Ron and Jane Hopkins know how challenging an inaccessible home can be for people with disabilities.
As newlyweds 18 years ago, the couple lived in the tiny two-story house in Ellet where Jane Hopkins grew up. She had to lift her husband’s wheelchair up and down the two steps leading into the house, and they had to connect a spray attachment to the sink in the small bathroom to create a makeshift shower.
“It definitely wasn’t accessible,” said Ron Hopkins, who has cerebral palsy.
Those kinds of obstacles are common in a world built for able-bodied people, the Hopkinses say. And unfortunately, adaptive products designed to deal with those obstacles are often expensive, especially for people with limited incomes.
So the Hopkinses put their ingenuity to work and came up with their own ideas for adapting a home, many of them inexpensive. They compiled those ideas into a new book, Remodel for Accessibility: Suggestions to Improve the Living Quality of Your Home.
The book covers everything from choosing kitchen utensils with easy-to-grip handles to designing a bathroom to accommodate a person with mobility problems. Some are tips the Hopkinses have put into use, but many are just ideas they devised from listening to friends’ concerns or from contemplating the challenges they knew others face.
The couple lives in an apartment in East Akron, so they can’t always make the changes they’d like to their own home. Their carpet is a good example: Ron Hopkins’ powered wheelchair has loosened it over the years, causing it to buckle. They’re hoping to have it replaced with linoleum — not Jane Hopkins’ favorite, but “sometimes you have to be willing to give up what you like for functionality,” she said.
Both have long been aware of the needs of people with limitations. Ron Hopkins was born with cerebral palsy, which requires him to use a wheelchair and gives him full use of only one hand. Jane Hopkins is a former home health aide and the mother of a son with learning disabilities and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, who’s accustomed to considering the needs of others and looking at situations from their point of view.
Some of the ideas in the Hopkinses’ book don’t add significantly to the cost of an item — for example, choosing dining chairs with arms for people who have trouble getting into or out of a seated position, or opting for an electric stove as a safer choice than gas for people with vision, mobility or comprehension issues.
Other ideas are useful for anyone, regardless of their physical abilities. They suggest such features as bathroom mirrors that tilt to accommodate people of different heights, sheet straps to keep fitted sheets in place and slide-out shelves in kitchen cupboards to provide easier access.
Their favorite ideas, however, are the ones that require more creativity than money, such as making a flatware handle easier to grip by slipping on the foam cylinder from a hair curler or wrapping the handle with duct tape.
They’re continually thinking of inexpensive solutions for themselves or their friends. When one friend with vision problems kept knocking over drinking glasses, for example, Jane Hopkins simply turned a margarine tub upside down and cut a hole in it to provide a stable holder. And Ron Hopkins attached his keys to his wheelchair with an ID badge reel so if he drops them, he can just reel them back in.
They welcome the challenge of solving problems simply and inexpensively.
“Sometimes you’ve just got to sit down and think about it,” Jane Hopkins said. “… Don’t look at something for what it is. Look at what it can be.”
Remodel for Accessibility was produced in association with the Microenterprise Program of the County of Summit Developmental Disabilities Board. The book is available for $8 at the Gallery Store at the board’s Ellet facility, 2420 Wedgewood Drive, Akron, or at the Cuyahoga Falls facility at 2355 Second St. It can also be ordered by contacting microenterprise adviser Gary Peters at email@example.com or 330-634-8186.
In addition, the book is sold at the Market Path store in Highland Square and the Sampler Store in Hudson. Those stores can add a markup to the cost, Peters said.
Mary Beth Breckenridge can be reached at 330-996-3756 or firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also become a fan on Facebook at http://tinyurl.com/mbbreck, follow her on Twitter @MBBreckenridge and read her blog at www.ohio.com/blogs/mary-beth.