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Accessible Bathrooms

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How an Accessible Bathroom Can Change your Life

In 2013, there were over 53 million American adults and children living with some type of disability. About 11 million of those individuals needed personal assistance with one or more Activities of Daily Living (ADL’s). 

The ability to bathe, groom, and use the toilet is something many of us take for granted. But for those whose physical disabilities obstruct their ability to carry out these tasks, an accessible bathroom can be life changing. Imagine a world where those with physical disabilities could carry out the basic Activities of Daily Living, safely and independently. 

That world exists, and it has an Accessible Bathroom. A bathroom without barriers allows wheelchair users and those with walking aids to get around safely and independently, making it easier to bathe, groom and use the toilet. Independence is a major part of a high-quality, happy life.  

An accessible bathroom can provide it. Barrier-free bathrooms offer a safe solution for people who have reduced balance and mobility, but can also benefit those without a physical disability. As most bath and toilet rooms are shared between several family members, accessible designs must address multiple requirements.  

Luckily, most new products are designed with accessibility requirements in mind. This has resulted in a growing selection of high-quality, attractive, and well-planned products and designs that make everyday living much easier.  

Seek professional advice to analyze your unique situation. Occupational therapists, interior designers, architects, and remodelers with firsthand knowledge of accessibility issues can offer solutions and suggestions to make the renovation or building process easier and more valuable. 

See how Accessibility changed Mary's life:

Mary was having difficulty using the tub and had fallen in the bathroom. Mary called her states’ Independent Living Center, who then referred her to an Occupational Therapist (OT) who was able to offer many useful ideas. The OT visited Mary at her home and made accessible recommendations that could be installed quickly and were relatively inexpensive.

Within a week, her son Mike had installed two grab bars in the bathtub and a hand-held shower for better control. Mary also purchased a simple bath-bench. She could now enter the tub safely by sitting on the bench outside the tub, sliding over, and maneuvering her legs into the tub.

Encouraged by her newfound independence from her accessible improvements, Mary continued to look at other accessible bathing solutions and within two months had installed a roll-in accessible shower to replace her bathtub. Now Mary enjoys bathing in her barrier-free shower, safely and independently.

“An accessible bathroom changed Mary’s life.”

Before making her bathroom accessible Mary, like many her age, feared falling in the bathtub. Today, Mary thoroughly enjoys her bathing experience.

Universal Design is changing the way we see Bathrooms:

The majority of falls occur at home, and wet slippery bathroom floors are the #1 cause of falls at home.

Accessible bathrooms allow people with disabilities and their families to enjoy a bathroom that is safe, attractive, comfortable, and easy-to-use. In residential and commercial construction, universal design principles are gaining popularity and include making the bathroom usable by people of diverse abilities, from an elderly parent with limited mobility to an agile teenager.

The Universal Design trend is gaining momentum as the population ages and seniors seek to remain in their homes instead of moving to retirement communities. Universal design space must not only be accessible, but also look great and appeal to all sorts of people. Today, accessible bathrooms come in a variety of designs that make life easier for everyone in the household to use the bathroom.

ADA compliant

Laws for Accessible Bathrooms - Residential and Commercial

The laws that govern barrier-free issues generally apply to the commercial market, i.e., public facilities, where a real emphasis has been placed on accessibility. Also, be aware that state-wide regulations may exist and be enforced in your area for multi-family housing developments.

For commercial applications the American Disabilities Act (ADA) and Accessibility Guidelines for Buildings and Facilities (ADAAG), cover the construction and alteration of both private and public sector facilities. For more detailed information on these commercial applications see ADA Bathrooms, this page also contains helpful information and diagrams for ADA wheelchair turning, reaching limits, shower and stall guidelines, etc.

The information on this page is primarily for use in residential construction.

Residential Accessible Bathroom Design

Standard bathrooms are typically small, efficient spaces. Wheelchair users need larger bathrooms to allow for maneuvering, easily and safely.

