Wheelchair Floor Surfaces
Disability-friendly flooring is essential for homeowners who have difficulty walking or who use assistive travel aids such as wheelchairs and walkers. Findings from a 2000 U.S. Census Bureau survey show that nearly 50 million people in the United States have difficulty walking and require the help of a mobile device in order to get around.
When it comes to traveling with canes, walkers and wheelchairs, some floors can make the task harder. It's important that you choose a floor that properly fits your situation so you can move around your home safely and easily.
Ideal Wheelchair Surfaces
If the floor surface is uneven or soft, movement by wheelchair can be tiring. Even though cork and carpet can make living comfortable for those with joint trouble, both can dramatically slow wheelchair travel. The best types of flooring for wheelchairs and walkers are those that offer a hard, smooth surface free of bumps and grooves. Keep in mind that grout lines, while relatively small, can still create a noticeable amount of friction that can make wheel movement harder.
Although low-pile carpet such as Berber seems and feels firmer than other carpet types, it still requires wheelchair users to put forth more energy than would be needed on hard surface flooring. Consider carpeting only the rooms in the house where the wheelchair is not used very often.
Hard Surface Flooring
Most hardwood floor types have a slick surface that many wheelchair users enjoy. In fact, the Americans with Disabilities Act Accessibility Guidelines (ADAAG) indicate hardwood, ceramic tile, and flagstone are suitable materials for level surfaces; however, they are not recommended for sloped ramps or walkways. The ADAAG includes studies which show that less energy is needed to move across linoleum and concrete by wheelchair than on low- and high-pile carpet.
While smooth flooring makes wheelchair travel easier, it's important to keep in mind the dangers that a hard surface presents. For example, hardwood can become extremely slippery when wet and cause even the most able-bodied person to fall. You may want to put non-slip mats in wet areas to reduce the chance of an accident (such as at the kitchen sink and next to the bathtub). If you transfer out of your wheelchair often while at home, it may be worth having flooring such as cork and carpet that can help cushion the impact in the event of a fall.
Flooring for Outdoor Areas
Outdoor surfaces are also important and should be considered with care. The ADAAG contains studies that show that sand, gravel, and wood-chip walkways are unsuitable for wheelchairs and walkers. Walking aids perform best on heavily-packed earth, concrete, and soil compressed with natural consolidants (materials that make the soil firm).
Check out our Disability–Friendly Floor section for more information on ideal floor types.