BY ADELE FOY
Originally, the house in Bloomington’s Highland Park Estates was like any premium, medium-size home being built these days: 2,100 square feet, three bedrooms, hardwood floors, deluxe master bath, standard garage, and a deck running end-to-end at the rear.
But things changed after Gentry Real Estate owner Ben Beard promised to personally tailor this house to its owners—Charles Acton, a quadriplegic Vietnam veteran, and his wife, Cheryl, who is his caregiver.
Says Beard, whose father was a quadriplegic, “Because of the experience I had, I thought I had a special insight into what would work for them.”
Beard’s extensive modifications to the Highland Park home have restored a vital degree of mobility for the 64-year-old veteran. With help from his wife, he can now go smoothly from bed to shower to sitting room to screened porch (his favorite spot).
What’s special about the house? First, there isn’t a single step—even at the front door or the garage. Doorways are 3 feet wide and thresholds minimal. All accommodate the lightweight gurney, made of PVC pipe and adjustable to many positions, that serves as a crucial conveyance, comfortable chaise longue, and care platform.
A rimless, wall-less shower with center drain and nonslip tile floors in the master bathroom and bedroom safely accommodate a dripping gurney.
Replacing most of the back deck is a screened-in, three-season porch (still no steps) that cozies up to woods behind the house for a 24/7 nature show.
A 60-foot-long, 4-foot-wide wooden ramp runs alongside the house, an expressway for emergency exits or medical crises.
Where the ramp ends, an inconspicuous curb blends in with landscaping and eliminates any fears of wheelchair roll-aways. From the street, the ramp looks like a handsome porch; nothing about the house announces how crucially it differs from its neighbors.
Beard, who also helped the homeowners shop for the gurney, says the critical element in modifying the blueprint was the three to four months he spent planning the modifications. A builder of more than 400 homes, he had done disability modifications before, but he had never set up a house with the gurney concept, a demanding new dimension. “It was fun and gratifying to get a chance to give back a little bit,” he says.