Physical Disabilities

Physical Disabilities

Physical disabilities can be sensory, where there are problems with sight, hearing or speech, or they may impair motor function, so that movement is restricted or imprecise. Injuries may cause a disability, and disease such as a heart condition may also make normal exertion impossible. Some disabilities start at birth - congenital disabilities. Others are acquired during life. If you have a disability, it is almost certain that there are many others who do also. Most conditions have support groups or associations that have grown up relating to the problem. These groups may offer specialized help to minimize the effect of the condition.

Recently Answered

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    Although many people with disabilities are aware of their rights guaranteed in the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and in regulations from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, some may hesitate to ask for job accommodations because they are concerned about the costs of providing them.

    However, a study conducted by the Job Accommodation Network (JAN), a service of the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP), showed that workplace accommodations not only are low cost, but also positively impact the workplace in many ways.

    The study results consistently showed that the benefits employers receive from making workplace accommodations far outweigh the low cost. Employers reported that providing accommodations resulted in such benefits as retaining valuable employees, improving productivity and morale, reducing workers’ compensation and training costs, and improving company diversity. These benefits were obtained with little investment. The employers in the study reported that a high percentage (57%) of accommodations cost absolutely nothing to make, while the rest typically cost only $500.
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    AShelley Peterman Schwarz, Neurology, answered
    Here are some tips for making your bed and bedding more accessible:

    A comfortable mattress is important. No one can tell you what the best mattress is for you.

    Natural organic wool provides therapeutic warmth and cushion for sleeping.

    A Mattress Genie turns almost any mattress into an adjustable bed.

    An alternating air pressure mattress helps folks at risk for pressure sores or with circulatory problems.

    Lift heavy comforters and linens off of your feet.

