Accessible Design: 6 Items to Curate a More Inclusive Home, According to Disabled Folks

I love to sit, even when I have the energy to do many other things. Barstools, folding chairs, futons, sofas, and ottomans underscore my comings and goings, and I’ve long had a knack for turning a sturdy planter or a lowly curb into a spot to take a load off in a pinch. I don’t think I’m alone in this—sitting is pretty wonderful, but I know why I’ve let this love blossom from a young age. I was born with cerebral palsy, a disability that mostly affects my legs, so it’s tough to stand or walk for rambling stretches of time without feeling a familiar jolt of pain. The same goes if I stay seated for long periods too. So to keep my muscles from stiffening and my balance intact, I’ve learned to alternate between resting and moving whether I’m out and about, or at home.

There are details within public life that make this endeavor easier to uphold, thanks to the Americans with Disabilities Act, which passed in 1990. Designated parking spaces, easy-to-find elevators, and ubiquitous dips in the sidewalk are just a few examples of quietly profound inclusion, but individual home addresses are an entirely different challenge—since there’s no law enforcing accessible design in private spaces, the disabled community is usually on its own.

I’ve interpreted a rake as a walking stick to get up a flight of entryway stairs. I’ve employed a soap dish as a rock-climbing-esque grip to pull the rest of my body into a shower. I’ve leaned on too many branches to count. But through it all, I know I can usually depend on one constant: Somewhere beyond the front door, there will undoubtedly be a place for me to sit down. The criteria for what works best isn’t all that complicated. I prefer a somewhat shallow chair or sofa, with cushions that don’t sink in too much, so that I can get up and down in one easy motion. It’s ideal if there are arms on sofas to grip in that pursuit, and tall backs that can provide support when relaxation is of top concern.

My navy couch from Living Spaces was a love-at-first-sight purchase, as were these sage green chairs and oak dining table from Article. Every piece looks stylish, but also allows me to live comfortably within my surroundings. That’s the thing about accessibility: When it’s done well, it’s barely noticeable. And just like using a curb cut to roll a heavy suitcase or an elevator to haul your groceries upstairs, accessible design can benefit everyone. I asked six other disabled friends about some of the items in their homes that meet this specific requirement of accessible but stylish. Here’s what they swear by.

Simpli Home Rockwood 18 in. Wide Contemporary Square Cube

“I have a bright turquoise ottoman that looks cute in my space but isn’t meant for lounging. It’s actually what I use to help me put on my compression stockings and shoes when I get dressed. I pull my wheelchair up to the ottoman and rest my legs and feet on top of it so I can more easily reach them. When I’m not using the ottoman for adaptive purposes, it makes for a place for someone to sit if they’d like. And as a bonus, it doubles as storage.” —Emily Ladau

George Oliver Beckley 46” Desk

“As someone who uses a wheelchair and enjoys a retro look, finding just the right desk can be a trial. My previous desk was cute, but I had to prop it up on cinder blocks to make enough space for my legs to roll underneath. This midcentury hunter green desk took me a while to find, but it offers the best of both worlds: style and function.” —Rebekah Taussig

TOTO Electronic Bidet Toilet Seat

“Toto’s washlet is an IBD accessibility must-have. The heated seat keeps the chill away, the warm water wash provides gentle, precise cleansing, and the adjustable air-drying function minimizes irritation. Inflammatory bowel disease can make life more difficult in a myriad of ways inside and outside of the bathroom, but the washlet offers a little bit of comfort.” —Matthew Cortland

Arlmont & Co Gatun 66” Wicker Outdoor Patio Daybed

“I love the 66-inch daybed that my wife and I bought for our back deck. We’d been living in a one-bedroom apartment for five years with no outdoor living space, so this was our first chance to have it set up the way we wanted it. It was important to me that this daybed be able to accommodate multiple adults comfortably when we’re hosting, so I outfitted it with a custom cushion. That comfort makes it an accessible daybed for me to use for long periods of time, since I have Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, and sometimes I’m in pain if I sit too long in one position. I work on it, I watch movies from a projector on it, I chat with friends on it. It’s honestly one of my favorite pieces of furniture.” —Alaina Leary

Tosaryu Hinoki Bath Caddy/Bench

“This bath caddy doubles as a bench, and I use it every time I shower, both for setting products on and sitting. I prefer not to have a big, sterile-looking shower chair that takes up a bunch of space in my tiny tub, but I need something that stays in place well and isn’t too slippery. And it’s beautiful, which is a priority!” —Alex Wegman

Rev-A-Shelf Chrome Adjustable Pull Down Closet Rod

“I swear by pull-down closet rods that can be purchased and installed in homes and apartments. It allows you to use the closet fully.” —Stephanie Thomas

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