beautiful bathroom with tub

There are many challenges that need to be addressed while designing and constructing a bathroom for people experiencing challenges of disability. Use of fittings and fixtures, accessibility, mobility and movement are among the major considerations. As for the accessories and fittings, today’s design technology doubles up to serve the elderly and those with permanent injuries and others with restricted mobility. But, if you are embarking on a bathroom renovation to make it disabled friendly, do remember that it is more of a redesign and re-construction task than a mere bathroom renovation.

In countries like Australia, an increasing percentage of the ageing population are facing the abject need to make their bathrooms wheelchair accessible. This is understandable because most of these seniors have spent a lion’s share of their life in the same home and moving to another home merely because they need an accessible bathroom is neither practicable nor essential for these seniors. Making the existing bathrooms wheelchair accessible or disabled friendly is a more sensible and economical option for all those facing this situation.
What are the major attributes of a disabled friendly/wheelchair accessible bathroom?

What are the major attributes of a disabled friendly/wheelchair accessible bathroom?

In countries like Australia, an increasing percentage of the ageing population are facing the abject need to make their bathrooms wheelchair accessible. This is understandable because most of these seniors have spent a lion’s share of their life in the same home and moving to another home merely because they need an accessible bathroom is neither practicable nor essential for these seniors. Making the existing bathrooms wheelchair accessible or disabled friendly is a more sensible and economical option for all those facing this situation.
What are the major attributes of a disabled friendly/wheelchair accessible bathroom?

comfortable bed and chairs

The first thing to remember while designing a disabled friendly or wheelchair accessible bathroom is that this is one space in the home that has the potential to be most dangerous. People using a wheelchair or experiencing other types of physical disabilities can face several access challenges. You should also know that nearly two-thirds of all emergency room visits result from bathroom falls. The shower and the tub present most hazards even for young adults while the space near the toilet is particularly vulnerable to falls for the elderly. Small space for manoeuvring, wet floors, bending or lifting needed to access the tub, toilet or shower are among common causes of accidents in the bathroom. 

Thus, the goal of designing an optimal bathroom with accessibility is making the space safe for all those who need to use. It even can be achieved without sacrificing much on style. However, the primary consideration while designing an accessible bathroom should be the preferences and capabilities of the users. To start the process of designing an accessible bathroom, we should start with answers to the following questions.

  • Type of bathroom activities where the user needs assistance
  • Are medical supplies needed and if yes, where is it stored
  • Is a shower/tub necessary
  • Placement of grab bars considering activities that the user can handle independently
  • Potential deterioration in the health condition of the user/s and therefore the future needs

Now, let us examine these 5 elements in greater detail

Tub/shower accessibility

shower head

Some users may find a fixed shower or rolling shower seat more convenient. 17 to 19 inches is the recommended height for such a seat. A plastic chair or stool can also be introduced in the bath for the user to sit during shower and removed for other users who don’t need the seat.
Walk in tubs can be easier for disabled people to access since it eliminates climbing in and out of the tub. Likewise, the controls can be closer to the front edge so that no long reach is needed.
Consider specific needs of the user/s while installing grab bars and make sure that these are accessible from sitting and standing positions.

Explore non-slip flooring to prevent falls

Keep all items that the user will need within reach including bathing products, hair care, washcloth, soap etc. Make the storage spacious so that the items do not slip and fall on the floor.
Consider glass walls in place of shower curtains so that additional lighting is available to enhance safety.
Handheld showerheads work better in bathrooms designed for people with disabilities.

Accessibility of vanity and bathroom sink

A wall mounted cabinet sink with no cabinet beneath is ideal for seated and standing users or you can explore another option with adequate open space for the knees. Where necessary and affordable, think of a vanity whose height can be electrically adjusted for easier access.

Accessibility of bathroom toilet

The recommended height for a disabled accessible toilet is 17 to 19 inches of height. This is reckoned as comfortable for most users. When the toilet seat is higher it is easier to stand, lower or transfer from the walker/wheelchair to the toilet. Where additional height is desired, a thicker toilet seat can be chosen if complete replacement of the toilet is not feasible.
Another option would be a wall mounting toilet at a custom height designed for the user.

Lighting

Adequate and appropriate lighting in the bathroom is among the top safety elements for the bathroom. Proper planning is essential to avoid shadows and provide even lighting. Ideally, you should also be using the maximum amount of natural lighting. Take care also to ensure that light switches are at an accessible height.

General safety and accessibility factors for a disabled friendly bathroom

Universal design is often considered ideal for designing an accessible bathroom in most cases. Although the renovation of a home can be relatively simple, there are still somethings you should think carefully. The following are general safety and accessibility guidelines for a disabled friendly bathroom:

  • The minimum size of an accessible bathroom should be 30 x 48 inches so that a person can comfortably turn around in the wheelchair.
  • Wider doorway to provide wheelchair access and lever-type door handle in place of door knobs.
  • Keep the door opening outward than inward to allow better space inside the bathroom.
  • Remove all loose bath mats from the floor. They obstruct free movement of the wheelchair and constitute a potential tripping hazard.
  • If the user needs an attendant to assist him/her in the bathroom, consider adequate space for two people to move around
    Provide storage compartments having pull-out shelves to avoid clutter and allow free access.
  • Position all accessories where it affords the best access.
  • Keep the maximum temperature of hot water lower to avoid burns.
  • Ensure that all electrical outlets are grounded properly and appropriately secured.