Options for Improving Staircase Accessibility

Published by Stephen on October 20, 2011 Under fall prevention

In the home, it is quite common for the stairs to pose difficulties not just for people who use wheelchairs, but also for those who are mobility challenged, such as seniors with arthritis. Falls on the stairs account for a significant number of injuries each year and can result in very serious injuries.

One means of preventing accidents on the stairs is to simply avoid using them all together, however this is not very practical. Instead, it is better to focus on making the home more accessible.

Determining What the Senior Needs

Deciding on how best to improve accessibility on the stairs for the elderly largely depends on the abilities of the senior. For example, with someone who just has limited vision, you would probably take different steps than with someone who has advanced rheumatoid arthritis. On the same token, a person who uses a wheelchair will need a special solution compared to an individual with joint issues.

As a result, it is first important to identify and understand the limitations of the person who will be using the stairs. Once you have an idea of the seniors needs and abilities, you can begin tailor fitting a solution.

Improving Stair Safety: Limited Vision

For those with limited vision, a big part of increasing staircase safety will often revolve on ensuring that the steps can easily be seen, as well as making sure that safety devices like the banister are in place and tripping obstacles are removed.

A good place to start is by adding a textured grip tape to each step. This allows the senior to be able to feel when they are on the step, as well as providing extra traction. It can also be a good idea to go with a tape that uses a high-contrast color, so that the edge of the step can be easily picked out.

Adequate lighting is also very important, as is ensuring that the light switch is easy to reach and use. It is a good idea to make sure that a switch is present at both the top and bottom of the stairway, so no matter what side of the staircase the senior is on, the light can be turned on. Using a wide flat switch, as opposed to the very small traditional light switch is also a good idea, especially for seniors with arthritis, who might find it difficult to grasp a traditional light switch.

In addition to making the steps easier to see, it is a good idea to make sure there is a banister on both sides of the staircase and that it is at an acceptable height for the senior. This may mean deviating from standard building code, to meet the specific needs of the homeowner.

It is also essential to remove tripping hazards, such as loose rugs, potted plants, or other objects that are close to the staircase and could present an obstacle.

Improving Stair Safety: Limited Mobility

Often, limited mobility and limited vision, go hand in hand, but this is not always the case. For seniors who are unable to easily bend their knees or otherwise have difficulty walking, using the stairway safely can often be quite difficult. In these types of situations, it may be a good idea to invest in a lifting aid, like a stair lift.

A stair lift will ensure that the senior can safely travel up the stairs, by litterally carrying them up and down the stairway. Most utilize a chair lift system, which allows the user to sit down as they are moved along the staircase. However, standing stair lifts are an option as well, but should typically only be used if they are required for a medical reason, such as after a hip replacement surgery.

Installing a stair lift is something a homeowner can often do on their own, as a number of do-it-yourself stairway lift kits are available. When choosing a stair lift, it is important to take into account the size of the rider, as well as the type of staircase. Both of these factors will play a role in determining what type of stair lift will work in the home. As an example, a staircase that is shaped like an “L” will require a special sort of stair lift,while a straight staircase can use a standard stair chair.

Improving Stair Safety: Wheelchair Users

For wheelchair users, it is often necessary to use a vertical platform lift or an inclined platform lift when accessing areas with staircases. Both of these devices provide a platform for the wheelchair user to drive onto, which is then moved up the stairway.

The difference between a vertical platform lift and an inclined platform lift is that an inclined platform lift will move along the length of the staircase, in a similar direction to the staircase banister. A vertical platform lift, on the other hand, moves straight up and down, sort of like an elevator. As a result, you will usually use an inclined platform lift on an inside staircase and a vertical platform lift on an outside staircase, although this is not always the case.

Another option is to use a tracked staircase climber, which uses a special track system to move a wheelchair up a flight of stairs. These are often self contained units, which allow a wheelchair to be attached to the device, which then uses its tracked system to climb the stairs. A Wheelchair Stair Climber can be a great tool, because it can be easily transported to use with almost any staircase and does not require any installation. These are often used in schools and other areas, where a wheelchair lift is needed periodically on a number of different staircases.

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