My husband & I moved into our long, low ranch style house when I was pregnant with Darren. It was September, 1985. We put an addition onto the house soon after moving in, but still had only one floor for 17 years. The spring and summer before Darren’s senior year of high school, we decided to build a second floor. We wanted it complete before the school year started, which it was. That summer, 2003, Darren, Ari and I lived at our shore house and traveled back and forth as needed for the renovations or various appointments. John lived in the house amid the construction Tuesday through Thursday, then joined us at the shore for long weekends. When it was done, we were all so excited! It was beautiful and everything we had hoped for.
Darren and Arianne had their “own space” upstairs including nice, big bedrooms and closets, a living room and a computer area. They had their privacy and we had ours.
Darren only enjoyed his new room for one school year, because when his injury occurred, his new room and bathroom weren’t accessible. We decided to put another addition on, over the garage, giving him a big bedroom, accessible bathroom and closet. We also needed to install an elevator.
For a lot of the time that I was in Atlanta with Darren, John was overseeing the new addition. We would talk all the time about the design, layout, colors, tile, flooring, etc., but it was John who was at home making all the decisions and dealing with the contractors.
Having been very involved with the town, schools and sports, people knew us and wanted to help. From the Mayor waiving all the permit fees to the contractors moving us up on their priority lists, everyone was doing what they could to complete the renovations as soon as possible. It was truly amazing how it all came together so quickly.
The elevator posed some special concerns, as there was only a limited amount of space to install it. While the elevator company and installer worked on the size and design, time was running out and we would arrive home to a not-quite-finished elevator. Darren had to use our bedroom downstairs and an inaccessible bathroom for the first few weeks he was home. It wasn’t great, but we managed.
His bedroom, closet and entryway had vinyl flooring that looked like a wood floor, and his bathroom was completely tiled. The first color blue John picked out was way too light, and we had that changed before Darren arrived home. Otherwise, the layout was great! The bathroom has a roll-in shower, grab bars on the walls near the toilet, a sink he could get in underneath, and counter space and drawers he could use easily. There was also a washer and dryer right in his bathroom, which was very convenient.
The closet had low rods and shelves he could reach, and plenty of floor space for larger items. Everything was designed with accessibility and ease of use in mind. The room would eventually accommodate his double bed, standing frame, Nu-Step machine, a large platform mat, dressers and a TV. We knew Darren was getting stronger every day, and we wanted to encourage him to be able to go things and get things for himself. The design worked out really well.
To get in the house, we had a small wooden ramp built to the back door. Other doors into the house have at least one step, and we have tipped him up and down a few times, but mostly he uses that door with the ramp.
Fortunately, the rest of the house is pretty accessible, except for the basement which has a full flight of stairs to get to. Sometimes his friends carry him down to watch TV or play pool or hang out down there, but he doesn’t get down there all too often.
Our kitchen table was too low for him to get under, so we had wood pieces made and cut to put on the bottom of the legs. It’s a little high for the rest of us, but not too bad. We also use “bed lifters” which are blocks of wood under our dining room table legs to raise that table up when we want to use that table. They are very inexpensive and can be purchased at places like Bed Bath & Beyond.
Another trick that Darren came up with was to install a large door handle on the outside of the door near the hinge side. This allows him to pull the door closed behind him without reaching all the way for the usual door knob. This is very handy!
As Darren has now moved into his own apartment, we did not make any other changes to the house. If he were going to stay, I would want to address the kitchen design, to make things more accessible for him, but there really isn’t a need for that now.