Moving and Modifications

Moving into a new home with a disability is no joke. There's so much to consider when looking at a new living situation such as access in and out of doorways, bathroom accessibility, the presence of stairs, and first floor master and hardwood floors, just to name a few. In addition, looking at the surrounding environment is also incredibly important such as exterior smooth sidewalks, less steep driveways, and curb cuts at appropriate areas to have suitable and safe entries or exits near a new residence. Having outdoor space, whether in the form of a small backyard or nearby park, close-by grocery stores and shops, is essential for independent, healthy living. Not only is it important to have access, but equally as important to have a safe neighborhood with great neighbors that are willing to pitch a hand when living alone with a disability.ebmoving

Until recently, I rented an accessible, ground floor apartment for nine and a half years after my spinal cord injury. It was well-suited for my needs as a wheelchair user, but due to extravagant rental prices and apartment management issues, it was time to go. I spent four years looking for a new home and finally this past November, I found my new spot. But there was one problem, it was not accessible and needed a lot of work.

The basics for modifying a home have priority, number one being in/out of the main doors. My front door originally had a step down to a cement landing and then four steps down to the sidewalk. We lifted the cement landing to be flush with the front door to provide direct roll out access and then built a long wooden ramp that was wide enough to accommodate my power wheelchair. The back door required a small 2-inch rubber connector to make a seamless trajectory over the door mount onto a large wooden back deck. To get down to the yard, another long wide wooden ramp was built with material appropriate to withstand the elements in Colorado. An additional concrete sidewalk was designed and poured on the side of my home to provide access from the backyard to the front driveway. An L-shaped ramp was designed and built to exit the home through the garage down the height of four stairs. Every door required a proximity based automatic door opener so that I might move freely in and out of the home at all access points with my service dog without the assistance of a caregiver, as I live alone. Each of these door opener systems cost approximately $5000.

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Within the home, all carpet needed to be removed and hardwood floor in its place. All doorways needed to be widened to accommodate the width of the chair. The transitions between room to room were made seamless so the wheels wouldn't bump hard causing spasms while cruising around my home. A complete demolition and remodel of the master bathroom was completed, widening, and deepening of the shower pan to accommodate myself in a shower chair and a caregiver to move easily around me during shower days. Lastly, I was able to create a smart home living situation by replacing appliances with smart appliances and having an Alexa speaker in every room to control my environment independently. 

An additional sticker price of $60-$70,000 is automatically added onto the price of a home when needing to do this much modification. Getting creative and funding such modifications is essential by utilizing go fund me style campaigns, applying for grants within local businesses that assist the disability community and investigating in financial home modification benefits within your particular state.

Renovating a home to this level was overwhelming, but necessary during these complicated real estate times since there aren't many homes, especially in Colorado, that are already established as wheelchair friendly.

The gratitude I have is endless towards the village of people who assisted me in this process of moving and modifying and if I ever move, I will undoubtedly retain this home within the disability community to make it easier for the next wheelchair user.

About the Author - Elizabeth Forst

Elizabeth Forst is a nomad Yogi, world traveler and spinal cord injury survivor. Enjoying the mountain life in Denver, Colorado, she is a doctor of physical therapy with roots based both in Western medicine and the Eastern traditions; understanding the connection between mind, body, and spirit is her ultimate life pursuit. Through her writing and advocacy efforts locally and nationally, she is a beacon of light and a source of positive exploration for others traversing the challenges of paralysis.

Elizabeth Forst

The opinions expressed in these blogs are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation.

The National Paralysis Resource Center website is supported by the Administration for Community Living (ACL), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as part of a financial assistance award totaling $10,000,000 with 100 percent funding by ACL/HHS. The contents are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official views of, nor an endorsement by, ACL/HHS, or the U.S. Government.