Carol and Steve Klein were determined not to move. In the fall of 1992, at age 50, Steve's legs started getting weaker and weaker. The avid bicycle rider was diagnosed with a progressive...

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Carol and Steve Klein were determined not to move.

In the fall of 1992, at age 50, Steve’s legs started getting weaker and weaker. The avid bicycle rider was diagnosed with a progressive nerve-related disease. Within seven years, he had to retire from Boeing.

The Ballard couple loved their 1909 house, where their now 21-year-old son was born. Their best friends lived in their neighborhood. But the house had a steep flight of stairs up to the front door. All the bedrooms were upstairs, along with the only bathroom — one with a claw-footed tub.

“We started thinking, ‘Wow, what are we going to do? It’s going to be tricky and cost a lot of money,’ ” said Carol, 56.

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The Kleins had one advantage: an inheritance they could use to pay for a stairlift, two elevators and a complete remodel of the bathroom, including a “roll-in” shower to accommodate a wheelchair.

Today, at age 61, Steve uses a wheelchair and can barely stand. But he’s living at home and able to take care of most of his own needs.

The Kleins’ neighborhood has sidewalks and no hills, but he asked the city to install new curb cuts between his house and the bus stop, allowing him to get to a volunteer job as a long-term care ombudsman.

All of these changes have helped preserve his independence, dignity and ability to interact with the outside world.

“We didn’t think about aging when we bought our house,” said Carol. “We could do everything when we were young.”

That’s probably the mind-set of most younger home buyers.

But Steve offers an idea that could help people avoid problems later in life: adapt new-home designs to incorporate inexpensive features such as wider doorways and weight-bearing towel bars.


— Marsha King, Seattle Times staff reporter