Most people build houses for their own comfort. However, it is a good deed to consider other peoples’ comfort and accessibility to your premises. A number of buildings in Uganda have no provision for accessibility to people with physical disabilities.
However, there are affordable things you could consider while setting up either a residential or public building so as to make it accessible to many.
Hassan Kato, an engineer, says it costs more to remodel a house to suit a member with a physical disability than to plan for it when building. He therefore advises home owners to bear that in mind when setting up buildings.
“You may not have a member with physical disability but what if you get an accident, and your house only has stairs, how will you access the premises in a wheel chair? This is a point to ponder,” he says.
Edward Musinguzi, a home owner relates with this. When his late mum reached 94 years, she could not manage village life, could not support her body weight. She was also partially blind. Doctors advised that she uses a wheel chair to aid her movement.
Musinguzi opted to bring his mother to his more comfortable home. However, just like most people, he had not dreamt that at one point, someone with physical disability would be part of the family and would want to access every corner of the house. So, the nature of his house was a discomfort to the mother.
Initially, she could not use the bathrooms, she would stay indoors if there was no one to help her carry the wheelchair down the stairs of the porch from the main house, door posts were higher than her height while seated, hence she found a lot of difficulty and there was no sign of her coping.
“My mum’s discomfort grew day by day until I decided to do something about it, I had to fork out some money to make all the aspects on the house accessible to the old woman,” Musinguzi shares.
This included removing door frames and reversing how the doors open, changing the door knobs by lowering them plus making the toilets and bathrooms accessible.
“I learnt a good lesson to put some of these things into consideration when constructing your home, because you never know what may happen in future,” he shares, adding that: “It is also good to show our colleagues with physical disability some respect by making facilities accessible.”
Frank Mugabi, whose limbs were paralysed by polio, says being in a wheelchair should never mean you need to compromise or settle for half-measures. You deserve to enjoy the same access to your home or even public places just like everyone else. “Reasonable people make sure that the reservations put in place for people with physical disabilities are done right and that they will last,” Mugabi says.
The following are some of the important aspects that should be included on a residential or even a public facility to make it accessible to people with disabilities.
If you have room, build a wheelchair ramp for each entrance of your facility because stairs cannot accommodate a person in a wheelchair. However, if space is not enough, build a ramp at one of the entrances. A ramp to a doorway will not only help those in wheelchairs, but anyone with mobility difficulties.
Paskali Musoke, a builder at Kaazi Constructions, says the cost of constructing a ramp depends on the size and materials to use. When designing your ramp, make sure the pathway is wide, and consider adding handrails, a non-slip surface and a cover. He adds that for those who do not want their exterior congested by the ramp, can opt for a vertical platform lift. However, this is more expensive and may require complex technology.
Musoke advises that floors should be left bare to aid movement for those with physical disabilities mostly those in wheelchairs. If you have to move from room to room on a wheelchair, avoid decorated carpets and rugs on your floor. For people who use walkers, rugs and carpets may trap the walking equipment and cause a fall. Also, it is also not easy to push a wheelchair while on a carpet or rug most, especially carpets with fur. Instead of the above, you can opt for a low-pile carpet, tiles or hard wood flooring.
Make the door wider to allow passage for a wheel chair. “Doors should be installed in a way that when one opens, they are pushed inwards and not outwards, to ease entrance for a person with physical disabilities,” Musoke, advises.
He adds that if you have narrow doors, you can adjust them by removing frames, taking the doors off, and reversing how a door opens, and you will instantly turn the doorway into an accessible space for people with mobility difficulty.
To accommodate a wheelchair, Musoke says a doorframe needs to be at least 32 inches wide. “Usually, there is enough room to widen both the main entry and interior doors,” Musoke explains.
Doorknobs and taps
Turning door knobs and some taps can be a challenge for those crippled in the hands plus the feeble elderly. You should go for pull doors with lever handles instead of those round door knobs. For water taps, opt for those with lever handles since they are the easiest to operate.
“You ought to lower door knobs or install automatic door openers for added accessibility for people with physical disabilities and if you opt for doors with electric switches, make sure the switches are easily accessible that is you should not fit them so high,” Musoke emphasises.
Lower the countertops, install appliances that are easy to reach, and provide roll-out storage units. You can also install a sink that allows the individual to roll his or her wheelchair underneath it.
Harriet Ndiwalana, a caretaker of 13-year-old Felista Mulungi, who uses a wheelchair due to paralysed limbs, says her daughter is a woman like others and needs to access the kitchen to learn how to cook, bake, and wash utensils. She advises that it is good to arrange appliances near the sink and counters to make tasks easier to perform. “I always move everyday items to lower cabinets for my daughter to access them. This does not only help those with physical disabilities, but also children who cannot afford to get stuff from highly installed drawers and other complicated facilities in the kitchen,” she shares.
Ndiwalana says electricity switches and thermostats should not be put at high points. If possible, you can lower them or have additional switches installed at a more accessible height.
“It can be quite disgusting for one to fail to turn on the lights because they are in a wheel chair and cannot manage to reach out for switches hence opting to stay in darkness in case no one is around to help,” Ndiwalana shares.
She says the above also applies to closet rods. These should be lowered to make it easier to reach clothings. Ndiwalana says a height of about two feet or less from the floor can help those in wheelchairs.
“The bathroom can be a danger zone for anyone with a physical disability most, especially those who use wheel chairs,” says Musoke.
He adds that you can secure this area by installing a walk-in bathtub or lowering the threshold for the shower. However, hand-held showers are a good idea for people with disabilities. The person can wash more easily with a hand-held shower.
Ndiwalana says some people opt for a shower seat but even with that, a person can slip in the shower, so she cautions builders not to forget to install grab bars in the shower itself.
Musoke says there are various types of grab bars, but you should opt for those that screw into the wall rather than those that cling to the wall because they are sturdier and provide more support. It is also important to opt for grab bars that can support any weight.
We cannot talk about the bathrooms and exclude the toilets. The above as well applies to the toilet. However, you should also clamp a raised seat to the toilet seat to make it easy for the user. However, Musoke says this depends on the kind of disability one bears. The seat can either be hiked or lowered.
Access to buildings
Making your facility accessible to persons with disability is not mandatory but rather a necessity according to the government of the Republic of Uganda.
The Persons with Disability Act (2006) states that it shall be the responsibility of all organs in a public or private institution to provide suitable exits for persons with disabilities, universal standards or designs of public toilets.
It further states that any person, who constructs, a building to which the public is invited, shall ensure that persons with disabilities have access the following provisions:
Provision of accessible and easy to find building entrances, connected by accessible pathways to accessible indoor or outdoor parking areas.
Local public transit stops and accessible elevators safe and accessible urinal, bathrooms for the diverse disabilities.
Safe and well dimensioned staircases for the comfort of persons with mobility problems.
Ramps wherever stairs obstruct the free passage of pedestrians, mainly wheel chair users and people with mobility problems.
Adequate railing around hazardous areas, stairs, ramps, accessible roofs, mezzanines, galleries, balconies and raised platforms; well dimensioned elevators,(‘in the case of multistoreyed buildings) that persons with disabilities can use conveniently.