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wheelchair accessibility backyard outdoors

If you’re planning a backyard project this summer, why not take some time to make your yard truly an accessible space for anyone who might enter your life?

Having a wheelchair-accessible backyard isn’t just for families with wheelchairs in them, it’s a great way to announce to the world that everyone’s welcome — whether they’re on crutches, in a chair, or in their prime health. It’s also a great value-adding sales feature in your home, making it desirable to everyone from young families with trike-riding toddlers right through to elderly folk with walkers, and anyone else in between.

While there are a million ways to customize outdoor spaces in light of different mobility challenges, we’ll just focus on the larger, more general issues, assuming you’re not creating a space for live-in family member, but just making it accessible for visitors.

Spaces

When you’re sitting outside, whether you’re in a wheelchair or not, you want a level, smooth place for sitting at. Heaven forbid your drink should be unstable, after all. Wheelchairs need a 60” space for doing wheelies (because everyone likes wheelies) and turning around. Ideally, there’s even more space, and these open spaces will be scattered around the area.

Paths

If you’ve got more than one area you’re using for outdoor life, like a kitchen, poolside, and a separate lounging area, you’ll want paths between each space. They should be level, smooth, and free of joints so everyone travels with ease.

Likewise, to make life easy for those who might visit, you should have a nice accessible path extending all the way from the front curbside around to the back of the house, in case they’d like to avoid challenges posed by walking through your home.

travertine pavers backyard

When planning for paths, ideally they’ll be 3.5-feet wide, 42”, and smooth. No paving stones, no gravel, no bark mulch. Even without a chair, those using crutches, walkers, or who are just unstable on their feet will find mulch, gravel, or stepping stones a problem.

The perfect solution is always concrete. It’s flat, can be seamless, stands up to years of use, and is as non-slip as a surface can be. Some tiles can be very good, and their textured surfaces are minimal enough so as not to cause tripping or instability. There are anti-slip products available, though, if you feel your terracotta, slate, or other tiles might need extra help.

Wood pathways look nice, but if not properly sealed, they’ll become slippery in wet conditions.

If there are any reasons for rises over bumps or roots, add a ramp to make it more manageable, as even one or two stairs can pose considerable problems for those with mobility issues. It sounds crazy, but the recommended parameters for ramps is for every 1” of rise required, 12” of ramp is needed. So if you’re going up just 3”, a 3-foot-long ramp is ideal, if you want it simple for a wheelchair to go over it.

Seating

When a wheelchair pulls up to a table, it’s going to take up a lot of space both at the side of the table and underneath it. If you truly want to make them feel comfortable at the table, ensure there is plenty of space for them to pull right up and have their legs underneath. Have removable chairs and extra space.

There are custom picnic tables and other accessible solutions, but with a little creativity or a nice long table, you’ll find a way to include everyone at mealtime.

Also, where there are lawnchairs or other casual seating, make sure there is a nice wide space right there, on a flat surface, with a table there for beverages, so that anyone in a wheelchair can roll up and be apart of the lounging without having to have a fuss made first.

Indoor access

A sliding glass door with a nice, wide entrance of 36” or wider will make it easy for wheelchair owners to get indoors if they need to use the facilities or they want to get involved in kitchen banter as the barbecue prep is done.

A low threshold to cross, open spaces inside the door, and easy access to a bathroom with a wide doorway will make a visit pleasant for anyone with all levels of mobility.

Gardening for all

If you like the idea of communal gardening and you want others to feel they can enjoy your gardens and get involved, consider raised garden beds, especially if you’re a big food-grower and the odds are high when it comes to harvesting some veggies just before your BBQ gets fired up.

Wheelchair gardener

Accessibility should be the norm

It’s unfortunate that so many homes and yards are designed without accessibility in mind, but it’s uplifting to know this is changing, thanks to more considerate designers and progressive building codes.

There’s no law saying you can’t have a tiered backyard design, but you’ll feel regret that first time someone with mobility issues visits your home and is unable to enjoy it comfortably.

It’s a big world full of people facing all kinds of challenges. Designing your home, and yard, to make it inclusive to all is a wonderful way to be a great citizen, empowering friend, and fabulous host.

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Steffani Cameron

Steffani Cameron is a Victoria BC-based writer on a variety of topics. Here on the BuildDirect blog, she specializes in writing about smaller, urban spaces. How do you make the most of your smaller space? How do you decorate it to suit you? And how do you wage the war against clutter and win? This is Steff’s specialty.