  • Wheelchair handicapped accessible bathrooms require at least 5 feet (60") in diameter to make a 180 degree turn.
  • To conserve space, a T-shaped turning space with aisles 36" wide that allows a three-point turn is also acceptable.
  • A portion of the diameter or T-shaped turning space may be located under fixtures as long as the required knee and toe clearance is provided.

Doorway Widening and Improvements

Standard interior residential doors are usually 30” wide, but wheelchair users need wider doorways to pass through comfortably.

  • In order to accommodate a wheelchair, which is 24-27" wide, doorways should be a minimum of 32" wide. 
  • If a wheelchair user had to turn to get into the bathroom, you'll need a 36" door, to allow access.
  • A narrower width may be adequate, if the bathroom door allows a straight wheelchair approach. * Using offset door hinges can be a more affordable way to increase door widths by about 2", which is often enough additional width for a wheelchair or walker to pass through the doorway.
  • If possible, there should be no threshold in the doorway. If this can’t be avoided, select a flat threshold that is no more than ¼ inch high, or one that is beveled on both sides and no greater than a ¾ inch high.
  • Install easy-to-grasp lever door handles on all doors, for additional accessibility.

Non-slip Surfaces

Bathroom floors can be incredibly slippery, especially when wet, and are the reason for countless emergency room visits. Reducing the slipperiness of the bathroom floor is often an easy and inexpensive modification:

  • Use non-slip flooring and bathing surfaces.
  • Many accessible showers and bathtubs come with slip resistant surfaces.
  • Sheet vinyl flooring is also a good choice, since it is smooth and easy to clean.

Bathroom Safety Grab Bars

Grab bars are a great way to reduce falls and provide support in the bathroom. Here are some tips on grab bar installation:

  • Install grab bars next to the toilet and in bathing areas.
  • Wall-mounted grab bars should be 1-1/4" to 1-1/2" in diameter. The space between the grab bar and wall should be 1-1/2" to allow a firm grip.
  • Grab bars should also be placed inside bathtub and shower enclosures to avoid slips.
  • Grab bars should also be placed inside bathtub and shower enclosures.
  • If you are remodeling or building new and the walls are open, be sure to provide wood blocking in the walls for reinforcement of the grab bars.
  • See more information at Accessible Grab Bars.

Safe Comfortable Bathing Doesn't Have to Be Expensive

There are many easy and inexpensive ways to improve the safety and comfort of your bathroom.

  • Adding a tub seat or transfer bench in your existing tub is an inexpensive way to allow a person to sit while bathing, providing greater stability.
  • A transfer bench outside the tub allows a person to sit on the bench from outside the tub, slide over the bench, then slide their legs into the tub.
  • Lever controlled taps are easier to use, and can be easily added to the shower, bathtub and sink.
  • Adding a hand-held showerhead improves water control and allows bathers to stand still or sit while they shower. No more turning and twisting in the shower.
  • The shower valve comes with temperature controls that maintain a constant water temperature, which will help users avoid hot water fluctuations.

Walk in Bath Tubs - Bathing Doesn't Have to Be Dangerous

alk in tubs have become an incredibly popular solution to the high-step conventional bathtub.

  • These “sit up style” bathtubs offer people a low 4-6 inch step instead of the high step found in standard tubs.
  • Walk in tubs are a great option for those who enjoy rehab at home with water or air jets. A walk in tub can create a personal therapeutic spa at home.
  • See more at  Accessible Walk in Bathtubs
  • While walk in tubs are popular, often a safer and more economical solution is to install a roll in shower

Accessible Roll in Showers

Accessible showers are found in homes across the country. They’re not just for those with physical limitations, as roll-in showers of today come in a variety of designer styles.

