Here are 10 ideas that every bathroom designer should consider before they start building:
1) Walk-in Bathtubs:
Although slightly more difficult to enter/exit than a walk-in shower, a walk-in bathtub with a door is far easier and safer to enter than a conventional bathtub. Instead of having to step over a tub wall that can be as high as several feet, the user just needs to have enough use of his legs to step over a gap that is usually around 4 inches high and enough use of his arms to open/close a very light door. The disadvantage of a tub like this is that you have to wait for the tub to fill up after you bathe, and you typically have to wait for the tub to drain before you exit. Although not as easy to enter as a walk-in shower, showering is more dangerous than bathing, and besides, if you are looking to take a bath the walk-in shower just isn’t the same. A jetted bathtub like the one pictured below can also offer some healing massage benefits from the whirlpool bathtub jets.
2) Walk-in Showers:
It is possible to build a bathroom and steam shower with a floor on level with the rest of your house. This allows you to ride a wheelchair (preferably a wheelchair designed to be submerged in water) directly into the shower and makes the shower extremely easy to enter/exit on foot. Although not as safe as a bathtub with a door because of the added risk of falling, the walk-in style shower allows for a less timing bathing experience. A shower seat is also a good idea. Building a walk-in steam shower can have the added benefit of relaxation, skin cleansing, and other health benefits.
3) Room for Wheelchair Maneuverability:
The more space you leave for maneuvering around a bathroom in a wheelchair, the easier and safer it is going to be. You can see that this accessible bathroom not only has tons of wheelchair space, it also has a door-less shower. If you look closely, you can see that the vanity is elevated from the ground. This particular vanity has space under it so that a wheelchair can be rolled up to the bathroom sink.
4) Seats and Grab Bars inside Your Walk-In Shower or Tub:
This style of walk-in shower is easier than a bath but with the added safety benefit of a seat over a conventional walk-in shower. This bathroom requires less space and would be good for a disabled person who was not wheelchair bound. Notice the shower safety grab bars and the shower seat in the shower stall. If design constraints require you to have a shower room/enclosure with a door, and replacing the door with a curtain is not an option, make sure that the shower door rollers are well oiled to allow the door to slide easier.
5) Sink with Wheelchair Access:
An accessible bathroom vanity is a vanity sink with space under it for a wheelchair that makes it extremely easy for a disabled person to wash their hands and brush their teeth. An ideal vessel sink height for a wheelchair bound person is 30″, and a 34″ height should not be exceeded. For a very tall person who is not wheelchair bound but has trouble bending, a 40″ bathroom sink height is recommended.
6) Slip-proof Flooring:
Slip-proof flooring is available for both the bathtub, shower, and bathroom floor. Elderly and disabled individuals are far more likely to slip in a bathroom, especially if the floor gets wet. When they do slip, they are far more likely to suffer a serious injury. Adding a slip-proof coating to the bathroom floor is a simple and affordable way to make the bathroom safer. While anti-slip bathtubs are a viable safety technique, accidents occur 50 times less frequently in walk-in bathtubs. An acrylic shower or acrylic bathtub looks nice, but they tend to be more slippery than tile.
7) Bathroom Entrance:
In order to make it easy for an elderly or disabled individual to enter and exit, the bathroom should have a zero-step entrance without a door. If privacy is considered important, a sliding door can be used, but a curtain or wraparound entrance that provides privacy without a physical obstacle is preferable. The entrance for a disabled friendly bathroom should be at least 32″. If the doorway is located in such a place that requires turning a wheelchair, the ideal width is 36″.
8) Grab Bars:
ADA compliant grab bars should be installed in the bathtub, shower, and around the toilet. Real bathroom design doesn’t always allow for large master bathrooms, but even if you are forced to build a small bathroom, there is always room for grab bars.
9) Toilet Height:
The optimal toilet height varies from person to person, but it is generally around 18″. The standard 15-17 inch height of most contemporary toilets causes problems for many disabled individuals. Elevating the seat 5-6″ Toilets should have grab bars on either side, or preferably both. There are raised toilet seat add-on’s available that raise the height of the toilet between 4-6″ and make sitting on the seat a little softer.
10) Creating a bathtub door in an existing whirlpool bathtub :
If installing a new disabled bathtub is not within your financial means or you don’t have the space, you don’t have to remove an old bathtub or replace your bathtub with a new one. Another option is carving a door into an existing bathtub enclosure. Although a custom tub modification does not offer all the bells and whistles of a modern whirlpool tub with a door, accessible living is all about doing the best you can with what you have, and this is a perfect example of that. This is also known as a walk-thru bathtub insert. If you have limited space, very small accessible bathtubs are available.
11) Worried about appearances:
Do you want a luxury bathtub that ignores safety? Of course not. The elderly are not going to love their new accessible bathroom because it has granite tile floors and glass shower panels. They are going to love it because it allows them to bathe in comfort, without assistance, and without risks to their physical well being.
12.) Bathroom Faucets
A bathroom faucet should be easy to turn, or attached to a motion sensor, if possible.
There are two primary considerations when designing a bathroom for the disabled or elderly:
1) Making showers, bathtubs, and toilets safer to use.
2) Making the bathroom experience easier, more comfortable, and more independent.
While safety is obviously a primary concern, ease of bathing should not be overlooked. Once a person becomes disabled, using a bathroom can become a nightmare; especially if assistance from a nurse or family member is required. As bathing becomes more difficult, it is common to see a person let their personal hygiene go by the wayside as they avoid cleaning themselves and using the bathroom. Inability to bathe without assistance will damage a persons pride and eventually make them avoid using the bathroom. A custom “independent living” bathroom design will often allow a disabled individual to bathe without the assistance of another person