Implementing Accessibility to Improve Your Home

5 Jun 2024

For most people, the home is where you might spend a large portion of your day. Having a home that is organized and efficient can make a huge difference in your day to day experiences. Let’s explore how we can use accessibility to improve the functionality of your living space. 

As someone who lives with a cognitive disability, considering accessibility when organizing my home is imperative. A disorganized living space makes a huge negative impact on my well being and has even led me to burn out in the past. Since I started to consider my disability when organizing my home it has had incredibly beneficial effects on my mental health. 

I don’t want to dive into big projects and changes to the home, such as major renovations and construction as I currently rent and these kinds of changes may be impossible for some. The things I will discuss fall into a category of low cost, easy home improvements that will have a great impact in your life. 

Some Things to Consider When Organizing a Living Space:

Clear Pathways 

One of the biggest frustrations I face is when pathways and hallways are easily blocked by items. I used to live in an apartment where the front hall would be blocked every time I went skiing, got groceries, or brought things home. This made it extremely difficult to keep the space clean and I struggled to motivate myself to put these things away since the access was restricted. In my current apartment, I’ve designed it so that when items are brought home or if the house is messy, the pathways and entrances to every space are not obstructed. This also is beneficial for those with physical disabilities that may require assistive devices when navigating a space. For example, a person who uses a wheelchair would benefit from having a clutter-free pathway.

Calculated Locations for Household Items

With my cognitive disability, if I don’t see something I will often forget that it exists. Many times I’ve bought the same item at the store that I already had, just because I couldn’t see it. I’ve adapted my space so that commonly used items are always in view. This doesn’t mean I’ve taken off my kitchen cabinet doors, which some folks online have done, but it means that I organize my spaces so that smaller objects sit at the front and larger objects at the back. This way I can still see everything in that space. For those that have a visual disability, giving things a home that they are consistently located in would have the same benefits. Along with commonly used items being stored in places a person frequents.

Designated “Doom Piles” / Drop Zones

For those that might not know, “doom piles” are piles of items that don’t yet have a specific spot in the house. You might have seen this in the form of a “junk drawer” or a bin of miscellaneous items that hasn’t been unpacked since your last move. These piles can certainly become a problem if they get too large or if there are too many of them. However, having designated piles and drop zones for these items will keep your space tidy and make it easier to clean. Placing these drop zones at the entrance of your house, or in a high traffic area, such as the kitchen, will improve the functionality of these designated piles. Keep these zones in reach of places that you’re cleaning up on a regular basis. Drop zones can also be utilized to reduce clutter obstructing the pathways in your home. Having a designated space where you can place your items when you arrive home can make a great difference.

Designated “Everyday Carry Items” Location

Similarly to the previous concept of “Calculated Locations for Household Items,” set a location to put the things you need when you leave your home. If you need to remember to bring that book back to your friend, or even just your wallet and keys, try placing these items in a spot that is on your path to leave. In my apartment I have a designated spot for the things I have to remember because if it’s not in my way or my view I will likely forget to bring it. An example is a tray by the front door that can hold your everyday carry items. But remember to avoid making this a “doom pile.”

Designated Writing Space

Having a space to write down ideas, things to do, lists, etcetera, is a great way to keep yourself organized. Whether it’s a notepad, whiteboard, or digital device, clearing a spot on a desk or wall for this will help you to stay organized. Having this spot in an easily accessible location is imperative because if it is hidden away you might not remember what you wrote. But, by having it in a commonly used and easily accessible location, you will have a higher chance of interacting with your notes (in whichever format suits you best) which will increase their value.

Improved Lighting

Lighting is a great way to improve the visual appeal of your home but it can also have great effects on your mental health. Many new homes these days are built with “down lights” or “big lights” on the ceiling. These are often very bright lights with cool tones. These are an affordable way to make a space extremely bright, however these lights can be mentally draining when used on a regular basis. Adding lights that are at a lower height and use warmer tones, create an atmosphere that has less visual stimuli and is easier on the eyes. Using these types of lights can also create an environment that is less stressful and easier to live in.

Separate Sound Spaces

This tip is extremely important if you’re living with another person or roommates. Sound spaces are areas in your home where the sound is shared. For instance, in my home the kitchen and the living room act as one sound space because the noise from the kitchen can be heard from the living room. Creating multiple sound spaces throughout the home is important for privacy as well as personal space. A home with fewer sound spaces will become problematic if there are several people sharing them. A good rule of thumb is to have 1 personal sound space per person living in the house plus 1 shared sound space for everyone. You can create more sound spaces by dividing rooms with furniture or hanging curtains but these are not as effective as fully constructed walls.

Use Labels, Color Coding and/or Textures

Using text labels and color coding is a common organizational practice. However, adding labels and colors to things only helps visually. I use labels for things such as; leftover food in unmarked containers, bins of items that are not transparent, designated spots for items, and more. Alternatives to flat text labels and color coding include adding different textures to items and locations or using braille labels.

Distraction-Free Zones

Creating spaces in your home for work, reading, entertainment, relaxing, etcetera, can help keep relevant items in specific areas as well as keep the spaces devoid of distractions. It also helps calm the mind as associating work with relaxation by the space you are in can negatively impact the relaxation. And alternatively, associating relaxation with work by the space you are in can reduce your work productivity.

Keep it Simple

Keep your organization methods simple. The last thing you want is to feel burdened and/or overwhelmed by the work of keeping your space overly organized. For instance, creating a system where putting your clothes in the hamper is as easy as throwing them on the floor will mean you won’t have to clean clothes up from your floor. But maybe having a system where you have to sort your clothes in separate hampers will make you leave your clothes on the floor all the time since the additional step is enough to discourage you. It is your space and you should always prioritize methods that are not only effective, but that you are comfortable with and appreciate.

These organization methods are some that are helpful for me personally, but are not rigid rules that you must follow. Everyone is different and they experience the world in different ways. Consider what you struggle with when designing your home and this way you can take these tips and adapt them to your experiences.