needed to present to a supervisor.   This supervisor was the type of person who had no patience if you were not clear and succinct in your presentation.  In order to explain what happened with this client, I needed to recall various dates crucial to the outcome of the case.

My dilemma required a little creative problem solving and what I did turned a negative into a positive.  I created a document with a chronology of events with dates and descriptions.  There were a lot of dates to remember which almost took up a full page.  I kept one copy for myself and gave one copy to the person receiving the report.  My presentation went better than I had anticipated.  My “cheat sheet” helped me stay on track with no worries about flaws in my recall.  In fact, this technique helped those listening to follow my story better.   I left my supervisor shaking his head in appreciation.

I have used this trick with doctor’s visits.  With the assistance of these written notes, I can relate when symptoms first began and my response to treatment without having to worry about memory lapses.  By putting things in writing, I do not have to worry that the listener might miss an important point.

An unanticipated benefit is that these little brain exercises seem to be helping to train my brain to work more efficiently.  I feel I am sharper and quicker in thinking than ever before.  They say there are a lot of unused brain cells…maybe this will put a few spare ones to use.


Thursday, October 15, 2009

How I Made a Handicapped Scooter Work For Me

When I could still drive, my scooter allowed me to be independently out in the world. With my van and scooter lift, I could put my scooter in and out of the van in one piece. I could zip around town and only needed to be able to walk to the back of the van. The lift did all the work. One difficulty I had was closing the back lift gate but with the automated lift gate on some vans, this problem would be solved.

I was even able to grocery shop alone. The store scooters were too slow and more difficult to operate. My thumb, which operated the controls, would get tired and they are harder to turn.


 Using the following process, I was able to manage independent grocery shopping:  

    1.  When I enter a store, I would ask an employee to put a store cart at the end of the first aisle.
    2.  There was a small basket on my scooter. I would go up one aisle and down another filling my scooter basket.
    3.  At the end of the aisles, I would transfer things to the store cart.
    4.  I would then move the cart down two aisles and repeat the process.
    5.  The last aisle was close enough to a register for me to hold the side of the cart and get in line.
    6.  I could stand to empty the basket but usually a store clerk would help me.

One day an older, unknown gentleman came up to me and told me how proud he was of me.  (Take into account that he proceeded to tell the cashier that she could take the rest of the afternoon off after she finished his order and he did not work for the store.)

By making a few modifications to the way you go about a task, you can roll away barriers preventing independence.  Maybe you cannot do things the way you used to but, by changing your approach to the task, it is still achievable.  Start thinking, “I can do it.  I just need to figure out how.


Friday, October 2, 2009

Canine Assistants

I always thought helper dogs were for blind or hearing impaired people. As I began to learn more about these dogs, I realized they also offered a variety of assistance to people with physical limitations.

Service dogs can be trained to retrieve objects that are out of reach, pull a manual wheelchairs, open doors and turn on lights, retrieve help, aid with dressing or undressing, and assist in many other ways. Some service dogs are specially trained seizure response dogs, and there are dogs trained to offer a person counter balance when ambulating. One less tangible benefit is that these dogs can actually expand your world by giving you opportunities to meet people and get out in the world.

This web site may help you find programs throughout the country:


When comparing the different programs consider the following:

  1. Does the organization offer to train your dog or does it train only their dogs?
  2. What kind of assistance is their service dogs trained to provide?
  3. Does the organization provide services only to a certain territory? You want to make sure you are in their service area.
  4. What are the costs to the recipient?
  5. Is there an age restriction? Some programs take children and adults and other limit how young the recipient can be.
  6. How long is the wait to get a dog?
  7. How long is the training camp for you with your dog?
  8. What are the costs to you for the camp? Some programs pay for training camp costs such as room and board and, others, leave these expenses up to the recipient.
  9. Is there support after the training camp?

Check out this inspirational video about service dogs:


Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Difficulty Dressing Because Poor Vision Prevents Color Identification

I found an interesting product that is now featured on my website and I am excited to introduce you to it.

