By Karen Kirks Alexander, AIA, President, KKA Architecture, PA

As families and their attorneys plan for the special needs of their loved ones, critical health care is always rightfully at the top of the list of concerns. However, the family and a team of professionals, including attorney, financial planner, life coach and specialized architect, should also consider the many living space adaptations that will be necessary over the course of a lifetime. Modifications to the home in order to meet the family’s ongoing needs could ultimately prove as costly as medical care, since almost any part of the house may be impacted by the special needs condition.

Are the entry doors “36 inches clear” in order to safely accommodate a wheelchair? Is there a level platform space of at least 60 inches by 60 inches to provide for safe turning of an adult-size wheelchair? Will living space be needed for a 24-hour aide at some point? What sort of carport or garage is needed for the vehicle that transports the individual? Will a ramp or lift be necessary?

These are just a few of the many accessibility features that should addressed when considering a personal injury settlement or life plan for a family member with special needs. By including an architect who specializes in this area on the team of professionals, the specific needs of a family can be identified and many costly surprises avoided.

Designing for special needs clients is always unique and challenging…

Alice, who lost a leg in a car accident, needed a kitchen where the counters were 30 inches high so that she could still prepare meals for her family. A stair lift allowed access to all her home.

Garret, 11, wanted to play with his brothers in the tree house, so I designed it to be accessible from the upper deck off his bedroom. That way Garrett could be included. Because he also needed water therapy, I installed a wave pool with therapy jets. It had a much smaller footprint than a traditional pool but was large enough so that his siblings could join in the fun.

Victor, who is blind, wanted a playground in his backyard so that it would be easier to make friends with nearby kids. I designed a megaphone so that he could talk to his buddies from one side of his playground and they could answer from the other. Rock climbing walls, a swing set which included a hammock swing for Victor, a clubhouse at ground level with a tree house above, and a percussion wall provided variety for Victor and became a neighborhood magnet.

Edgar, 18, needed access to his narrow closet. I designed a revolving clothes rack so he could reach all his clothes with the touch of a button.

At 13, Luke wanted his own suite, large enough to accommodate his computer and special equipment, with an accessible bathroom and access to a deck overlooking the nearby lake. When the family and I walked through the rooms at project’s end Luke used his computer’s text-to-speech capability to exclaim, “Karen, I love my room!”

About this Article: We hope you find this article informative, but it is not legal advice. You should consult your own attorney, who can review your specific situation and account for variations in state law and local practices. Laws and regulations are constantly changing, so the longer it has been since an article was written, the greater the likelihood that the article might be out of date. SNA members focus on this complex, evolving area of law. To locate a member in your state, visit Find an Attorney.

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