Breaking Down Barriers

    By Debbie Hartzler, OTR/L, CAPS

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    Our booth at the remodeling show with our barrier-free shower on the right

    We just spent the weekend manning our booth at The Remodeling Show in Kansas City.  The show offers a great opportunity to talk with a wide spectrumof individuals from all walks of life.  One of our displays features a walk-in shower with a sign above it that says “Barrier Free.”  As people passed by, many would stop to admire the clean, sleek look of the floor to ceiling tiled shower stall that features no curb or ramp at the entrance.  Some would ask, “What does barrier-free mean?”

    As an Occupational Therapist, I think of barrier-free, or the removal of barriers, as the solution to many difficult situations I encounter when trying to transition an individual from a care setting back into their home.  For those who have mobility and balance issues, any time one foot must leave the ground to access an area, or if a threshold is present, or if there is an inadequate amount of space for them and/or their mobility device, there is a barrier to overcome.

    The barriers I encounter the most often are:

    • Steps leading into the home;
    • Narrow doorways that don’t allow for access to rooms such as bathrooms or hallways;
    • Stairs leading to both the upper and lower levels;
    • Thresholds leading into a bathtub or shower.

    Our specialty at LifeWise Renovations® is developing solutions to these common barriers that meet both the physical and aesthetic needs of the client.

    Overcoming Another Barrier

    After speaking to some people at The Remodeling Show, I discovered there is another barrier looming out there.  That is the barrier of people’s mindset.  There are quite a few people who feel that the universal design and barrier-free solutions we offer are something that they will NEVER need.
    In describing the features of a curb-less shower, the majority of the people commented on what a wonderful idea it was.  From others I heard, “I don’t need that,” “I am not old enough for that,” or “That would be great for my parents.”  Some of the individuals were saying this as they walked away with their canes.   While the former may be true for some, I reflect back on two situations that occurred in my own life within the last year.

    Our house is a two-story with two steps to get in from both entryways, a half bath on the main level, and all bedrooms and full baths up or down a flight of stairs.  I was having a gathering of coworkers at my house and invited one of my friends who is in a wheelchair.  How eye opening for me!  We built our house 18 years ago at a different stage in our lives.  Neither the architect or builder suggested or made accommodations at the entrance that would have allowed my friend access on her own.  It took two of us to bump her up the two steps to get inside.  Once in, there was no accessible bathroom for her to use (the door opening on my half bath is only 24” wide).  The issue we now refer to as “visitability” (having an accessible entry and bathroom on the main level) was confronting me in my very own home….and I’m an OT!

    The second situation occurred on the day I received the phone call that my 21-year-old daughter had been in a car accident and was in the emergency room.  Thankfully, she survived and was left with a broken pelvis, vertebrae, scapula and wrist (that’s a lot of bones).  When she was discharged, she came back home to live with us while she was recuperating.  She was left using a walker, unable to put full weight onto her right leg, and using a wheelchair when traveling longer distances.  As you might have already guessed, we ended up with a hospital bed in the living room and a portable commode right next to it.

    The “New” Barrier-Free

    I have now expanded my definition of barriers to include those of denial and closed mindedness.  No one knows what the future holds for us, our friends, or our family.  It is my hope that as time goes on we will all see and appreciate the beauty and simplicity of universal design for what it is: an opportunity to safely use and access all areas of the home no matter your age, ability, shape or size.  Then we will all truly be what I describe and see as barrier-free.