Talking Color Identifier:
This is a Talking Color Identifier that identifies colors by naming the color and the intensity. For instance it will say 'dark blue' or 'light green' when the detector nozzle is held against whatever surface is being examined. Use this to help you dress in the morning if your vision problems prevent you from identifying colors.

Click on the picture to link to the product.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The Power of Positive Thinking

 I love this story and want my website to encourage this type of thinking,

Author unknown

There once was a woman who woke up one morning, looked in the mirror, and noticed she had only three hairs on her head. Well," she said, "I think I'll braid my hair today?" So she did and she had a wonderful day.

The next day she woke up, looked in the mirror and saw that she had only two hairs on her head. "H-M-M," she said, "I think I'll part my hair down the middle today?" So she did and she had a grand day.

The next day she woke up, looked in the mirror and noticed that she had only one hair on her head. "Well," she said,"today I'm going to wear my hair in a pony tail." So she did and she had a fun, fun day.

The next day she woke up, looked in the mirror and noticed that there wasn't a single hair on her head. "YEA!" she exclaimed, "I don't have to fix my hair today

Attitude is everything.

    * Be kinder than necessary, for everyone you meet is fighting some kind of battle.
    * Live simply,
    * Love generously,
    * Care deeply,
    * Speak kindly

Life isn't about waiting for the storm to pass. It's about learning to dance in the rain.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Solving the Problems Window Blinds Can Present

This is my favorite assistance device.  Because I did not want to have window coverings open at night, I would leave blinds that I could not reach closed at all times.  After putting in motorized window blinds, my house is bright and sunny which is so uplifting to the spirit.  Now I can have blinds open during the day and closed, for privacy, at night.  These window coverings open and close with a remote giving the control back to me.  The cost was a consideration so I only use them in areas that I cannot reach.

Another possible solution, to those difficult to turn wands, is blinds that open and close by pulling a cord. These are much easier than trying to turn a wand and should not increase the cost of the blind. Just look for brands that have this option.

Click on the picture to link to the product.


Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Difficulty Physically Reading the Bible

This product is ideal for someone who get comfort from the Bible but, because of poor eye sight, has difficulty reading this great book. The Talking Bible speaks all books of the Bible - Old and New Testaments. You can move from book to book and chapter to chapter with the press of a button. This hand-held unit is perfect for the visually impaired, seniors, or anyone on-the-go who wants to be able to access the Bible.

Click on the picture to link to the product.


Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Outdoor Entrance/Exit Ramp

When putting a permanent ramp outdoors, keep in mind a visible ramp may advertise to the bad guys that a vulnerable person lives in the house. Put the ramp in the back of the house rather than the front. Better still, build it in the garage where it cannot be seen with the garage door closed.

For a permanent ramp, codes usually require a foot of ramp for every inch of drop. By this I mean if the platform is 15 inches from the ground you will need a 15 foot ramp.  This will help prevent the ramp from being too steep and putting a wheelchair occupant at risk of falling out of their chair.


Sunday, September 13, 2009

Difficulty Getting Out of a Car

This is such a simple solution to a problem that affects so many people.  It is can be difficult for people who are elderly or for those with limited leg strength to get out of a car.  Cars are so low and it is hard to find a surface to use to push off.  The Handy Bar is an easy solve to this problem.  It inserts into the U-shaped striker plate of the vehicles door frame.  Now, by using the armrest on one side and the Handy Bar on the other, passengers can use both arms to assist them in standing.

Click on the picture to link to the product.


Saturday, September 12, 2009

Creative Problem Solving: Getting a Heavy Object From One Surface to Another

I am presenting this problem to demonstrate that there may be alternative paths to the same end.  You just need to be creative in your problem solving.  I needed to take a ham out of the freezer to let it begin thawing for Easter dinner.  My daughter would be visiting later that day and she could put the ham in the refrigerator.  I was able to get it out of the freezer and plop it onto the counter but, unfortunately, I forgot to ask my daughter to put it in the refrigerator.  Now I had a real dilemma.

Problem: The frozen ham should not sit out on the counter for any length of time and the ham was too heavy for me to lift to a refrigerator shelf.

