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Making a Home Accessible Can Make All the Difference as We Age

by David Nickle
City Centre Mirror

Aging at home

Med+ Home Health Care manager Ron Wiskin (left) and homeowner Sandra Sexton stands in the acessible bathroom being built at her Hendon Avenue home, on Monday, Sept. 25, that will accommodate her husband and aging parents.

Sandra and Dan Sexton are doing the kind of work on their North York home that usually comes much later in life.

Although they are only in their 40s, an ALS diagnosis for Dan means the home will have to become entirely accessible, as he transitions from using a walker to eventually an electric wheelchair. The Sextons are planning to offer housing to Dan’s 82-year-old father as well, which will feature a new lower-floor bath with wide doors, a roll-in shower and a widened side entrance to accommodate the wheelchair.

“You have to plan longer term,” Sandra said.

The couple are working with Ronny Wiskin, a specialist in home renovation for accessibility, through the Toronto-based Med+ Home Healthcare company.

The company assists homeowners to modify their environment using what are known as universal design principles a seven-point checklist that balances esthetics and comfort with accessibility for people who might be confined to a wheelchair, or have other mobility issues.

“It’s the design of products and environments that are usable by people of all abilities,” he said. “We try to mix barrier-free design and the esthetics.”

Making an environment such as a bathroom barrier-free doesn’t necessarily cost any more than would a typical renovation, Wiskin said.

“If you’re spending thousands of dollars renovating a bathroom and there’s no difference in cost, why not make it a room that can function for you if you’ve got any type of injury over your life, or an illness?” he said.

For bathrooms, that can mean something as simple as building a roll-in shower rather than a deep tub, making doors wide enough to accommodate a wheelchair, and installing a narrower vanity, so a wheelchair can move inside.

Other things can cost more chair lifts or elevators to move from floor to floor, and ramps or lifts to make the front door of the home accessible.

And that can add up. That’s why the Toronto-based Older Women’s Network is putting pressure on the provincial government, through the Living In Place campaign, to alter the Ontario Building Code to require that all new apartment and condominiums be built with universal design principles.

Older Women’s Network spokesperson Kate Chung said she spent about $18,000 to make relatively small modifications to the older condominium she and her husband shared as he became dependent on a walker. But while she was able to replace the tub with a shower and repurpose the linen closet as an accessible laundry facility, she wasn’t able to widen doorways so her husband could easily access the bathroom.

“So we realized finally that we have to get out of the building,” she said.

Ontario discontinued its Healthy Homes Renovation Tax Credit in the 2017 taxation year. But you may still be eligible for financial assistance.

Ontario Renovates provides funding for urgent repairs, renovations, and upgrades to increase accessibility for low to moderate income homeowners. Funding of up to $15,000 per unit is available. Accessibility modifications are particularly beneficial for seniors to allow them to ‘age in place’ and persons with disabilities who require unit modifications.

Property owners who build or modify a residence for a senior or a person with a disability may be eligible for property tax relief.

The Secondary Suites Program provides funding of up to $25,000 per unit for the creation of a secondary or garden suite which is an effective means to increase the supply of affordable housing.

Contact your local municipality for more information about these programs.

David Nickle is a reporter and columnist covering Toronto City Hall for Metroland Media Toronto. He can be reached at dnickle@insidetoronto.com. Follow him on Twitter at @davidnickle , and InsideToronto on Facebook Email: dnickle@insidetoronto.com

Original at https://www.insidetoronto.com/community-story/7567793-making-a-home-accessible-can-make-all-the-difference-as-we-age/