When my 34-year-old brother had a stroke in January 2021, he only had a 25% chance of survival. Even though he’d overcome his condition, we knew his life was going to drastically change. After weeks in the neuro ICU, step-down unit, and transferring between several rehabs, he’s finally starting to “get back on his feet.”
Because the stroke impacted the right side of his body, it took him weeks to regain speech and nearly a year to learn to walk again, especially considering the use of his right hand has not yet come back. (You don’t realize how much you need your hands to walk!)
Although he has certainly come a long way since the stroke, walking is still very difficult. He is ambulatory handicapped, and now, as he transitions back to life on his own, there are certain adjustments he’s had to make to his home and lifestyle in order to live as independently as possible while in recovery.
Incorporating accessible design
When I mentioned this challenge to an interior-designer friend, Liz Cuadrado, she told me about a project she participated in during her studies that helped prepare her for a client like my brother. The project was the class’s first introduction to Universal Design and the guidelines set out by the ADA Standards for Accessible Design.
The endeavor required students to modify the home of a person living with a disability. Though this person was fictitious and had a disability different from my brother’s, the modifications that must go into helping any mobility-challenged person adapt to their home and lifestyle require the same thoughtfulness, intent, and attention to detail.
With Cuadrado’s advice and input from my brother, here are the products and adjustments that have helped him adapt to his new—hopefully not permanent—reality.
1. A comfortable four-point cane
Though a walker would likely be ideal for someone like my brother, the loss of his dominant hand means he needs a cane with the sturdiness and stability of a walker. This four-point cane has a triangular, padded hand grip that is “ergonomically designed for comfort and reducing stress that may be experienced by the user’s hand.” This helps my brother tremendously, as he has to shift his weight to his left side to walk.
To help stabilize his ankle—especially during therapy sessions—my brother used an ankle foot orthosis in the form of an ankle brace, like this one from Aircast. When he was learning how to walk again, he didn’t have much feeling in his right leg or ankle. This AFO helps keep the ankle in the right position, while allowing the joint to stretch enough for the wearer to be able to walk effectively.
Thankfully, my brother recently graduated from the AFO, but others may require one for longer periods of time.
They may look hideous (I mean, after all, do they only come in yellow?!), but these socks with the strong grips on the bottom help prevent falls in the hospital and at home. And, though the hospital gives them out for “free,” you can order these hospital footies at many stores online if you need a few more pairs.
4. New Balance slip-on shoes
My brother mostly wears sneakers, even in the house, to help him walk easily and keep his ankle brace in place. But, tying laces with one hand, as well as getting shoes on in general, is a task many of us take for granted. At the hospital he was given elastic laces to use with any pair of sneakers, which is a great option if other solutions aren’t on the table. Now he’s got New Balance slip-on shoes, which still look like regular sneakers and are comfortable for walking and PT alike.
5. Elastic pants
Just as tying shoes is difficult with lower-body mobility hinderances, so too can the daily task of putting on pants. Where women might prefer leggings, my brother loves Old Navy’s and H&M’s elastic jogger and cargo pants. There’s no button or zipper, making them a perfect blend of usability, comfort, and style. They’re also a great choice for patients who might experience rapid weight fluctuations that generally come with recovery from something as traumatic as a TBI.
6. A shower chair
Being able to bathe yourself is a key component of returning to independence. There are many adjustments that can be made to a shower based on the person’s physical abilities, from transforming the shower itself completely, to installing bars or anti-slip mats. In my brother’s case, a simple option like the Drive Medical bathroom bench makes all the difference. Cuadrado also recommends visiting page 159 of the ADA Standards of Accessible Design for additional information.
7. A smart device
When my brother had his stroke, he was home alone. A friend of his was concerned when they didn’t hear back from him and his phone went straight to voicemail. Eventually, this friend went over to the apartment, where she found him in a horrific state.
A life-altering event like this will no doubt make families more worried when the person finally goes back to living on their own. What if the stroke happens again (though, this is very unlikely), or what if he falls? This worry is enhanced when the person has lower-mobility issues.
Therefore, having a smart device placed in the home—like an Alexa, Google Home, or smartwatch—might help ease some of those concerns. Others might even consider an indoor home security camera with live and voice communication capabilities.
See the best smart speakers right now
Small budget solutions
Of course, purchasing products for people with disabilities to return to independence isn’t always feasible for everyone.
Cuadrado says, “I understand the budget may have a large impact on people’s ability to make sweeping renovations to their homes, or maybe they’re living in a rental and aren’t able to make those major changes without approval of the landlord or building. Depending on the person’s needs, there may be smaller changes that can result in greater mobility and quality of life in their everyday lives.” The good news is, there are cost-effective solutions. Let’s look at a few.
8. A rented wheelchair
Dealing with insurance headaches and hospital communication systems throughout my brother’s recovery has been a stressful endeavor for my family, especially during the few weeks he stayed at my parents’ house while looking for a new rehab facility. At the time he was not yet able to walk, so my parents rented a wheelchair from a local medical supply store. This was a lifesaver, and if you ever find yourself in need of one, contact stores like this or nearby pharmacies. Wheelchair rentals sometimes start as low as $5/day with a deposit.
Related: Portable air compressors are essential for wheelchair use
9. Places to rest throughout the home
Part of designing a home for someone with lower-mobility issues involves having plenty of places to rest by way of chairs, sofas, benches, or hand holds. This build-your-own shoe storage bench is similar to what my brother has in his apartment. It serves as a place to rest, a chair to sit and put his shoes on, and as an extra spot to safely store shoes in his small apartment.
Related: 10 top-rated furniture pieces that double as storage
10. Make sure paths are clear
Walkways for people with lower-mobility issues should always be clear, whether they use a wheelchair at home or not. Not only does this help reduce the risk of tripping, it also allows the person to feel more comfortable with their own living situation.
Cuadrado experienced this with her design project:
“We had to consider what changes we could make that would not only be feasible, but also bridge the gap between the fictitious person’s essential needs and the family’s desire for connection. We thought about his young age, and what might make him feel more comfortable at home and able to participate in activities that his peers would be as well.”
“For example, in his bedroom, he required a special bed suited for his disability that took up a lot of space. So we decided to mount a projector for him to play his video games that wouldn’t take up space on the floor, especially since he was using the power wheelchair, which required a lot of floor clearance for the turning radius, etc. But the point was to help him feel as included with the rest of the family as possible.”
See the best portable projectors right now
Prices were accurate at the time this article was published but may change over time.