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Blog: Organizing For Special Needs
Wheelchair Use in the Home

There are over 1.6 million Americans who use a wheelchair in their home. These Americans are limited in their ability to participate in activities that we may take for granted. They may struggle with everyday activities like bathing, cooking, toileting, and climbing into bed; activities like attending school or working may pose an even greater challenge.

There are many causes of wheelchair use, including Strokes (180,000), Arthritis (170,000), Multiple Sclerosis (82,000), Spinal Cord Injuries, and numerous genetic and disease processes that affect a persons ability to move independently.

Statistically about 20% of people using a wheelchair are working, and about 11% have graduated from college. With nearly 4/5 of wheelchair users needing assistance with daily activities, it is to our loved ones benefit to teach them how to seek out and accept support from those around them.

We can help our loved ones to be more independent by organizing their environment to meet their needs. Encourage communication by asking questions. Find out what they love- whether it is computer use, reading, crafts, cooking, board games, writing, or gardening. Help to make a space to honor this interest. Remove unnecessary clutter that will get in the way. Sit yourself down at their level and try to navigate their environment.

Consider that the time you spend to make the space perfectly suited to fit their use will improve their independence and thus their quality of life. Finding mastery of one task will make asking for help with another that much easier.

You can change the environment with major renovations, such as aging in space architectural consultations or professional organizational consultation; or you can be creative and make many changes with minimal investment and a little time and effort.
Know that we all need support, and be willing to model asking for help when you need it.

Getting Around

Look at the floors and pathways. Remove carpets if possible, and eliminate throw rugs, which can bunch up and make movement impossible in a wheelchair.

Try navigating through doorways in the wheelchair. There is no better test than attempting it yourself. Wheelchairs come in different sizes, so make sure you are measuring for your loved ones chair. Doors can be a real hindrance to getting around, especially in small spaces like bathrooms and closets. Do you really need them? An alternative is hanging a curtain, which can be easily pushed aside. An inexpensive solution is cup hooks holding a bamboo rod (a garden store can cut for you). You can pick up curtains at discount stores like Ross or Marshall's for less than $10 a panel. If noise is a concern, choose thicker panels and put a curtain on both the inside and the outside of the door. You can easily tie back the curtains with a cup hook and a metal chain with large loops.

Placement and Storage

Remove clutter, and eliminate unnecessary and unloved items.
Elevate any items the person will want to use to at least 2 feet from the floor.
Take a look at their workspace, whether it is the bathroom sink, kitchen counter, or computer desk. Keep the items they use the most, visible and closest to their body. Put your hands out in front of you and then sweep them out to the sides- this is the area where most items will be located. Try to keep your storage simple, with open baskets or containers to prevent unnecessary work for them. Store "like" items together. This is very important, as it will be difficult to hunt for lost of missing items.


Seek out adapted equipment like raised toilet seats, tub transfer benches, and grab bars.
Eliminate unnecessary reaching by keeping items close by. If using the microwave for heating, the person should be able to see inside to easily remove items without spilling. Be aware that the lap should be covered when dealing with hot items, if burns are a possibility. A Lazy Susan makes reaching for spices, meds, or even toiletries simple.

Making the environment easy to use, will give your loved one more time for what they enjoy. Organizing the space for someone with a disability can have a big impact on how they experience their home. A day spent organizing for them will mean less frustration and more joy. And in the end, isn't this what we all want?

Lisa Alishio
Clarity Home Consulting

Live Well in Your Home

posted on: 10/31/2007 12:30:00 PM by Lisa Alishio
category: Special Populations

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Organizing For Special Needs

by Lisa Alishio

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About Lisa:

Lisa Alishio, COTA/L, is a professional organizer with a background in pediatric and adult occupational therapy. Her intention is to help people of all ages and abilities to "Live Well in their Home".

Lisa's Website:


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