Bedrooms with Benefits

Mobility Makeover Magic

If the kitchen is a family's informal gathering place and the living room is for entertaining guests, then the ideal bedroom is a haven for rest and relaxation. Accessibility obstacles in this room, therefore, are not just frustrating. They can also disrupt the peaceful atmosphere needed to enjoy a good night's sleep (not to mention that they can exacerbate the frenzy of a typical weekday morning).

Accessible Sleeping: All Aboard!

So let's start with the basics: Yes, upstairs bedrooms can possibly be accessed via patient and/or vehicle lifts or elevators, but for convenience, universal design experts usually recommend having a bedroom and a full bathroom (bathtub/shower, sink and toilet) on the ground floor of a home. Of course, doorways should be wide enough (32") to easily accommodate wheelchairs and scooters, as well as other mobility equipment, such as walkers, rollators and patient lifts. Bedrooms with open floor plans that minimize blind spots, corners and hallways are optimal.

Major self-help and caregiver tasks that need to be accomplished in the bedroom include transferring in and out of bed and getting dressed.

To facilitate transfers, the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago's LIFE Center ( suggests using a firm mattress at a 22" height from the floor — an optimal height for users transferring to wheelchairs. LIFE Center also suggests leaving 3' of transfer space to the side of the bed, to make room for wheelchairs and transfer equipment, such as boards or patient lifts. Reinforced ceilings may be necessary to accommodate overhead patient lifts.

The other big task in the bedroom is dressing — not just the actions of putting clothes on, but also the tasks of selecting, retrieving and returning clothing and accessories to their storage spaces.

Forget the old sitcom images of unorganized closets crammed to the ceiling with clothes, shoes and knickknacks all conspiring to form an avalanche whenever the doors are opened. Companies and products specializing in closet design and organization now can help keep belongings under control and make storage more accessible. Modular systems of clothing rods, shelves and drawers enable pieces to be bought individually to fit storage spaces of various sizes… and users of different heights. The home improvement section of the Smart Senior Web blog ( suggests trying ClosetMaid ( or Easy Closets ( for accessible closet designs and products. Retailers specializing in storage such as The Container Store ( and Hold Everything ( also offer modular closet design products that can store clothing at lower heights as needed.

Larger "roll-in" closets — or closets undergoing a major makeover — also can function as dressing areas, according to home improvement guru Bob Vila ( and the Paralyzed Veterans of America ( An accessible dressing room, Vila points out, can reduce the time required for wheelchair users to get dressed because clothing, jewelry and accessories are in a centralized space instead of scattered in different locations throughout the bedroom. While Vila says many wheelchair users get dressed on their beds, he suggests an accessible changing bench with a hinged top, which can also provide storage space. More elaborate dressing areas also can include accessible counters, sinks and ironing boards that fold up and down. Such features reduce the amount of time a wheelchair user needs to spend maneuvering around beds and other bedroom obstacles to reach various parts of the bedroom, Vila says.

Case Study: Bunkbed Brainstorm

And ultimately, a streamlined, accessible bedroom translates into fewer frantic weekday mornings and more opportunities to safely hit that snooze button.

Bright Ideas for the Bedroom: Products That Work

Bright Ideas for the Bedroom: Products That Work

The H-250 multipositional chair from Barton Medical can be configured as a chair or a wheeled stretcher to facilitate transfers in and out of bed. Capable of Trendelenburg positioning; (877) 8-BARTON;

This ceiling lift from Guldmann is designed to protect both caregiver and user by providing a safe and comfortable ride. Customization options provide flexibility for various settings and environments; (800) 664-8834;

Flexi-Disc by Phil-E-Slide is a transfer system using two circular layers of material connected at the center so the top layer rotates Lazy-Susan style. The user sits atop the Flexi-Disc, then is rotated into a position that facilitates transferring to a wheelchair or bed. In three sizes up to 17" in diameter; (866) 675-4338;

The LL-570 lift chair by Pride Mobility Products is created to provide luxurious comfort via an overstuffed seat cushion, pillow-back design and three positions, including a recline position designed for relaxed sleep. With a 375-lb. weight capacity and choice of fabrics or vinyl options; (800) 800-8586;

EasyPivot patient lift enables a single caregiver to safely perform transfers among beds, wheelchairs and commodes. Sling-free design; (800) 467-7967;

The Hoyer Advance Lift by Sunrise Medical features a compact style with a swan-neck leg design to accommodate larger furniture. An oversized handle increases control, and the footpad reduces the force needed to initiate movement; (800) 333-4000;

Case Study: Bunkbed Brainstorm

During a fall 2004 cover shoot at the Southern California home of Jacob Meslovich (seen here getting a lift from big brother, Nick), we peeked into the boys' bedroom and noticed a rite of childhood updated with an accessibility tweak.

The boys slept in bunkbeds, with Nick taking the top tier (isn't that an older brother's right?), and Jacob, who has cerebral palsy and was then nearly 5 years old, in the bottom bunk. Jacob's bunk had been furnished with a typical bed-length guard rail to prevent accidental spills and offer a sturdy handhold.

But parents Greg and Jeanne also had the end of the guard rail, near the foot of the bed, cut away to provide Jacob an entryway. Jacob's terrific upper-body strength enabled him to haul himself from his wheelchair or from the floor into his bed — making him much more independent in one more daily activity. Turn out the lights and let the zzzzz's begin!

Accessible Sleeping: All Aboard!

Accessible bedrooms aren't just for homes anymore. Amtrak passenger trains with "sleeping cars" offer private, accessible bedrooms with accessible bathroom and shower facilities, transfer seats, grab bars, attendant call buttons and room to store wheelchairs. Passengers with mobility disabilities get first priority and can book accessible rooms in advance up to 14 days before the train's departure. After that, anyone is free to book an accessible room if all the other bedrooms have been purchased… so reservations well in advance are recommended. Amtrak also offers discounted fares to people with disabilities if they can provide documentation (such as a physician's letter or a membership card from a disabilities organization). Go to or call (800) USA-RAIL for more information.

This article originally appeared in the July 2006 issue of Mobility Management.

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