When it comes to accessible home modifications, deciding who to hire for the project is just as important as deciding which project you really need. When you have a chronic illness or catastrophic injury, hiring the wrong person or company can jeopardize your safety and your finances.
It is essential to get skilled, experienced advice and technical guidance—for your safety, well-being, and your finances. How do you know when it’s time to hire a pro?
Here are real-life examples that show four common mistakes from hiring inexperienced vendors or contractors for accessible home modifications and how we helped our clients get exactly what they needed.
Wheelchair Transfer Issue – Vendor Neglect
One wheelchair-bound client with a spinal cord injury needed to be able to get to the second floor in his home, so he bought a chair lift with installation in order to get up the stairs. Because he lived alone, he needed to be able to transfer from the chair to the lift by himself.
However, the vendor failed to ask some critical questions and left the client with two problems. First, the seat of the chair lift did not provide the width/depth needed for his stability in independent sitting. Second, the installed height of the lift was much higher than the height of the wheelchair—making a safe, independent transfer impossible (shown in the image below on the left). As a result, he suffered a few falls.
As occupational therapists and home modifications experts, we know which questions to ask. We came in after the chair lift was installed due to problems he was experiencing transferring at the chair lift. We opted to increase the depth of the chair lift seat and modify the height of his wheelchair seat cushion to allow for a safe, level transfer (shown in the image below on the right).
If the client had reached out to Thrive for Life in the first place, we could have asked better questions to find the right chair lift option. As occupational therapists, we can anticipate what needs someone will have more effectively than someone who does not have experience in the healthcare field.
With more complete client information combined with our technical knowledge and medical background, we can give our client several options with pros, cons, and costs of each one. The result is a well-educated choice with better results.
Contractor Follows ADA Guidelines Instead of Client Needs
Inexperienced contractors (with no occupational therapy background) who follow Americans with Disability Act (ADA) guidelines without the ability to adapt to their clients’ specific medical needs can make huge, costly mistakes. (See 3 reasons why remodeled bathrooms should not be ADA compliant).
This is what happened with one client who had a high-level (C4) spinal cord injury. She hired a contractor to build a beautiful 60”x30” roll-in shower that was ADA compliant, but the shower failed to meet her individual complex medical needs.
Because the shower wasn’t long enough for her to recline in, she could not elevate her legs after her bowel and bladder program—a must for reducing vasovagal responses preventing dizziness or fainting. Because there wasn’t enough room for her to put her legs up, her bath chair had to be rotated perpendicular to the shower fixtures in order for her legs to be elevated. To make matters worse, the water where her legs were positioned drained out of the shower instead of into it—this resulted in significant water damage over time. (See image below.)
To meet the needs of this individual, we had to go in and redo the shower entirely. It needed an expansion of over a foot of space in order to accommodate her when her chair was reclined, and keep the water from draining outside the shower and causing additional water damage to the home.
Contractor Overlooks Less Expensive, Simple Alternatives
Not every bathroom needs an expensive, total remodel to accommodate accessibility needs. Clients can sometimes save thousands of dollars with simpler, less expensive alternatives.
Occupational therapists know many tips, tricks, hacks, and workarounds that fit the needs of their clients while providing both mobility and safety. For example, sometimes a client can install equipment that works with the existing shower that they have. A sliding shower chair with lateral track, a ramp, or lifting the floor can be smaller, less-expensive remedies to support a client’s needs. These choices can save thousands of dollars.
Another midpoint choice could be to simply lift the floor of the shower so that it can be accessed at a wheelchair level.
View this post on Instagram
Here’s another example: If the doorway in a home is just a few inches too narrow to fit a walker, we can switch the two front wheels. Moving the wheels to the inside of the chair or walker legs instantly makes the walker 2”-4” narrower. With the addition of offset hinges to help the door swing all the way open, these accessibility tools can get you through the doorway without having to widen it to 36”; saving hundreds of dollars.
View this post on Instagram
A portable shower can be another alternative to a full bathroom remodel, saving thousands.
View this post on Instagram
Contractor/Vendor Is Unaware of Options or Alternatives
When you go straight to a contractor or vendor for an accessible home modification, you may not hear about all of the options available for you. Some contractors only know about standard accessible options and are unaware of alternatives. Some contractors favor their own product lines. For example, vendors who sell a line of stair climbers or chair lifts may neglect to consider vertical platform lifts, prefabricated ramp systems, or rental options for clients on a budget. Those situations don’t favor the client who needs the modification.
An occupational therapy pro not only has the depth and breadth of knowledge to offer many options and solutions, but they also don’t have a vested interest in selling a particular product line. They can give unbiased opinions and are held to high professional standards and the OT code of ethics.
Ask us about individualized, custom solutions that fit your specific needs and provide maximum independence, safety, and cost-effectiveness.