My solution:  To solve the problem, I created a transfer board out of a cookie sheet. I put one end of the board on my lap (I am in a wheelchair hence, the lap.) and one end on the shelf. All I needed to do was slide the ham up the cookie sheet to the shelf.

Voila! Problem solved.  Sometimes we just have to go about things in a different way to accomplish them.


Friday, September 11, 2009

Meals or Food in General

I find that the average person does not understand how difficult and tiring food preparation can be. This should be a consideration for all physically challenged people - be it from a medical condition or just normal aging.
  1. Glass can be a potential hazard if you consider the possibility of breakage. I use only non-breakable containers to freeze in, microwave in and eat from. Small containers can hold one serving size and give you sides to help scoop the food onto an eating utensil.
  1. Think ready to grab, heat (if necessary) and eat. If I have someone fix a large quantity of something, I have it stored in the freezer in individual serving containers. This way I can take my dinner out of the freezer, microwave it and eat from the same container.
  1. Try to take food preparation out, as much as possible, to make eating as simple as possible. Have someone wedge oranges and slice tomatoes. In fact, cut-up and slice as much as possible to prevent the need for someone with limited dexterity from having to use a sharp knife.
  1. Cook a pork or beef roast and cut it up. Then, freeze it in individual serving bags. This way you can take a bag out of the freezer, thaw it and then heat it. I use snack bags to place an individual meat serving in. These do not have to close they are just meant to allow me to take out a serving at a time. I place all the bags in a large freezer bag which I close.
  1. I freeze bread, bagels and English muffins to keep them fresh and take out one serving at a time. Make sure English muffins and bagels are sliced.
  1. I have difficulty closing bags that require you to line-up two tracks and press them together. My finger tips do not have good sensation and this process is frustrating to me. I have everything transferred to bags that close like a zipper. This would include any bags with “tie” closures. .
  1. Onions and green peppers freeze well. Have them chopped and frozen. In the chopped state, you can then remove the quantity you need.
  1. Another trick I use is microwave plates with covers. I found these in the grocery store. When there is a meal with multiple foods, make-up a plate with a serving of each item and freeze it. When ready to eat, just take the dish out of the freezer to thaw, remove items to be eaten cold and microwave. This would be a way for a family member to assist an elder parent. Just save a serving of each dish from a meal created for members of your household. (Make sure you use plates and covers that can be frozen and microwaved.)
 These are just a few tips but, if you have others, please share them.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Tips To Help Cope With Only One Useful Hand

I never thought of myself as single-handed but, on consideration, I guess I am. I physically have both hands but my right hand, the dominant hand, is very limited in mobility. I have multiple sclerosis with weakness and limitations on my right side. I eat and do things with my left hand with only minor, awkward assistance from my right hand.


  1. Carrying things - First, I know I will have difficulty carrying things. I do not have the second hand to help me grasp things well. With this in mind, I come prepared - a bag for loose papers, a carrier with handles or I just let someone else do the carrying. For example, junk mail significantly increases the number of papers I receive. I use a canvas bag with handles to assist me. The mailbox flag is raised and I put one handle of the bag over the flag. This step holds the bag open so I can place mail in it to carry back to the house. This little trick helps prevent my mail from being strewn all over the lawn.
  1. Prevent lifting in the kitchen - To prevent lifting, use a counter-top microwave. I keep a pie or cake pan handy and just slip things onto the pan when I take them out of the microwave. Make sure you keep items level in the transfer process.
  1. Stabilize items on which you are working - There are products to help you hold objects to prevent them from slipping when manipulated. Website Link to the product:
http://empoweredlivingtoday.com/index.php?option=com_product&task=product&id=330&Itemid=396 4.00

  1.  Make sure the weight of what you are lifting is suitable for only one hand. - Cook items in      lightweight, serving size dishes. This make them easier to handle with one hand.
Since I need to use my left hand to eat, watching me eat is not a pretty picture. I find I have more luck getting the food to my mouth if I do not have to make that turn after scooping the food on a utensil. I use a spoon that bends back on itself. You will find these utensils by clicking on the following link:



Tuesday, September 8, 2009

The Benefits of a Counter-Top Microwave

Many homes have a build-in microwave over the oven. This can be a real hazard for someone with limited strength in his or her arms. This is just inviting a spill of hot substance on the user. Even though a counter-top microwave may be duplicating this appliance, it may be a lot safer. I use a pie or cake pan to protect the counters from heat and slide the hot container onto the pan. No lifting. Make sure you keep the container level during the slide.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Vehical Modifications

Modification to a vehicle for a physically challenged person can be expensive. Here are some possibilities that might help you defray some of the expense:

1. The Veteran’s Administration – You may qualify for 100% reimbursement for car modifications if your disability is considered service related.

2. Your state's division of vocational rehabilitation may be a resource if you need your car to stay employed.

3. Many states have federally funded assistive technology loan programs offering long-term loans for adaptive equipment.

4. Many private insurance companies cover driver rehabilitation programs.

5. Automobile manufacturer’s rebate program for new vehicles - Chrysler, Ford, Toyota and General Motors all have reimbursement programs for vehicle modification costs. This assistance can be up to $1,000 reimbursement on adaptive equipment.

6. Many groups like the Multiple Sclerosis Society offer direct assistance for those disabled by a disease related to their foundation.
Some purchases can be eligibility for tax credits for modifications. For more information the following website should be helpful:

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Applying for Disability Insurance

When I applied for Disability, I was accepted the first application even though I handled the process myself. Looking back on this, I believe the key factor was that I presented the examining physician with a well thought out letter describing my limitations. Fatigue and limited endurance are very difficult for an examining physician to verify in a brief 10 minute office visit. Likewise, it is also very hard for you to describe off the top of your head. By explaining in a concise way in writing how it affects you , you have a better chance of not loosing the doctor’s interest and relating your limitation more clearly. If you hired an attorney, he or she would take time and organize their arguments in a letter that supported your needs. Sitting in the doctor’s office, trying to relate your problems, is asking a lot of yourself.


Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Difficulty lowering to the ground and rising when working in the garden

A visitor to my website stated she loved to work in her yard but she had difficulty getting down and up from the ground. She purchased the Garden Kneeler and the following is her response.

Website Forum Post:
"I received the garden kneeler and love it! I'd anticipated some assembly - it was fully assembled and ready to use. Light enough to be practical, but strong and durable _frame_work, good padding on the kneeling part, and wide enough to accommodate a heavier person if needed. I gave it a good workout last weekend and it made things so much easier. Before, I've been reluctant to work in my front yard when neighbors are home because getting up and down was so dificult and embarassing. No more!!! It is well worth the price. Thank you so much for the _link_!"

Click on the picture to link to the product.

Trouble hearing the doorbell and renting - landlord's responsibility

One of my website visitors posted this problem:

"The new apartment I moved in, it doesn't have fire alarm and doorbell. I am deaf and called the office about it. They never experience having a deaf person living in the residence. They asked me how to find those and compare the cost for fire alarm and doorbell. Could you help me out with this?"
I contacted the National Association of the Deaf.  The following is a summary of the response I received:
"The landlords responsibility depends on (a) is the property owner (landlord) receiving ANY type of federal benefits? (Including HUD financing) or (b) if the state requires the protection. There may or may not be a state requirement for providing these inexpensive life safety devices. That information may be found by contacting your state fire marshal."
More information may be found at www.deaffiresafety.com.


Trouble getting out of bed

I recently had a lady email my website that her husband had decreased mobility and had problems getting out of bed. She explained that it was very difficult on both her and her husband when she tried to assist him. She ordered the M-Rail and the following is her response:

"I just want to thank you for having M-rail on your web site. Oh my gosh. I ordered it Sunday night, it was delivered yesterday. I put it together, after a few minutes, installed it and Jack used it last night. He got out of bed to go to the bathroom without me pulling on him, got up by himself and was able to get to the bathroom without an accident. This was well worth the money."

This link will take you to the product: