The Comprehensive Guide to Home Accessibility for People with Disabilities in Recovery
More than 20 million Americans suffer from addiction and substance abuse, and that number includes people with and without disabilities. Sometimes, the stress of living life with a mental or physical disability spins you downward into addiction. This can seriously compound the health issues you are already dealing with. For example, alcoholism can cause chronic bladder infections, which is already common in people with spinal cord injuries. With issues finding employment, social isolation and limited mobility, it’s not surprising that 50 percent of people with spinal cord injuries deal with alcoholism.
In other situations, however, the consequences of the alcohol or substance abuse can cause a physical impairment. For example, heroin use can lead to permanent loss of vision, and long-term intravenous drug abuse can lead to painful septic arthritis, both of which can severely limit mobility. Medications for arthritis should never be mixed with alcohol, nor should many of the common medications prescribed to people with a variety of disabilities.
If your disability — from cognitive to physical — arose after seeking help for your addiction, you may not be aware of important home modifications you need in order to be comfortable and confident during recovery. If your disability affected life for you before addiction, adding recovery-minded elements to your modifications can help you live an independent, sober life. Here are four ways you can mix modifications to support both mental and physical health.
#1 Limited Physical Mobility Recovery
When it comes to comfortably navigating your home with limited mobility, there are several modifications to consider. Whether you use a walker or a wheelchair, adaptive products like ramps and handrails can make a big difference.
Ramps come in all shapes and sizes. You can install fixed or portable ramps depending on your space and budget. If you only need to move down a few steps to get around, a portable ramp could be the right fit. If you have to traverse steeper stairs, building a permanent ramp could increase your access to various places in and around your home. Handrails can help you when you need to move around areas that might be a risk for slips and falls, like bathtubs, showers and toilets. They can also be helpful to people with blindness as guides down hallways, up stairs and in and out of bed.
Having access to areas in your house is important for your recovery. For example, lowered counters, sinks and wheelchair accessible appliances in the kitchen can make it easier for you to prepare, cook and store the meals that you need to rebuild your health. Many addicts emerge from their addiction malnourished, either from the toll the drugs have taken on their body or the lack of motivation they felt to eat balanced meals. Cooking meals not only provides the nutrients you need for a healthy physical recovery, but also instills and reinforces healthy lifestyle changes.
#2 Vision Impairment
When modifying for vision impairment and to support recovery, one of the easiest places to start is with the walls. You’ll need to consider two important factors here:
- Contrasting colors make it easier for people with impaired vision to distinguish between walls, floors, ceilings, doors, doorframes and stairs.
- Using specific colors can help create a calm mood and a peaceful environment.
For people with low or partial vision, using contrasting colors on the switches on electrical appliances — whether with paint or colored tape — can help you see and use them safely and effectively. This is especially important if you use medical equipment to help with recovery. For example, some people recovering from an addiction to smoking methamphetamine may occasionally need to use a breathing machine like a nebulizer, respirator or oxygen concentrator.
For people with more severe blindness, where color may not make a difference, add padding to objects to prevent bumps and scrapes. Textured paint and floor coverings can alert you to a changing landscape or a protruding object. For example, you can place a strip of carpet to warn of a sharp corner or surround an object that sticks out with textured paint.
Some wall colors are known to evoke feelings of serenity — light blues, soft greens, smooth beiges — which can help you create a calm, safe space to elevate your mood and promote sobriety. People with low or partial vision can consider adding pops of brighter colors to areas you need to be aware of, such as:
- Doorways and doors
- Objects that protrude, like radiators and doorknobs
- Stairs, steps, and corners in hallways
- Toilet seats and sinks
- Light switches
- Kitchen utensils
For people dealing with more substantial vision impairment or total blindness, comforting smells and textures can evoke this same feeling of calm and ease. For instance, you can place an aromatherapy machine next to a floor cushion or soft blanket to encourage moments of mindfulness in your addiction recovery. You can also put fragrant indoor plants in the rooms you enter the most, which lifts mood and adds a sense of responsibility, two things that increase the longevity of sobriety.
#3 Mental and Emotional Well- Being
Some addictions, especially long-term abuse, can result in emotional and/or cognitive disabilities. For example, extended alcoholism can create problems with memory, amphetamine abuse can manifest in feelings of panic and anxiety, and many substances are known to leave behind speech issues, intellectual impairments and decision-making abilities. In other cases, the stress and loneliness of living life with one of these disabilities leads to the addiction.
Either way, there are several home modifications you can make to support your mental and emotional health, as well as provide a healthy environment for your sobriety. If you have a spare bedroom, turning it into a space for exercise, art or music can provide you with new hobbies to fill the void that you used to satisfy with drugs or alcohol. Numerous studies show that exercise can do wonders for boosting mood and reducing depression. Other studies have shown that arts and crafts projects can help mitigate cognitive decline, encouraging you to think critically and creatively, while also working your fine motor skills and eye-hand coordination.
Sometimes, substance abuse begins as a coping mechanism for anxiety or depression. For many people in recovery, avoiding high-risk situations means spending more time at home. Whether you need to avoid restaurants that serve alcohol or large crowds that cause anxiety, your home is your safe space away from temptation and relapse. If you’re really into sports but don’t want to watch the big game in a bar, consider creating a room dedicated to your favorite team that also promotes sobriety. Paint the walls your team’s colors, hang flags, banners and signs, add a popcorn machine or a soda fountain, and even install surround sound so you feel like you’re right there on the field.
#4 Modifications Inside and Out
Modifications for disabilities don’t just occur inside the home, but outside as well. There will be certain outdoor tasks you want to keep up with regularly for safety reasons, like clearing walkways, repairing ramps and keeping grass, shrubs, hedges and trees trimmed back to reduce hazards. Many psychologists agree that spending time in nature can benefit recovery efforts, so consider creating an outdoor zen garden, hanging a hammock, or taking on gardening as a hobby, which can give you a strong sense of purpose and distract you in vulnerable moments.
You can’t put a price tag on long-term, sustainable sobriety — it will be one of the most valuable accomplishments you’ve ever achieved. Having a home that promotes not only your recovery but also any needs you have as a result of your disability will bring you peace of mind even on the most difficult of days. You’ve overcome a lot, and it’s a wonderful thing to have your home be a reflection of that.