    The right pillow aids sleep:
    • A side-sleeper pillow is thicker and firmer to support your neck in a neutral position while lying on your side.
    • A small contoured “neck pillow” will provide extra support for your neck when you use a softer pillow.
    • A back-sleeper pillow is thin often with extra loft or thickness in the bottom third of the pillow to create a cradle for your neck.
    • If you sleep on your stomach you want a thin pillow or perhaps no pillow at all for your head, but you still want something under your stomach to support your back; this is where a “body pillow” may come in handy.
    • If you use a Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (C-PAP) machine, you know how difficult it can be to get comfortable. A specially designed C-PAP pillow is shaped to support your head while allowing room for the machine’s hoses.
    • For back pain, you may want a wedge pillow to raise your feet or a pillow that straps around your leg to reduce pressure on hips, knees, and spine.
    • Cervical support pillows cradle the head and neck preventing stress and strain and opening up airways to reduce snoring and sleep apnea symptoms.
    • If you get overheated while you sleep, bamboo pillows are antibacterial, hypoallergenic, and naturally wick away heat and moisture.
    To support your neck, try rolling up a hand towel, secure the roll with a couple of rubber bands and insert it into your pillowcase along one of the long edges.
    • When choosing a pillow, lie down and try it before purchasing.
    • Change pillows every year or two to reduce allergens.
    • Remove the foot board of your bed to avoid injury in case of a fall.
    • Raise bed height with bed risers.
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    AShelley Peterman Schwarz, Neurology, answered
    Here are some tips for making your accessible bathroom safer:
    • Install lighting that provides good visibility when using the sink, toilet, and tub or shower. Water-tight lighting fixtures for inside shower areas are available at home improvement stores. Don’t forget a nightlight so that you can find your way to the bathroom in the dark.
    • Add additional electrical outlets to accommodate today’s technology and future medical devices; make sure they are water and shock resistant. Unplug electrical devices when not in use and never use electrical devices near a filled sink or tub.
    • To prevent falls, use a rubberized nonslip bath mat inside and outside the tub. Place a contrasting-colored textured mat inside the tub that will give you a clue to the depth. Make sure any rugs or mats outside the tub are nonslip and contrast with the floor.
    • Sit down while bathing or showering. If lifting your leg over the side of the tub is an issue, look for a bath seat that is long enough to put two legs in the tub and two outside so that you can sit down on the seat outside the tub and slide yourself into the bathing area. Make sure the seat legs are adjustable to allow for differences in height between the floor and the bottom of the tub.
    • Wear a waterproof emergency alert. Most accidents in the home occur in the bathroom. Be prepared should you slip and fall by wearing a personal alert pendant. Companies like Guardian and Lifeline provide these services. If you have a security system, they may also provide a wearable pendant as a bonus. Not all companies offer waterproof pendants so be sure to ask if you can take the pendant into the tub or shower with you.
    • The FreedomAlert is a programmable, two-way voice communication pendant that lets you contact up to four relatives, neighbors, or friends, or 911, at the touch of a button. Unlike services, there are no contracts or monthly fees.
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    AShelley Peterman Schwarz, Neurology, answered
    Grab bars are essential in the bathroom where humidity and wet surfaces increase the likelihood of slipping and falling. Many styles are available today that are both decorative and supportive, including ergonomically angled and fold-down styles, as well as some that do double duty as towel bars, toilet paper holders, and decorative support built into and around faucets and soap dishes. Here are some things to keep in mind if you decide to install grab bars in your accessible bathroom:
    • Make sure grab bars are installed where they give you the assistance you need. If you need help determining where the grab bars should be located to provide you with the support you need, consult an occupational therapist or contact your local Independent Living Center (ILC) and ask if they can recommend a builder/remodeler who understands the needs of people with disabilities.
    • Install permanent grab bars securely into the studs or a wall reinforced with three-quarter-inch plywood. Only you know the proper height and angle that is right for you. One way to determine where your grab bars should be permanently installed is by trying a portable, suction cup grab bar at various angles and locations.
    • Install contrasting bars for better visibility. Install dark bars on light walls, light bars on dark walls, or wrap them with colored tape to make them easier to see. Avoid chrome and other glossy or high-glare finishes.
    • Consider adding a floor-to-ceiling support pole next to the tub and/or shower. A variety of support rails are designed for installation over the side of the tub. If these are not secure enough for you, consider installing a transfer pole.
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    AShelley Peterman Schwarz, Neurology, answered
    Here are some ideas for making your tub and shower more accessible:
    • Create a barrier-free shower area.
    • Slant tile floors toward a trench drain at the back to make it easier to maintain balance inside the shower.
    • Add a shower seat that is wall mounted or use a sturdy plastic chair with nonslip feet (available at drug stores), so that you can sit while showering.
    • Exchange your fixed shower head with one on an adjustable bar or add an inexpensive hand-held shower head with a minimum of a 6-foot hose to your current fixture.
    • Consider adding a second hand-held shower nozzle in the middle of the long side wall of the shower.
    • If a bath is important, consider purchasing a walk-in tub.
    • Offset controls in bathtubs and showers.
    • Install an antiscald device and consider a drain that can be operated with your foot; both are readily available at home improvement stores.
    • In tight spaces, install a toilet–shower seat combination system.
    • Make the edge of the tub easy to see by draping a contrasting-colored bath mat over the front or by adding a strip of bright-colored tape along the entire top edge.
    • Replace standard bathroom washcloths with kitchen cloths, wash mitts (some come with pockets for the soap), or net scrubbies, which are all lighter and easier to grip.
    • Use soap on a rope in the shower.
    • Use long-handled tools, such as soap holders, brushes, and even hair washers to make it easier to wash without bending or twisting.
    • Place shampoo, soap, and other bath and body products in brightly colored plastic containers that are easy to differentiate one from the another and to see against the wall or tub.
    • Use pump-handle containers for shampoo and conditioner to make them easy for you to use.
    • Make sure towels are located on a shelf right outside the shower and robes are on a hook that is easily accessible to the wearer.
    • Locate your towel storage over a heat vent, you will have warm towels without additional expense.
    • Consider adding heated walls in the shower area or install a body dryer if you are remodeling your bathroom.
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    AShelley Peterman Schwarz, Neurology, answered
    Here are some tips for making your toilet more accessible:
    • Raise the toilet seat. You will find that raising the toilet seat 4 to 6 inches will make it much easier for you to get on and off the toilet, whether or not you are transferring from a wheelchair. Inexpensive portable seats that fit over your current one are available at drug or home health stores. For a less obtrusive and perhaps more stable lift, raise the whole toilet with a Toilevator toilet lift.
    • Install a wall-mounted toilet. When remodeling or replacing your toilet, consider installing one that is mounted on the wall. Not having a base on the floor reduces tripping hazards, makes it easier to clean around, and gives someone in a wheelchair more room for transferring. (Be sure to consider weight limits before installing.)
    • Make toileting easier by adding larger flush handles, long-handled wipe aids, arm supports, or a foot-activated toilet flusher. A toilet seat in a contrasting color will make it easier to see where to sit.
    • Install a bidet that cleanses with water instead of toilet paper. Choose from a state-of-the-art electronic toilet seat with multiple cleansing functions or add a simple personal bidet attachment to your toilet.
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    AShelley Peterman Schwarz, Neurology, answered
    For accessibility:

    Install a wall-mounted sink. Not only does it give a sleek, modern appearance to your bathroom but it also maximizes knee-room below the sink. If hot-water pipes are exposed, cover them to protect knees. If you prefer the look of cabinets, install under-the-counter cabinets that let the basin extend over the edge or hardware that allows doors to slide out of the way when open.

    Shallow sink basins are easier to use than a traditional deep sink. Check out “wading pool” lavatories by Kohler and other plumbing manufacturers. Consider installing dual sinks with one at a traditional height and one lower for children or people who need to sit down while grooming.

    A pedestal sink stands alone and leaves more room to maneuver. Keep in mind though that most pedestal sinks do not have counterspace, which may be an issue for folks who need devices or medications as they get ready for the day.

    Adjust mirrors to accommodate people of various heights:
    • Install a mirror flush to the back splash so that it is low enough for children or someone who is seated to see themselves.
    • Tip the top of a wall-mounted mirror a few inches so that someone who is short or seated can see themselves.
    • To accommodate multiple heights and abilities, install an adjustable tilt-down mirror.
    • An inexpensive alternative is to attach a telescoping mirror, found in most bath shops, that mounts to the side wall near the sink, or clamps to or sits on the top of the vanity. Their adjustable, swivel-type necks may easily be moved to various positions. Purchase one with a magnifying mirror on one side to aid those with diminished vision.
    Locate the medicine cabinet on the side wall next to the sink instead of over the sink. This location provides easier access by someone in a wheelchair or with limited arm movement.

    Consider installing a kitchen faucet in the bathroom. Kitchen faucets tend to be longer, reaching further over the sink. When shopping for bathroom faucets, use the closed fist test; if you can operate the faucet with a closed fist, it will be useable by most people, including those with one hand or those with limited grip or reach. Before heading to the bath center, be sure to measure the distance between the handles on your current faucet set.

    Consider installing an automatic faucet or inexpensive sensor that turns the water on when your hand is underneath. Look for these at home improvement stores or order from online stores that cater to the elderly.
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    AShelley Peterman Schwarz, Neurology, answered
    Here are some tips for making your bathroom more accessible:
    • Give yourself plenty of room to be comfortable. Generally, you need a 5-foot radius to turn a wheelchair around, so the more room you can create the better.
    • Widen aisles by getting things off the floor; get rid of anything that is not necessary -- scales, hamper, floor racks, and so on.
    • Open up closets and cabinets. Removing doors from closets and replacing cabinets with open shelves, set back from the edge of the countertop, will give you a few extra inches to maneuver while making sinks and storage areas more easily accessible.
    • For ease of use, the toilet should be located 18 inches from the side wall, with 2 feet of clear space on the other side to allow for transfers or assistance. When one side of your body is weaker than the other, use a configuration that feels safer and more comfortable for you.
    • Entry doors should open to the outside to give you maximum room to move. If the door opens into a narrow hallway, consider replacing it with a pocket door. To avoid expensive remodeling -- tearing out and replacing the wall to mount the door inside -- hang the door hardware on the wall outside of the bathroom. To keep a pocket door from sliding all the way into the wall, screw a C-shaped cabinet handle (that your fingers can easily slip into) to the far edge of the door.
    • If you are unable to reconfigure the bathroom door, remove it and use a shower curtain rod and shower curtain to give you privacy.
    • Reduce falling hazards with nonskid tile. Tile is impervious to water, easy to clean, and easier to move on for the wheelchair user. Nonskid tiles have a special coating that creates a higher friction rate than noncoated tiles. Nonskid coatings are also available to apply to your current flooring; ask about them at your local tile, bath, or home improvement store.
    • Make the entire bathroom a “wet room.” Consider mounting tile to the walls as well as floors, making the entire bathroom impervious to water. Doing so makes the room easy to clean and maintain.
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    AShelley Peterman Schwarz, Neurology, answered
    Here are some tips for making your accessible kitchen safer:

    Consider putting child safety locks on all cupboards and cabinets. In addition to keeping children out of hazardous materials, these are helpful for keeping people with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia safe as well.

    Get in the habit of closing cabinet doors and drawers when you are not actively using them; this will cut down the risk of someone else walking into them. Mark the end and inside edges of doors and drawers with strips of bright-colored tape so that someone with poor vision can easily discern that the door or drawer is open. Safety yellow/orange or red is often a good choice but use the color most visible to the one with the visual impairment.

    Use lights and vibrating alarms to remind you that you are cooking:
    • Turn the oven light or the light over your stove on to remind you that you have something in the oven.
    • Attach a Sonic Boom Alarm Clock with Bed Shaker to a lamp in the kitchen. (Yes a bed shaker). Use as you would an oven timer. Set the alarm for when your food should come out and when time is up, it will flash, vibrate, and emit a 98-decibel audible alarm; one or any combination will get the attention of someone who is deaf, hard of hearing, or who tends to forget they were cooking.
    • Light-weight timers and pagers that are worn on your body will signal the wearer, by vibration and audible alerts, when it is time to remove dinner from the oven.
    Tame electrical cords either with commercial cord hooks (plastic devices with hooks on each end to keep a cord wrapped), hook and loop fastener tapes, or twisty ties, or by hiding them in empty toilet paper or paper towel tubes.

    Wrap pot handles with contrasting tape for better visibility; always turn pot handles to the inside of the stove.

    Remove throw rugs (tripping hazards) and reduce clutter. A neat and orderly kitchen is safer and much more enjoyable to work in.
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    AShelley Peterman Schwarz, Neurology, answered
    Here are some tips for organizing your accessible kitchen:
    • Place frequently used or heavy items in lower cabinets. Consider adding pull-out boards under the countertop as a step between shelves and counter, slide-out shelves in the cabinets for easier access to items, or spring-assisted shelving to help raise heavy items to countertop height. See these options demonstrated at a quality kitchen or cabinet shop.
    • Store dishes vertically within easy reach. Instead of stacking heavy dishes, stand them on end. (Do the same with baking sheets and pans.) You can purchase cabinets with this feature or create your own by adding small dowels to create a space to stand plates in existing cabinets. Inexpensive, ready-made inserts may be found at discount stores or mail-order catalogs. To make access to dishes even easier, move them to a lower cabinet that is easier to reach and consider removing doors to this heavily used area.
    • Install cabinet, drawer, and pull-down, under-the-cabinet organizers. It is much easier (and safer in the case of knives) to find things if you have a place for everything and everything in its place. Standard organizers are made for drawers, cabinets, pantries, and more. See what is available at a kitchen design store online or in your home town; mail order catalogs often offer inexpensive versions. To make your own low-cost drawer organizers, use binder clips and an assortment of flat boxes and containers and clip them together.
    • Use lightweight baskets inside cupboards to keep small things tidy and within reach.
    • Use a Lazy Susan or turntable in the refrigerator and in cupboards to bring items to you rather than having to reach for them.