The phone rang. It was my good friend from London, Ont., whom I had known since the 1950s when both of us worked in the advertising department of the Simpsons department store in London. She said she and her husband were thinking of installing a stairlift in their home, since they wished to stay there as long as possible. She also knew that I had “connections” in the mobility access business.
Indeed, my cousin Bill Richardson (in fact he is my late cousin Elizabeth’s grandson) and his three sons are all in the elevator business. Bill is vice-president of product development at Savaria, an accessibility company, and his sons are elevator mechanics and instructors.
Bill and his wife Cynthia previously had their own business, Richardson Access Elevator Inc. in London, Ont., and I visited them there. In fact, I wrote an article for Good Times magazine at the time about mobility aids and got to know some of their products.
These days, a staggering variety of mobility aids is available. For the home, there are stairlifts ranging from economical and customized models to lifts for straight, curved or spiral stairways and inclined platform lifts. As well, for those using mobility aids like walkers and wheelchairs, there are vertical platform lifts for indoors or outdoors. These can lift a person from a few inches to up to 21 feet.
There are also simpler and less expensive modifications available to make every room in your home more mobility-friendly. These could include securing carpets, replacing doorknobs with lever handles for easier gripping, freeing areas of obstacles and ranging dishes vertically instead of horizontally. The bathroom, a problem area for many, can be improved by installing grab bars in the tub for support. Flip-up tub seats and hand-held showers make bathing easier while seated. An occupational therapist can be of big help in suggesting alterations.
Not to be left out, automobiles have also become accessible to the mobility challenged. Well-known brands of minivans have been adapted for wheelchair accessibility for both drivers and passengers.
In fact, one of my neighbours who uses a wheelchair uses such a wheelchair-adapted minivan. Proud auntie, I was pleased to see the name of the company that built the van where two of my relatives work was on the back of the vehicle.
Then there are residential elevators for those who wish to have multi-level access to their house. The last word in personal convenience and a great aid for those with mobility problems, these elevators are available in various models.
Visiting my relatives Bill and Cynthia in their lovely home, I admired their elevator installed with automatic sliding doors by Bill and his boys. I loved riding that elevator from the ground floor to the first floor and back several times a day.
While researching this column, and talking to my cousin, I learned that elevators are regulated by rigid safety codes setting out safety standards and requirements. I have also gained new respect for elevator mechanics, who often risk their lives in the performance of their jobs.
Still on the subject of elevators, that charming and wise modern saint, Saint Thérèse of Lisieux, who lived her brief life in the latter part of the 19th century and whose childhood home I was privileged to visit in Lisieux, France, was fascinated by that new invention, the elevator. She wrote of going up to God by the elevator of love, not to climb the rough stairway of fear.
As for those of you eager to maintain your personal mobility and independence and thus improve your quality of life, the options are out there.
Good luck in finding the one best suited to your needs. As for your budget, don’t forget to check whether you might be eligible for financial assistance.