Life with MS

The Accessible Home: 10 Tips for Coming and Going

By Shelley Peterman Schwarz
Accessibility in your home starts at your door. Let’s face it – if you cannot easily get in or out the door, you are not going to get very far in life. And life is worth living to the fullest. So, here are a few tips to make coming and going easier.
1. Level entranceways
Often the most significant barrier to people with disabilities getting into and out of the home is the entranceway itself. Level or slightly sloped sidewalks and driveways will make access to the home easier whether you have a visual or physical disability or not. If your current home has a step to the front door, can you remove the barrier by changing the landscaping, replacing the step with a gentle slope? Ask a landscaper for ideas.
2. Lower your threshold
Once you get to the door, is there a high threshold that is hard to get over? If the threshold is wood, a quick fix is to sand down the edges on each side (interior and exterior) to create a smooth hump that is easier to slide or roll over, especially when using a wheelchair or scooter. If you need a longer lead way to get over a particularly high threshold, try making a wedge out of a standard piece of lumber (1” x 2” or 2” x 6” will likely work best) and affix it to the edge of your current door threshold. Ask at the lumber yard if they might cut and sand it down for you.
3. Portable threshold
If sanding your door threshold is not possible either because of materials, door design, or because you rent, there is a reasonably low-cost solution — a portable threshold ramp that sits over the existing one. Made of lightweight but sturdy aluminum, the design extends the width of the threshold, making a gentler transition into the house. The advantage of this ramp is that you can fold it up and take it with you when visiting the homes of friends and family whose doorways may provide a challenge. There are several styles, some allow easy access over a step or two. To get an idea what is available go to
You might also check with your local building center or NARI (National Association of the Remodeling Industry) office to get a referral to a contractor who specializes in “Universal Design” or “Aging in Place” concepts. Not all ramps work for everyone, so try before you buy (contact your local Senior Center or Independent Living Center to see if they have samples) or get a “satisfaction guaranteed” warranty.
4. Automated lighting systems
Make sure you can see where you are going by installing automatic lighting. Motion sensor lights, readily available at hardware and home improvement stores, can be easily installed with a few simple tools. Once you are inside, sound and voice activated lights can be turned on and off at will as you move through the house. There are also whole-house control systems that allow you to turn lights on and off throughout the house using a master control or a remote; the latter being nice when leaving or returning home in the dark. Look for these at home improvement or lighting stores, or if you have a home security system, ask the company if they have a compatible lighting system.
5. Keyless entry lock
Getting in the door is easier if you do not have to fumble with keys. Today there are many alternatives. You can go hi-tech and punch a code into a keypad or use a one button remote control, similar to the one that opens newer cars. Some can even open the door for you. Ask a locksmith, your security system company, or a home improvement store about the many options available. Or search “keyless locks” on the Web.
If the old-fashioned way is good enough for you, there are key turners with built-up handles that give you greater leverage and make turning keys easier. Search for key turners on websites such as
6. Door closer
Once you are through the door, does your wheelchair, walker, or scooter make it difficult to reach the door knob and pull the door closed? You could tie a cord or rope around the door knob and fasten it to a hook mounted at a handy place that you can reach. Or, if you prefer something a little nicer looking, an inexpensive solution was designed by a paraplegic that is durable, flexible, and almost invisible. One end of the E-Z Pull Door Closer hooks around the door knob, while the other slips into a holder on the door where it is easy to reach and gives you good leverage for pulling the door closed. You can also remove the puller and take it with you to use on other doors while you are away from home. For more information, search
7. Ramps
If you use a wheelchair or scooter, or even a walker, ramps are much easier to negotiate than stairs. Ramps can be as lovely as a nice deck, built to enhance the look of your home, or as utilitarian and portable as modular aluminum (often a better choice if the home is not your own). They can be expensive, ranging up to $5,000 but if you need one, community agencies will often help you find an affordable way to get one. For assistance, start by calling your local Independent Living Center or United Way (in most areas, just dial 211) and tell them what you are looking for; they will give you referrals to appropriate agencies. You might also call a building contractor that specializes in accessible remodeling for a quote.
8. Vertical platform lifts
If the entry to your home is particularly high, and a long ramp impractical, a vertical platform lift might be a solution. The lift works like an elevator to raise a wheelchair or scooter and a companion, smoothly and effortlessly straight up and down from driveway to entryway, patio to porch, etc, from four feet to up to 14 feet in height. A lift, powered by battery or household current, is durable indoors or outdoors for even the harshest winter weather, and really levels the playing field for someone living in a multilevel situation. To learn more about vertical platforms visit
9. Outdoor stair lift
If you are still mobile but need assistance getting up the stairs from driveway to porch, deck, or raised entry way, an outdoor stair lift may be the answer. Just sit in the seat and let it raise you to the next level. This is another option that may be viewed at  
10. Electric door openers
For maximum independence, you can install an electric door opener. These are on the expensive side, however if you are unable to turn keys or open or close doors, an electric door opener opens the door for you with a remote control or keypad. And when you are inside, you can open the door remotely, “buzzing” in your guests, just like you might at an apartment entry. These devices can even be operated by pressure sensitive mats or whisper devices for the severely disabled. For more information search
Shelley Peterman-Schwarz began her work at to share what she has learned about how to live a full life despite the challenges of living with a chronic disabling illness. The website contains her blog “What I learn about LIVING from my chronic illness” along with videos and DVDs where Shelley welcomes you into her home and shares her everyday tips and strategies for living. It also includes her articles, product recommendations, and the signup for her free monthly newsletter. Shelley’s newest book in the Tips for Making Life Easier series, is  Home Accessibility: 300 Tips for Making Life Easier, affordable solutions to make your home safer and more accessible, was published in January 2012. She can be reached by email at:
(Last reviewed 8/2012)