Shelving The Issue: Tips For Increasing Convenience And Maximizing Storage Space For People With Disabilities

Life in a wheelchair means making accommodations. Bathrooms, kitchens, entryways, transportation -- the list goes on. Unfortunately, most people are so busy figuring out accommodations at home that they don't think about other places they go that will likely need to be rearranged or retrofitted to accommodate their new disability. Places like mini storage facilities, for example.

By law, 5% of the first 200 spaces in newly-constructed self-storage units must be wheelchair accessible, and while most older storage units are doing their best to comply with that law as well, there might come a time when such a space is not available. Don't panic. There are plenty of options that range from "Duh!" to "Huh!" that will make your life easier. Of course, the most obvious thing to do is empty your unit and go somewhere else that has an available wheelchair-accessible space. However, if you, for whatever reason (be it cost, convenience or loyalty), find it impossible to move your stuff to a completely different location, you can make improvements where you already are to maximize the space you have and make it easier for you to access it at the same time.

Movin' on Down

While multi-level storage facilities have freight elevators for the convenience of their customers, if you dread the idea of having to ride the elevator every time you need to get so much as a file folder from your storage unit (and if those trips are frequent), consider moving your stuff to a unit on the first floor of the complex. It may seem like a hassle at first, but it will be much more convenient for you in the long run.

Expand Your Horizons

If you originally had all your stuff stacked floor to ceiling in a 5' x 5' unit, consider expanding to a 5' x 10'  or a 10' x 10' unit instead to maximize horizontal instead of vertical space. What you lose in increased cost you will make up for in easier access to those long-buried Christmas lights that you never thought you'd see again.

Shelf Storage

Shelves are a must-have for a storage unit, especially one that requires wheelchair access. They allow you to get to all your stuff without having to play a life-size puzzle game, and depending on the size of your unit, you can configure your shelves in a variety of ways to allow you the best possible access. As an added bonus, by putting your belongings on shelves, you reduce the chances of water damage from flooding.

One shelving configuration you should consider will give you a T-shaped path into your unit that allows for the 36" minimum width for wheelchair passing as well as a way to make a 180-degree turn inside the unit. This setup works best in a unit that is at least 10' x 10'. To do it, you will need shelves, a pencil or piece of chalk, and a tape measure. Here's how:

  1. Line the entire back wall of your storage unit with shelves of your choice.
  2. Starting from the outer edge of the shelves you just put up, measure 40" along each of the side walls and mark those points with a pencil or piece of chalk. These are the starting points for the shelves you will place along the side walls of the storage unit. Not only does this give you the minimum 36" you need for wheelchair clearance, but the extra four inches accounts for any boxes or other obstacles that might stick out from the shelves.
  3. Beginning at the marks you made, assemble shelves along each of the side walls of the storage unit until you reach the door.

Congratulations! You now have a functional, easily accessible storage unit! All you need to do now is fill it with boxes, which leads to the final two tips:

Think Small

Chances are, the original boxes you tossed into your storage unit are beat up, falling apart, or never labeled in the first place. Well, now is the perfect time to change all that. For starters, transfer everything into smaller boxes that will be easier for you to carry. It's not just a matter of weight issues; larger boxes tend to be more awkward to get a good grip on, and being in a wheelchair forces your back to do more awkward twisting and bending movements than it's used to. By using smaller boxes, you will significantly reduce your chances of getting injured.

Make a List, Check It Twice

As you're repacking your boxes, make a list of everything that is going into each one of them. Then, write the corresponding number box it is both on the list and on the box itself. For example, if it's Box #2, draw a on it. Don't just draw it once, and don't draw it small, either. Draw the number on the top and all four sides of the box, and draw it as big as you can. Then, take the list home with you. That way, if you need to find something, you can find out which box it's in before you even leave the house, and once you arrive at the storage unit, you should be able to find the box quickly almost as soon as you open the door.

Being in a wheelchair does not mean you have to lose access to your treasured belongings. By following a few simple guidelines, you can continue to dive into those treasures for years to come.