Make Home Safe: How to Retrofit Your Home for Accessibility

The Joint Center for Housing Studies reports that “of the over 25 million households age 65 and over today…44 percent have some need for home accessibility features due to disability or difficulty using components of the home, such as kitchen or bathroom facilities, without assistance.”

Building a “disability-friendly” home from the ground floor up is out of reach for the majority of people.

However, it is possible to retrofit existing homes to make them more functional and welcoming for both disabled and non-disabled individuals alike.

Quick DIY Modifications

The following accessibility modifications work well for instances where modifications are needed quickly:

  • ⬥ Add motion-sensor and safety lights in dim or dark areas of the home, such as a hallway or garage.
  • ⬥ Where the possibility of slipping can occur such as on tile floors add non-skid runners to provide a safer surface for unsteady walkers.
  • ⬥ Remove and/or reposition furniture to minimize the chance of injury and allow room for walkers or wheelchairs.
  • ⬥ Eliminate any items that can potentially be tripped over.
  • ⬥ Rearrange bathroom and kitchen items to lower shelves where they can be more easily reached.
  • ⬥ Install grab bars close to the shower and toilet
  • ⬥ Move the disabled individual to lower floors or areas of the house which can better accommodate their needs.
  • ⬥ Label commonly used items and their locations to help the individual maintain some self-care tasks

More involved DIY Modifications


Even if wheelchair access is not a concern, steps can pose an obstruction and potentially lead to injuries.

Steel or wood ramps will reduce the chances of slipping, even if a wheelchair isn’t needed. The ramps should be one foot long for every inch of the step. (e.g. a step that’s 9 inches tall will need a ramp that’s 9 feet long)


Bathroom falls account for approximately two-thirds of visits to the emergency room. 

Grab bars near the toilet and shower are among the more obvious choices to accommodate disabled individuals, however, other accessibility modifications that handy homeowners can tackle include:

  • ⬥ Widening the doors for wheelchair access.
  • ⬥ Lowering the sink and/or countertop and allowing room for knees underneath them.
  • ⬥ Lowering the medicine cabinet for easier access.
  • ⬥ Toilet riser to help individuals with limited range of motion.
  • ⬥ Painting the room with contrasting colors and textures to help low vision family members navigate their way safely.
  • ⬥ Adding bright lighting to help everyone clearly see where they’re going.
  • ⬥ Installing anti-scald, pressure-balanced faucets that will prevent accidental burns by maintaining a safe temperature.
  • ⬥ Replacing the shower and/or tub with a roll-in access one. If needed, put in two shower heads; so that one will be available at all times for seated users.
  • ⬥ Rounding the corners of countertops to prevent impact injuries.


To a disabled individual, the kitchen can be a formidable place. Make it more “user-friendly” with the following modifications:

  • ⬥ Roll-out shelves for pantries and lower cabinets.
  • ⬥ Lever-style handles in place of cabinets and faucets with knobs.
  • ⬥ A swing-out shelf or lazy susan for corner cabinets that are hard to reach.
  • ⬥ If your kitchen has enough room to add a table, put one in that can aid a wheelchair user with meal preparation. 
  • ⬥ Replacing a regular oven with a side-hinged model and/or induction cooktop.
  • ⬥ Lowered counters that allow space for wheelchair access.
  • ⬥ Replace the sink with one that has a drain towards the back to allow room for a wheelchair to slide under it.
  • ⬥ Clearly labeled items for individuals with impaired vision.
  • ⬥ Contrasting colors or textures for cabinets to help in food preparation.
  • ⬥ No-slip flooring and mats