Special-Needs Construction

Freedom is about individual independence. Freedom comes from not having to rely on others for your care. For those with disabilities or special needs, a home designed to accommodate their lifestyle is a freedom that provides mobility, safety and dignity.

While the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) helps make commercial spaces and public buildings accessible, there are local building codes that must be addressed with special needs projects. With private residential single-family dwellings and group homes, you need the expertise of a knowledgeable regional contractor to help guide the design, construction or modification process.

The construction professionals at Shells Only Home Improvements are experts in all of the engineering, builds and modifications necessary to accommodate special-needs individuals, both adults and children.  Many of these home modifications are useful also for elderly people who wish to 'age in place' and take advantage of the new Universal Design ideas.



Proper modifications will ease home entry and exit for those with wheelchairs or walkers. They will also help prevent accidents caused by improper access design and hazards such as slippery conditions and bad visibility. Recommended changes include:

  • Doorways enlarged to 36" wide (32" is generally the minimum width needed for a wheelchair to pass through). Shells Only pros know the optimal ways to make this change, including the use of offset hinges to increase the clearance.
  • An overhang or canopy cover to the entrance to protect against the elements.
  • An automatic light at the main entrance.
  • Path lighting.
  • Slip-resistant flooring inside and outside the entrance.
  • A lever door handle, and a keyless lock system.
  • Modified threshold (step up) at the main entrance so it is less than ½".

If you have multiple steps, or steep angles, you should think about installing a ramp for easier access.


Ramps can be done tastefully and complement the design of the home. Ramps should slope gently, and provide plenty of walking and turning room. The slope of the ramp must be as small as possible — 1:12 — so every inch of rise requires one foot of run. Shells Only Home Improvements will install the level landings that are required at the top and bottom of each run.


As the center for food storage and meal preparation, the kitchen is one of the most important rooms in the house. For individuals with a disability, getting around in a regular kitchen may be difficult or impossible.

  • Doorways should be 36" wide (32" is generally the minimum width needed for a wheelchair to get through).
  • Clear floor space. A space with minimum dimension of at least 30" x 48" must be provided to accommodate a single wheelchair. Sometimes that space can be provided under fixtures. At least 60" in diameter is required to complete a 180 degree turn.
  • Sinks and countertops. Lowered to 30" providing a minimum knee clearance of 27" from the floor. Under-counter base cabinets can be removed for better access to (under) the sink or work area. The sink should be shallow, only 5" to 6-½" deep.
  • Water faucets. Knob-type water faucets can be replaced with a single-lever or loop model that is operable with only one hand.
  • Lower cabinets. Lower cabinets can be built with a 10-inch, recessed toe-kick enabling better access to the back of the cabinet.
  • Wall cabinets. Lowering the wall cabinets from the standard 18" above the counter to counter height makes the second cabinet shelf accessible. Your Shells pros can include pull-out cutting boards, slide-out or roll-out shelves and baskets, Lazy Susans and drawers with full extension glides.
  • Appliances. Built-in microwaves, ranges, refrigerators and freezers all come in under-counter models. We will make sure the controls are on the front of the range to eliminate the need to reach over the burners.
  • Safety. Paramount in all areas of the kitchen. All under-cabinet edges will be smooth and free from sharp areas, and a fire extinguisher will be placed in a lower cabinet for quick access.

Space permitting, many clients opt for a 29" high eating bar with open area beneath to facilitate quick meals. Light switches, electrical outlets and thermostats will be located in accessible areas.

Shells Only Home Improvements can design beautiful and efficient kitchens that maximize the independence, convenience and changing abilities of all household members.


  • Doorways. As noted above, doorways be 36" wide (32" is generally the minimum width needed for a wheelchair to get through).
  • Grab bars. Will be fully anchored, with a bar diameter of between 1-¼" to 1-½". Reinforcements behind walls will be installed if needed.
  • Rotating space. A single wheelchair must be able to rotate freely within a bathroom. At least 60" in diameter is required to complete a 180 degree turn.
  • Sinks and countertops. A handicap sink must extend at least 17" from the back wall. The maximum height for a sink(top) or sink installed in a countertop is 34".
  • Toilets. Handicap toilets must have sufficient space to accommodate the wheelchair to the sides of the toilet or in front of it. Horizontal grab bars must be installed behind the toilet and in the nearest wall or partition. Toilet seat heights must be between 17" to 19" above the finished floor. The lever for flush control must be placed on the open side of the toilet with the clearest floor space. Often, there may be a need for a raised toilet seat.
  • Walk-in bathtubs and roll-in showers. Floor plan and budget permitting, these popular options greatly enhance the quality of life.

Some of the special-needs items and accessories feature fold-away designs. Mirrors that angle down allow everyone to use the bathroom safely.

The bottom line: Each special-needs project is as unique as the client we are building it for. Your Shells Only Home Improvements pro is as good a listener as he or she is a construction expert. Talk to us.

Sources: www.ada.gov; Shells Only Home Improvements; AgeInPlace.com; AdaptiveAccess.com