  • Roll-in showers make it possible for a person with a disability to wheel into the curb-less shower. They can then transfer, with or without assistance, to a wall mounted shower chair.
  • Alternatively, the user can transfer to a shower chair then roll into the shower stall with assistance.
  • When the shower floor is level with the bathroom floor, both handicapped individuals as well as people of all abilities can enjoy safe and comfortable bathrooms.
  • Accessible bathtub replacement shower models have a 60" outside dimension as they are designed to utilize the bathroom framing around conventional 5-foot tubs.
  • Prefabricated accessible roll in showers are available in both fibreglass and acrylic designs, and come in many sizes.
  • A roll-in shower can be installed in the space allowed for a tub, although a wider space may be desirable, especially if the user will require assistance.

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Shower Pans

An accessible barrier-free shower pan can be combined with ceramic wall tiles for a beautiful custom shower that will accommodate someone in a wheelchair. See ADA and Accessible Shower Bases.

For more information on Accessible and ADA Showers:

It takes a bit of creativity, to find the additional floor space a person using a walker or wheelchair requires. Sometimes extra space can be found within the existing structure.

Removing an adjacent closet often allows room for a larger shower, including a bench and a hand-held showerhead. Sometimes an existing swinging door can be replaced with a pocket door to take further advantage of available floor space.

Accessible Toilets

Different users have different needs, so take the time to determine which modifications would be the most appropriate.

Toilet heights are described as low and high seats.

  • Elevated or high toilet seats are 17" to 19" above the finished floor, compared to standard seats at 14" or 15". This reduces the need for lowering and lifting oneself on and off the seat.
  • High seats are ideal for ambulatory bathroom users who have difficulty getting to their feet from a sitting position.
  • A high seat is often not appropriate for an unassisted wheel chair user or people of shorter stature.
  • Check with ANSI and UFAS Standards to determine the amount of clearance room you need around the toilet, which will depend on the approach to the toilet. For example, you will need:

- 5' x 4'8" for a front or side approach with no lavatory(sink) next to toilet.
- 4' x 5'6" for a front or side approach with lavatory next to toilet.
- 4' x 4'8" for a side approach with lavatory next to toilet.

Roll-under Sinks and Vanities

Bathrooms are more accessible to wheelchairs if a pedestal wall-mounted sink or vanity is installed.

  • A portion of the clear floor space located under the fixtures provides the required knee and toe clearance so that a wheelchair can be rolled up to the bathroom sink.
  • A recommended 34" space from top of counter to the floor and 29" from underside of sink to floor, is best for wheelchair users.
  • Insulate hot water pipes under the sink, to prevent injuries.
  • A panel could also be used under the sink to hide the plumbing and provide protection from the pipes.

Mirrors, Cabinets and Counters

  • Wheelchair users need low mirrors. A tilt-down mirror can be adjusted as needed by all family members.
  • Prescription medicine can be stored in an accessible wall cabinet with shallow shelving.
  • Shelves should be near eye level so small print on the labels can be easily read. For wheelchair users, a wing wall beside the vanity is an excellent medicine cabinet location.

Bathroom Lighting and Electrical

  • Bathrooms should be well lit with artificial and natural light.
  • A casement window is easiest to open and close for those with limited dexterity.
  • A skylight is another way of bringing daylight into the bathroom.
  • Vanity lighting for wheelchair users may require minor adjustments. Most wheelchair users, for example, cannot get close enough to the wall mirror for focused activities such as shaving or applying make-up.
  • A portable self-illuminated mirror kept within reach is often helpful.
  • Light and fan switches should be installed in accessible locations away from water sources.
  • Electrical outlets should also be installed in accessible locations to serve bathroom appliances such as hair dryers and razors.
  • Radiant ceiling lamps are an inexpensive and effective option for helping to stay warm when wet.
  • Shower interiors are often dark when the curtains are closed, so a waterproof light fixture is recommended inside stalls and above tub/shower enclosures.

There are many ways to make your bathroom safer and user friendly for the whole family.

An accessible bathroom can change your life. Increasing your freedom and independence in bathing doesn’t have to be hard. Accessibility Professionals is here to make independence a reality.

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