ReFit provides free dwelling modifications for adult homeowners with mobility issues

For seniors and adults with disabilities, home modifications such as wheelchair ramps and wider doorways can make the difference between living independently at home or relocating to an assisted living PHOTO: REFIT - ReFit volunteers remodeled parts of 93-year-old Virginia Shea's house to improve accessibility for her.

But often, those wheelchair-bound or walker-dependent homeowners on lower incomes can’t afford the retrofits that would allow them to live at home despite their physical impairments. Then family or social workers may step in and decide that it’s too risky for the elderly or persons with disabilities to continue residing in their houses.

“Sometimes social workers say, ‘You can’t stay here anymore because it’s not safe. You’ve already fallen three times,’” says Laurey Maslyk, executive director of the nonprofit organization ReFit.

Maslyk says ReFit offers a way for such homeowners to remain in the places they know and love. Serving the Portland tri-county area, ReFit offers free home modifications to people with limited mobility who own their homes, have an income below 80 percent of the Portland median income (at or below $40,900) and who do not qualify for other home repair programs.

ReFit will not remodel mobile homes, trailers or modular homes nor do home repairs unrelated to accessibility.

“We try to fill a niche where the person may not be at poverty level but has a low enough income that they can’t afford modifications in their home,” Maslyk says.

With donations and help from local volunteer contractors, ReFit has modified the houses of veterans and other adults with disabilities, as well as the elderly.

“The work is not just a quick fix. It’s made to last a lifetime,” Maslyk says. “We use all licensed contractors.”

And it’s not only outdoor wooden wheelchair ramps that could be installed. Work also might include installing hand rails, widening doorways and retrofitting bathrooms to meet clients’ special PHOTOS COURTESY OF REFIT - Bathrooms can be dangerous places for people with limited mobility. This bathroom has been retrofitted by ReFit's volunteer contractors to make it safe and accessible.

“Bathrooms are very dangerous places,” Maslyk says. “It’s a huge difference to be able to help people move from a bed pan to a bathroom on their own. It gives them back their dignity and independence.”

Often, the first item ReFit volunteers address is the bathtub. It’s simply too hazardous for someone with a disability to take a bath and to lift their leg over the bathtub rim, so the bathtub gets removed.

In place of the bathtub, a special wheelchair accessible shower with grab bars is installed. In the process, other improvements may be made.

“With one of our clients, volunteers found that her bathroom floor was rotten,” Maslyk recalls. “It was held up by linoleum. She could have fallen through at any moment.”

Last year, with support from Oregon Remodelers Association, Home Builders Association PRO, Northwest Society of Interior Designers, Hammer and Hand and Cornerstone Builders, ReFit completed 12 projects.

“Hammer and Hand does two projects a year at zero cost,” she says. “And Cornerstone Builders does wood wheelchair ramps for us. They pay for everything, and they put their heart and soul into it.”

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