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Ramps, clamps, grab bars and low commodes.

Because this issue of EP focuses on renovations and modifications to the homes of those of us who must cope with disabilities affecting their mobility and other bodily functions, I thought I'd use this column to tell you about the renovations we've made to our home to make it "wheelchair and handicap friendly." I know you must be thrilled by this news, but read on. You may find some of what I have to say helpful, especially if you're someone who uses a wheelchair or the spouse, caregiver, or companion of a person who uses a wheelchair.

Watch the Angle of Those Ramps

In 1999, we bought a single-story house (called a "single" on the West Coast, a "ranch" on the East Coast). The first modification we made was to build and install ramps leading to the three entrances to the house. Two of the ramps were built with about a 10-degree angle of elevation. But the ramp to the kitchen door was, for some reason, built with a 20-degree angle. Result? The first (and last) time I used the kitchen-door ramp, my wheelchair tipped over backward and landed squarely on the back of my dog--a small Sheltie named "Frisky." The impact caused this once lively little dog to let out an almost human-like scream. Needless to say, Frisky no longer lived up to her name after this incident, which I'm certain contributed to her demise.

The "It-Can't-Be-Done" Shower Overhaul

The house had a conventional stall shower with about a six-inch concrete lip on the floor at the entrance. We wanted the lip removed (so I could wheel my chair into a shower seat) and the floor leveled with a sight slope upward (so the water would not run out of the shower and, God forbid, onto the bathroom rug). This would require the same tile that was installed on the walls and floor of the original shower to be extended to the new areas of the shower floor and walls (created because of the removal of the lip) and creation of the sloped floor.

So, we set out to find an individual or business that could accomplish our desired modifications. We talked to plumbers, outfits that advertised they could "tackle any bathroom job," and even building contractors, asking if they could accomplish our desired modifications.

It was as if we were asking for construction of the Great Wall of China. We repeatedly heard it can't be done" or "we don't do anything that extensive." Finally, after a couple of weeks of searching, we found a man who advertised that he only installed tiles. But he had no qualms about working on the renovations we needed. The only real difficulty we encountered was locating tile to match the original tile (circa 1989). We spent about six hours on the Internet to find it. The tile guy then reconfigured the shower floor, put in the new tiles, added two grab bars to the shower walls, and we were all set.

The Too Low Commode

The next obstacle we had to overcome was the position of the commode (a.k.a toilet). On the West Coast, almost all bathrooms place the commode in a separate compartment in the bathroom. This compartment is about the size of a small broom closet, and the toilet is placed as far back as possible in it against the far wall. The usual commodes here are also very low to the ground, making it difficult--even for the able-bodied person--to get on and off. This, of course, presented an insurmountable obstacle for me.

We solved this problem by bringing the commode almost to the entrance of the compartment, installing what is called a "pony wall" behind the toilet to cover the re-piping necessitated by moving the commode's location, and installing a handicap-friendlier commode almost a foot higher than the original. Had we not made these renovations, I would be sitting there still after my first use of this facility.

The Pool and the Hoyer Lift

Our house came with a pretty nice swimming pool into which I could easily plunge but out of which it was impossible for me to get. This problem was solved relatively easily by drilling a small hole, with about a 12-inch diameter, just about a foot off the pool's perimeter and placing, therein, a Hoyer lift. This device lowers a sturdy cloth and rope seat into the water and, by means of a hydraulic hand pump, lifts me out of the pool and deposits me back into my wheelchair.

The Tax Angle

The good news about our renovations: they're all IRS-approved medical expenses. The not-so-good news: they're deductible only to the extent that all of a taxpayer's annual medical expenses exceed 7.5% of their Adjusted Gross Income. I confirmed this via IRS's email taxpayer assistance at

This column has a simple purpose but a difficult goal--discuss issues that affect the lives, well-being, and state of mind of those who must live and cope with a disability and do so in a humorous way. Not an easy thing to do, since there is certainly nothing funny or humorous about being disabled or in the obstacles that those with chronic disabilities encounter daily. However, I've personally found that humor has, to a great extent, helped me cope with my disability (I've had multiple sclerosis for thirty-eight years and use a wheelchair), and I hope this column helps others with disabilities to do so as well.
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Article Details
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Author:Levinson, Jerry
Publication:The Exceptional Parent
Article Type:Column
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jul 1, 2007
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