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Keeping up with an active child is a struggle for almost every parent. Children are naturally full of energy. They bounce from activity to activity with not so much as a breath in between. They run and jump and play without ceasing. And, on top of all of that energy, they require around-the-clock care. Keeping them fed, bathed, clothed, and cuddled is a full-time job in and of itself.
If you happen to be a parent with a physical disability, life with an energetic child becomes even more challenging. Whether you are dependent on a walker or wheelchair or have limited mobility due to a chronic condition like muscular sclerosis, ensuring your home is an accessible space where you and your child can spend time playing, learning, and relaxing together is a priority. Thankfully, there are several simple, effective ways you can do just that.
Basic Accessibility Requirements
Ideally, everyone living with a physical disability would be doing so in a home designed for their specific needs. Unfortunately, ready-made, accessible housing options are few. Moreover, the major structural modifications required to retrofit a home are usually time-consuming and costly. There are, however, several do-it-yourself options to ensure your living space allows you to move freely and safely in your home, a necessity when you are a parent to an active child.
Navigating stairs with your hands full of baby accessories or even groceries can pose safety issues. Step-free entrances can provide extra stability and support to any parent as they maneuver in and out of their home, but this feature is especially important to parents with limited mobility.
Replacing your steps with a ramp is an easy, inexpensive way to make your home more accessible. As an added bonus, it allows for easy transport of strollers and other cumbersome, baby-related items. You can either purchase and install a pre-made ramp or build one yourself. DIY plans can be found online, and all of the tools and materials you need for this project are available at your local hardware store. Just be sure to follow ADA guidelines for width and slope to ensure safety.
Wide doorways allow people using wheelchairs, walkers, or transfer chairs ample clearance to navigate safely through doorways. If you live in a home that is not accessible or have additional doorways that do not meet accessibility standards, you can purchase and install offset or expandable hinges.
These hinges allow you up to an extra two inches of clearance without the expense and headache of structural changes to the door frame itself. Installation can be completed within a few minutes with just a screwdriver. If you move, doors can be returned to normal width simply by replacing the original hardware, and you can take your offset hinges with you to your next home. As with regular door hinges, little hands can get stuck between the door and the frame, so children should be monitored closely to prevent smashed fingers.
The flooring in a home can either be a help or hindrance to both small children learning to crawl and walk and people with mobility issues. Most experts recommend hard, skid-resistant flooring to prevent slips and falls. Linoleum and vinyl are two options that are inexpensive to purchase and install.
If you have carpeted areas, consider investing in heavy-duty plastic mats or runners. Mats can be easily secured to the subfloor below the carpet to be kept in place. You should also avoid rugs. The uneven texture can cause falls and, depending on the pile height, can make it difficult to maneuver a walker or wheelchair.
A Place to Play
Every parent knows that, no matter how hard you try to keep all of the “kid stuff” in one room, the whole house is their playground. For parents with disabilities, a child’s tendency to play anywhere and everywhere can actually be a blessing.
Throughout the Home
If your disability makes it difficult to move from room to room, you probably have a few favorite spots in your home where you spend most of your time. These areas are likely already set up for ease of access and comfort. With a few modifications, these spaces can also serve as play areas for your child so you can keep them close, provide assistance, and play alongside them.
Small, rolling workstations with a tabletop and storage for art supplies, favorite toys, and electronics can move from space to space with ease. You can build your own or purchase one. If you are fully or partially bed-bound or spend a lot of time in a living room chair, for example, this cart can be rolled from room to room and placed close to you, then rolled out of the way when not in use.
If you have the room, a dedicated area for play can be an ideal arrangement for you and your child. Arrange furniture along walls, being certain to anchor each piece to a stud to prevent tipping. This leaves ample room for navigation and plenty of space in the middle of the area for you and your child to play together.
Grass and uneven ground are dangerous and hard to maneuver if you are dealing with a mobility issue. Inexpensive, do-it-yourself patio options like paver stones and snap-together planks, available at local hardware stores, can provide a more stable outdoor living space and can be built to fit your needs. The ground must be cleared and leveled prior to building this type of patio.
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You can also consider utilizing an existing garage or carport space as an outdoor play area. These spaces are already level and clear of debris, making them safer and easier to navigate. They also provide protection from the elements, making them usable even in inclement weather.
Caretaking Made Easy
One of the most difficult aspects of parenting with a disability is taking care of the daily tasks that come along with raising children. From making snacks and meals to wrangling slippery kids in and out of the bathtub, caretaking tasks are some of the most physically demanding of all.
If your kitchen space is not already accessible, there are several simple fixes you can implement to make the space easier to use. Install mirrors under wall cabinets to easily view counters and stovetops. Use a counter-height table, lapboard, or folding/pull-out cutting board as a workspace for chopping vegetables and preparing meals. Secure tools like can openers, food processors, and bottle openers to counters to make them safer and easier to use. If you are able to stand but need added stability, sling belts attached to the counter are relatively cheap and easy to install.
You can also revamp your storage to keep items close at hand. Open shelving, hangers for glassware and cups, and lazy susans in corner cabinets are all DIY hacks that can make your kitchen more accessible. Just be sure to keep sharp, heavy, and breakable items out of children’s reach.
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To make bathtime easier on your body and safer for your kids, install a loop or lever faucet that is easy to operate from a distance. Replace traditional showerheads with handheld sprayers that help you wash your child without bending and leaning. Bathtub temperature and level indicators can allow you to easily ensure water is the right temperature and trigger an alert when the appropriate water level is reached. Finally, a rolling cart can keep necessities like soap, shampoo, washcloths, and towels at arm’s reach.
Keep bedtime running smoothly by placing kids at eye level and arm’s reach. Specialty height cribs and beds are available, but they can be costly. For a more affordable alternative, many parents with disabilities recommend cutting legs off of traditional cribs and using risers, available at most home decor and big-box stores, for toddler and children’s beds. Plan ahead for those late night emergencies by making beds with multiple sets of sheets and waterproof mattress pads so that, in the event of a middle-of-the-night accident, you only have to remove a set instead of remaking the bed. (Sure, this isn’t technically a “home fix,” but it’s definitely a useful parenting hack!)
Most parents would agree that keeping up with little people is hard enough. For those living and parenting with disabilities, daily accessibility challenges can make it even more difficult. These small modifications can make a big difference in a parent’s ability to confidently care for an active child, making them a solid investment.