The primary goal of a handicap-accessible bathroom is to create an environment that allows people to move around without any serious obstructions. When I say “people,” I mean more than anyone who has problems with their feet.
There are many different people who can use a handicap-accessible bathroom. I’m referring to anyone who:
- Is using a walker or crutches either because of age or a temporary medical condition.
- Has a temporary disability such as a broken leg.
- Is living with a condition such as severe arthritis.
- Is concerned with bathroom safety
With an ageing population, these types of bathrooms will become more common. You can design an accessible bathroom from scratch. But you can also make modifications to an existing bathroom that will make it much more convenient for both permanently and temporarily disabled people.
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Let’s start with the entrance. This is typically an issue for people confined to a wheelchair.
If the bathroom door is less than 34 to 38 inches (86 to 97 cm) it will be difficult for a wheelchair to get through. On the other hand, if the door is larger than 38 inches, a person in a seated position may have difficulty opening and closing it.
Consider using a D-shaped handle or a lever for the door as opposed to round knobs. Both young children and people with arthritis will find them easier to move.
Another option is to remove the door completely. This raises privacy issues as the bathroom is then exposed. However, if the bathroom is attached to a bedroom that has its own door, this may be the way to go.
Inside the bathroom, think about the space it would take a wheelchair to move around in. The usual recommendation is a circular floor space of 5 feet (1.5 meters) in diameter. This should allow a wheelchair to make a complete turnaround in the bathroom. This much available space will also help people who are using crutches.
Keep the floor as clutter-free as possible. Wastebaskets, clothes hampers, wicker baskets, and plants can all be barriers to someone trying to get around.
Even for people who are not in wheelchairs, these items can represent something to trip over. The edges of small rugs, even those with non-skid backing, represent a tripping danger for people with injuries that result in them having to hobble around a bathroom.
A slip-resistant ceramic tile is an option in a handicap bathroom, but there is controversy about which tile to use. The Ceramic Tile Institute of America (CTIOA) and the Tile Council of America of North America (TCNA) each use different testing standards for testing slip resistance.
Generally speaking, smaller, more textured tiles, with more grout joints will be more slip-resistant. But as this type of tile gets dirtier, it becomes less slip-resistant. Please consult with a professional when considering installing a slip-resistant floor.
Another option is applying a liquid non-slip floor coating or finish to your flooring. Not all coatings are appropriate for all flooring materials so be sure to check the label before applying.
The ability to easily use the toilet is a key feature of any barrier-free bathroom. Master bathrooms in newer homes often have a water closet which is basically a toilet in its own small room. This represents a problem for a handicap-accessible toilet.
The entrance to the water closet should be as large as the entrance to the bathroom itself – that is from 34 to 38 inches wide. And the room itself should have space for a person to transfer from a wheelchair to the toilet seat.
As for the toilet itself, a number of options are available. If someone has difficulty getting up and down from a standard toilet seat, you can purchase a toilet safety frame.
The frame attaches underneath the toilet seat. Its height can usually be adjusted. It also has armrests the handicapped person can use to help get on and off the toilet seat. Toilet frames are manufactured to handle different weight capacities so be sure to get the right size for the person using it.
Another option is the toilet riser. This is a spacer installed under the base of your current toilet. It then adds about 3 to 4 inches (8 to 10 cm) of height to the existing standard toilet height of 14 or 15 inches (36 to 38 cm). The higher toilet seat is then easier for someone to get on and off.
Instead of adding a riser, you can replace your standard toilet with a taller one. Toilets are available in 17- and 18-inch (43 to 46 cm) height, which should be tall enough for the disabled user.
When using a toilet riser or taller toilet, you should add grab bars to both sides of the toilet. This makes it easier for someone to get on and off the toilet.
There’s no reason someone with disabilities shouldn’t be able to enjoy a shower. Shower enclosures are available that can accommodate users with disabilities. Sometimes called a walk-in shower, the ideal accessible shower stall would be at least 4 feet (1.2 meters) square.
The opening should be at least 3 feet (.914 meters) wide so a wheelchair or shower commode can get in. The entrance should not have a barrier or lip the user needs to climb over. The floor may have a slight downward slope to allow water to drain to the middle.
Shower controls should be low enough for a seated person to reach them. A handheld showerhead, with a flexible hose, should be no higher than 48 inches (122 cm) above the floor so it can be easily reached. You can also put the showerhead on a vertical bar which allows its height to be adjusted. This means the shower can be used by people both sitting down and standing up.
For more information, read Handicap Accessible Showers.
Different types of shower seats are available for use inside the handicap-accessible shower. These include:
- Freestanding shower seat
- Hinged shower seat
- Shower commode chair
- Transfer bench
For more information about these shower seats, read What Type Shower Seats Are Available?.
If a bathtub is going to be in a barrier-free bathroom, it should have a wide tubside seat that will allow someone to sit on and move into the tub. Sliding transfer benches are also available for tubs.
These let the handicapped person transfer from their wheelchair to a seat that then lets the person slide into the open tub area. A freestanding shower seat can also be placed inside the tub.
A better tub option might be a walk-in tub. Most of these are built with a small 2-inch high step that many physically challenged people can get over. They can then sit in the seat inside the tub and be surrounded by water. Walk-in tubs also take up less space than the standard 5-foot long tub. For more information read Everything You Need to Know About Walk-in Bathtubs.
Sinks, Faucets, and Mirrors
Sinks in the accessible bathroom should have floor space open in front of them. This will allow a person in a wheelchair to roll under it to reach the sink. Be sure that if there is a hot water pipe leading to the sink it is insulated to prevent burns. For more information read Two Types of Handicap Accessible Sinks.
The faucets on the sink should be a lever type or a single handle. If the lever is ADA compliant, it will take less than five pounds of pressure to operate. For extra safety, the faucets should have anti-scald valves to prevent the hot water from causing burns.
There are many options for disabled bathroom mirrors. A full-height mirror mounted at the appropriate height is one possibility. You can also mount one of those flexible mirrors that pull out at the right height for a seated person. Another option is installing a mirror that tilts down above the sink.
Mirrors are also available that have a pulley system and crank. The mirror normally hangs flat against the bathroom wall until it is needed by someone who is seated. Then, by turning the crank the person can angle the mirror down to where they can see themselves.
Finally, grab bars should be located throughout any barrier-free bathroom. Grab bars should be on the shower and bathtub walls to help people get in and out of the tub or shower. Grab bars should also be available on both sides of the toilet. Some toilet grab bars can also be swung out of the way when not in use.
Newer style looped grab bars are also available for use on both sides of the toilet. A shorter person can use the bottom loop while a taller person can use the upper one.
For more information read Use Grab Bars For Safety in Your Bathroom.
By using modern accessibility options you can create a stylish bathroom that will be accessible to all. Your goal should be to create an unrestricted, comfortable environment for both disabled and non-disabled people.