One creative wheelchair user has found a way of making her home accessible without breaking the bank. MARISKA MORRIS asks Penny Metcalf about DIY home modifications especially for wheelchair users
Penny Metcalf, author of I Can Do It, opens the glass door leading to the study. The door was formerly a window, and its new incarnation is one of many renovations made to the old house. The only other accessible entry point is the ramp leading into the kitchen, which was built by Penny’s husband, Charles.
Penny closes the door behind her by pulling a tennis ball, which is dangling from a piece of string next to the door frame. The string is attached to the open door and as Penny pulls down on the ball, the door shuts.
A pair of braai tongs is always with her to assist with picking up papers or to reach the sugar packet on a top shelf in the kitchen. With Charles’s carpentry skills, they were able to make most of the kitchen accessible. Drawers have replaced the cupboard doors and shelves; the wall cupboards have been lowered and a special worktop has been built.
The worktop, along with a gas stove top, are attached to wheels, which allow Penny to simply roll it out from underneath the counter. The couple cut costs in the bathroom by using strong, steel towel rails as grab rails.
“You just need to make sure the rail is very strong and that you have some good bolts in the wall,” Penny says. She warns against plastic towel rails, which are not necessarily strong enough.
Penny’s creativity comes from years of experience. In the 1980s, she helped renovate houses in Soweto to make them wheelchair accessible.
“We had to literally take the doors off their frames and hang a curtain to allow wheelchair users to pass through the doorway,” she notes. She also worked at the Independent Living Centre, which is where she became even more active in renovating existing buildings by assisting church officials to make their facilities wheelchair accessible. The most important lesson that her years in home modification have taught her is the importance of space.
“If a wheelchair user is house-hunting, they should look at old homes, because the rooms are big. You can barely get into most new homes,” she says.
Penny also emphasises the importance of taking the correct measurements. “Measure the wheelchair from armrest to armrest, as they can also add some width,” she notes. It is also important to include the width needed for the hands of a wheelchair user when pushing a manual wheelchair. With a bit of planning, anyone can do DIY home modifications.
ROLLING INSPIRATION contributor Mandy Latimore reviews I Can Do It by Penny Metcalf.
When ROLLING INSPIRATION asked me to review this I was keen to see what Penny Metcalf had put together, as I remember her from the Independent Living Centre (ILC) days in the 1980s, when we all used to bring in our “home fixes” – items that we had adapted to make our lives a little easier.
The ILC housed these as well as various layouts of bathrooms and lots of other mobility aids, which meant that a person could come in and try items out before buying them. This book is a great source of information on how to take items from the household and adapt them to your specific needs without breaking the bank – and it’s told from the experience of a delightful, positive woman who has managed a very full and active life despite her disability.
We should all be sending her our “Quick Home Fixes”, so that she can expand this information set even more. Penny, you will need to do a second book!
As a person with a disability who has battled for 37 years, there is one sentence from this book that speaks straight to my heart. It’s going to be my new motto in life: “The most precious gadgets on earth are kind people.”