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Designing a Greenhouse for Disabled Access

By: Lucy Debenham BA (hons) - Updated: 27 Jan 2019 | comments*Discuss
Disability Disabilities Greenhouse

Gardening is a fantastic hobby that just about anybody is able to take up. Whatever your ability or disability, gardening has so much to offer – colour, fragrance, the chance to sow seeds and watch them grow, to sculpt, to design and to encourage wildlife.

For many gardening enthusiasts, a greenhouse opens up many possibilities, whether it’s being able to grow a greater variety of plants, to grow more plants from seed, or simply to be able to garden in all sorts of weather. But a traditional greenhouse may pose a few challenges for people with disabilities. This article reviews how the needs of a disabled gardener can be addressed in an average greenhouse.

Situating the Greenhouse

Siting the greenhouse according to a person’s individual requirements is obviously much easier if one has the luxury of choice, rather than having to adapt a greenhouse that is already in situ.

Being able to choose where the greenhouse is especially useful when considering issues such as wheelchair or walking aid access. Obviously, the closer to the house the greenhouse is, the better. Siting the greenhouse might be a case of having to compromise the amount of sunlight that the greenhouse gets, although in some cases a lean-to greenhouse could provide the best solution.

People who use wheelchairs or walking aids will also need a hard surface leading up to and into the greenhouse. If a ramp over the threshold of the greenhouse is required, then a non-slip rubber surface could be laid on the outside to help reduce the chances of slipping in wet, frosty or icy weather.

Other considerations are water butts and compost bins – can they be sited close to the greenhouse for ease of access? This may seem like a relatively simple consideration, but could make all the difference to the ease and efficiency with which a person with a disability can use their greenhouse and surrounding area.

Check the Doors

When choosing a greenhouse, make sure to check the width of the doors! In addition to the threshold ramp, this is important consideration for wheelchair users. It may also be pertinent for people who need other walking aids, such as handles or more than one walking stick. For wheelchair users, the best course of action is to measure the wheelchair first, and then find a greenhouse with a doorway large enough to comfortable accommodate it – broadly speaking, a width of just over a metre will probably be sufficient.

Height of the Staging

Many greenhouse users benefit from the use of staging, especially as a work surface area within the greenhouse. People with disabilities may have specific needs that affect the height and layout of the staging – for instance, a wheelchair user’s reach will be around a metre high, meaning that some conventional staging will need to be lowered to make it suitable for efficient working.

Automated Systems

If a person lacks mobility or strength in their arms, they may find tasks such as opening and closing greenhouse vents and watering difficult. However, installing automated systems can help with these tasks. For instance, automated greenhouse vents don’t necessarily need electricity to work, as the metal frames contain a mineral that expands as the greenhouse heats up, allowing just the right amount of air flow into the greenhouse.

Likewise, water capillary and drip irrigation systems are designed to provide regular water supplies to plants, and can be set according to the plants’ needs. But if installing such a system isn’t possible, then an alternative is to use light-weight watering can with a long spout for ease of use, with a water butt or outside tap within easy reach.

The trick to designing a greenhouse for a gardener with a disability is to understand the person’s exact needs, and how they are able to work most efficiently. The greenhouse can then be designed around these needs – as you have seen, it may take just a few rearrangements and considerations to make the greenhouse a perfectly viable workable area. And with a range of helpful tools for just about any job, there’s absolutely no reason why someone with a disability can’t enjoy working in their greenhouse as little or often as they choose.

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Hi I am working with a community company that has obtained a 18' x 56' polytunnel. It is looking to ensure it is fully accessible for wheelchair users. Have you any designs you can share to allow this to be modelled successfully to achieve this? Thanks
Andy - 27-Jan-19 @ 10:48 PM
When I was eleven I started experiencing severe pain in my lower back.Doc said it had something to do with my 5th lumbar and that there was no space which was causing the pain I was in.In comparison, the pain that I was in when I was younger had grown quite considerable.All the things that I loved to do was slipping away from me.My gardening was the biggest part of my springs and summers and falls.I was already legally disabled, but the gardening was the last thing I had that I could do, along with the help of my hubby. Now, I cannot do dung. I feel like life is over for me. I cannot do anything with causing pain everywhere.I wish there was a way to get back to my favorite hobby (only hobby).Any Advice?
BabyGirl - 23-Nov-18 @ 8:24 AM
Do you know can you adapta greenhouse to have wider doors for a gardener developing a disability ? Or would you have to rebuild it ? My father always loved gardening but with an unsteady walking and balance problems along with lots ofartritis it is getting more difficult to get in safely out of the greenhouse, Also there is a a deep trench(12 inches width& 5 foot long approx.)in the centre of the greenhouse for drainage which is a real hazard. I an encouraging him to get this filled in. He has already had a fallclimbing in and out of it with no supports around. any advice at all welcomed to make it safer .Particularily ideas on easier ways to fill in the trench .thinking of breeze blocks with plaster to give smooth even floor. Do you think this would work or is there a better way ?. Thanks a lot Sinead
Sinead - 9-May-17 @ 5:09 AM
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