Accessibility. It’s not necessarily a popular design topic, despite being one all Americans will deal with at some point in their lives. Many people find themselves needing to make accommodations for a loved one or themselves as they get older. The bathroom can be one of the most challenging spaces to get around for those with accessibility considerations. Designing bathrooms for universal access can feel overwhelming so we’ve put together our top ideas to make your bathroom more accessible so you can feel confident in your decision making. Done properly, a well-designed bathroom that accommodates those with mobility challenges can create a more comfortable bathroom for everyone.
Ask yourself these three questions:
1. What bathroom activities require adjustments first?
This will help you figure out where to start if you are limited in time or budget. Focusing on what’s needed will determine the priorities of your design, especially when the choices seem to be never-ending.
2. What will be required long term?
Assessing what will change over time can eliminate the need for future adjustments and renovations. Having systems in place from the start will allow your loved one to keep as much autonomy and independence as possible for a longer period of time.
3. How much space do you have to work with?
Figure out the size of your current bathroom and determine if you have enough space if more can be added if needed.
Look at the layout and general access to your bathroom.
The most practical place to have an accessible bathroom is the ground floor. In multi-level homes, stairs are often difficult to navigate for those with mobility issues and installing extra equipment for assistance can be quite costly.
Doorways and passageways leading to the bathroom should be wide enough for wheelchairs and walkers to enter. A great rule of thumb is to go even wider than what you think you need in order to alleviate the pressure of precise execution. No one enjoys squeezing into a tight spot! The American Disabilities Act (ADA) stipulates a minimum of 30” by 48” of floor space on either side of the doorway to appropriately accommodate a person in a wheelchair.
Here are a few other things to consider when it comes to doors:
- Lever style door handles are a better choice than doorknobs;
- Swing the door outward to allow extra space within the bathroom;
- Pocket doors will optimize space both inside and outside the bathroom.
If possible, try to allow enough space for 2 people in the bathroom. Even if an attendant is not needed right now, it’s nice to know that you have the option if needed.
You want enough space between your fixtures to allow for someone with mobility issues to turn around. A wheelchair will need enough space to turn and backup, as will people using a walker. Even those not requiring bigger aides like wheelchairs and walkers will appreciate a little extra room to maneuver safely.
Try to eliminate all thresholds or steps required to enter the bathroom and move around inside the bathroom. If thresholds can’t be eliminated completely, keep their height at ½” or less and try to slope them as much as possible. This will allow a wheeled mobility device to easily move over the threshold.
Pick the right fixtures to improve the ease of use and safety of everyday bathroom tasks.
1. Bathtubs & Showers
Discuss what options you want to have available when it comes to getting clean. If those using the bathroom prefer a shower over a bath, put your money into making the shower safe and enjoyable. If the ability to take a nice, relaxing bath is a priority, then make the bathtub the focus of your attention. The goal here is to create a bathroom that keeps everyone happy and meets the needs of all those who use it.
A barrier-free or curbless shower with non-slip flooring can greatly reduce the need for other adaptive equipment or personal assistance. A great option for those at risk for falling or who use a wheelchair or walker, a curbless shower has an opening that is level with the floor so there is no need to step over any kind of ledge and slopes toward the drain to avoid water buildup. Install a shower large enough to allow independent movement or assists when required. Ideally, 36” would be necessary for the use of a transfer seat and 60” for a wheelchair.
Consider specially designed chairs, stools, and benches to convert your existing bathtub or shower into a seated shower. Look for a seat approximately 17” to 19” in height that can be removed when not needed.
Installing overhead lighting in the shower can improve visibility and increase safety.
Walk-in bathtubs remove the need to hoist your body over the side-wall of the tub. You can just walk right into the tub and sit down. Digital shower controls are easy to use, eliminate the need for knobs and handles, give accurate and safe water temperature control. Put the water controls near the edge of the shower or bathtub to avoid having to lean over too far. It’s also a great idea to put them out of the way of the water stream so the operator won’t get wet.
Grab bars should be accessible on multiple walls in bathing areas. If you are adding them to an existing tub, aim to put them near the shower controls for added stability when turning on the water.
2. Sinks, Cabinets, & Vanities
The goal when choosing a vanity is to allow enough room to get close enough to access the sink comfortably and turn the handles for the faucet. The ADA recommends a depth of 17” from the wall and a height of 29” from the floor so that a wheelchair can easily move into position. You should, of course, make adjustments as necessary to personalize the space as much as possible. Wall-mounted and pedestal sinks are preferred options due to the open space beneath. If for some reason, you require a more typical vanity, look for a sink with the smallest distance between the counter’s edge and the sink.
Have the vanity installed properly. It’ll likely be used as a support when a grab bar isn’t in the immediate vicinity.
Explore the faucet section to find a suitable alternative to conventionally installed faucets. Single-handled faucets are easier to use because they don’t require any gripping or twisting to turn them on. Automatic sensor faucets remove the need to maneuver faucet handles at all.
Choose an extra-long mirror or one that tilts down so it can be used by everyone. Other considerations in or around the vanity include the placement of everyday items like toothpaste, makeup, hairbrushes, cleaning supplies, and bath linens. Low drawers or shelving and low hanging hooks will keep these things tidy and within reach.
Height is the most important adjustment you can make to your toilet when it comes to accessibility. The ADA suggests putting your toilet 17”-19” off the floor. With this higher height, it becomes easier to lower oneself, stand up, and be transferred from a wheelchair.
A wall-mounted toilet is a great choice and will allow you to customize the height of your toilet to your exact specifications. If replacing the toilet is not in your budget, you could try installing a thicker toilet seat to give a little extra height.
Look for a way to add more clearance around the toilet to provide enough room for the width of a walker or wheelchair. Even those who don’t require those types of aids may need a little extra room to turn around to get seated. You also want to put personal care items, medical needs, and extra toilet paper within easy reach. Just like in the shower or bathtub, grab bars should be installed on the walls around the toilet. At a minimum, you want at least one, but preferably, you’d install as many as fit comfortably.
The ideal arrangement is for the toilet to be positioned between two grab bars that are 36” apart. A grab bar on the wall behind the toilet can give added support. Proper installation is really important to ensure they can support the weight of those using them.
They should be well anchored directly into the wall studs at a height of 34”-38” from the floor. Test the flushing lever. You want one that’s easy to reach and easy to use. Likewise, the toilet paper dispenser should be in front of the bowl but within reach. If using toilet paper for cleaning is too challenging, you may want to look into the installation of a bidet.
We know that change is hard and planning for all the what ifs of the future can feel really overwhelming. Norcal Remodeling Group has extensive knowledge and years of experience when it comes to making a bathroom more accessible. Contact us for a free in-home consultation and we will put your mind at ease.