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11 Ways To Modify An Outdoor Space For A Loved One With Limited Mobility

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Enjoying time outdoors is a key element in improving an individual’s quality of life and mental health

Whether it’s sitting in the sun, watching birds, or getting your hands dirty in the garden, the outdoors can bring endless joy to daily life. More than that though, having access to the outdoors is necessary for safety purposes and for feeling a sense of freedom. 

Unfortunately, many outdoor spaces do not follow the universal design and are not always accessible for individuals with physical disabilities.

If your loved one has limited mobility, you may notice them having difficulty accessing and enjoying the outdoors. Luckily, there are adjustments that can be made to address the special needs of your loved one’s yard space, oftentimes without significant renovations.

11 Ways To Ensure Your Loved One's Outdoor Space Is Safe & Accessible

Depending on your loved one’s needs and your budget, there are ways to make their outdoor space safe and enjoyable.

1. Ensure doorways are wide enough

The ADA recommends that doorways are at least 32” to accommodate mobility devices such as wheelchairs or walkers. 

From the inside, you can check if there is an accessible route to the outdoors.

 

2. Install a ramp

Ramps are helpful tools in making it easier for individuals using mobility devices such as wheelchairs, walkers, canes, or scooters to leave the home. This might be a small ramp only high enough to eliminate a small step out the door or a long ramp that extends over multiple stairs. 

Ramps are one of the most important features to add in order to make the outdoor space wheelchair accessible. Make sure any height changes either on a step or ramp are clearly marked, to help those with visual impairments.

Having a ramp is especially important as it is crucial that a walker or wheelchair user is able to leave the home in the event of an emergency, such as a fire. 

 

3. Install hand railings

Another accessible feature is a handrail. If your loved one’s steps or door does not already have them, installing hand railings that are sturdy and accessible is essential

Also, consider grab bars next to the door. This can provide your loved ones something to steady themselves with if need be and prevent a fall.

 

4. Incorporate an outdoor stair lift

Sometimes stairs are unavoidable depending on the structure of the home. If a ramp is not possible consider incorporating an outdoor stair climber or vertical lift to help your loved one avoid having to go up and down. 

This may be a larger renovation but is likely more cost-effective than having to relocate.

5. Make sure their outdoor space is shaded

Older adults are more prone to dehydration and heat exposure. Make sure that your loved one’s outdoor seating area has plenty of shade throughout the day.

Consider installing an automatic awning to cover the area. Umbrellas over tables may be difficult for your loved one with limited mobility to use. 

 

6. Determine how sturdy & comfortable their outdoor furniture is

Some outdoor furniture can be difficult for individuals with physical disabilities. It might be too low, deep, or shaky. Assess your loved one’s furniture to see that they can get in and out of it safely and with ease. 

If there are tables outdoors, make sure they are an appropriate height for a wheelchair as well. Bar-height tables won’t be accessible for wheelchair users

Set up your loved one’s furniture in an accessible design that allows space to maneuver between furniture with a mobility aid.

7. Assess how smooth and leveled the ground is

Assess your loved one’s walkways and sitting areas to ensure the ground is smooth.

Make sure there are no uneven surfaces in wood on a deck or pavers on a walkway that could create tripping hazards. There are even some materials available to make your deck anti-slip. 

Ensure your loved one’s entry mat to make sure it’s low enough to not cause a fall, and that it has a non-slip surface. 

8. Locate the nearest bathroom

If your loved one with mobility impairment is spending time outdoors, ensure that there is an accessible route to the restroom without obstructions.

If needed, use signage to point them in the correct direction.

9. Encourage safe outdoor activities

If your loved one enjoys activities such as gardening, consider using raised garden beds or hanging flower pots. This will allow your loved one to continue to have access to the activities they enjoy while working within their comfort zone.  

Mobility issues shouldn’t be an obstacle to making time outdoors part of daily life.

   

10. Maximize driveway space

Make sure there is a parking space where you or another care provider can park to allow your loved one easy access to the vehicle. 

If your loved one has difficulty transferring to a car, there are often public transportation options to assist wheelchair users.

 

11. Ensure Your Loved One Has Access To Help

Whether it’s at home or out in the community, having a charged cell phone or an emergency call button is key. 

Making sure it can be accessed from anywhere will decrease the chance of your loved one racing to get up should the phone ring. If your loved one has a hearing impairment, make sure the volume is high enough to be heard outdoors.

 

Ready To Help Update Your Loved One’s Outdoor Space?

Making your loved one’s outdoor space accessible and safe can greatly improve their quality of life. It opens up doors to endless possibilities of engagement and ways to spend time together.

Making an outdoor space accessible can be a key to allowing your loved one with limited mobility the option to age in place safely.

Laurel McLaughlin

Laurel McLaughlin has over a decade worth of experience in various sectors of the elder care field- home care, senior living, and non-profits. She has a Master’s in Gerontology and is a certified dementia practitioner.

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