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Accessible Bathrooms

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Why Accessible Bathrooms?

In 2011, there were over 55 million American adults and children with some disability. 11 million people needed personal assistance with one or more Activities of Daily Living (ADL’s). 

Accessible Bathrooms are designed to accommodate someone with a physical disability and allow wheelchair users and people using walking aids to get around safely, making it easier to bathe, groom and use the toilet.

Barrier-free bathrooms offer a safe solution for people who have reduced balance and mobility. As most bath and toilet rooms are shared between several family members, accessible designs must  address multiple requirements. Identifying and understanding these factors is the first step in making the right bathroom design decisions.

New products are designed with accessibility requirements in mind. This has resulted in a growing selection of high quality, attractive, useful and well thought-out 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.

Mary's story:

Mary was having difficulty using the tub and had fallen  in the bathroom. Mary was called her states’ Independent Living Center. They referred her to an Occupational Therapist (OT) who offered many useful ideas.

The OT visited with Mary at her home and made recommendations that could be done quickly and were relatively inexpensive to implement.

Within a week her son Mike had installed two grab bars in the bathtub and a hand-held shower for better water 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 then manoeuvring her legs into the tub.

Encouraged by the immediate improvements, Mary continued to look at more advanced accessible bathing solutions and within two months installed a roll in accessible shower in the place of her bath-tub. Now Mary enjoys bathing in her barrier free shower.

Prior to making her bathroom accessible Mary feared falling in the bathtub. Today, Mary thoroughly enjoys her bathing experience.

Accessible bathrooms allow people with disabilities and their entire family to enjoy bathrooms that are 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 must look good and be appealing to many different people.

Today, accessible bathrooms come in a variety of designs to make life easier for everyone in the household to use the bathroom.

The following tips and information can help prevent a serious injury as the majority of falls occur at home, and wet slippery bathroom floors are the #1 cause of falls  at home.

ADA compliant

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 manoeuvring, 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 allowing 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. The space can be positioned for a forward or parallel approach to equipment.

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 a bathroom door location allows a straight wheelchair approach.
  • Using offset door hinges are a more affordable way to increase door widths by about 2" which is often enough to provide the necessary width for a wheelchair or walker to pass through the doorway.
  • If possible, there should be no threshold in the doorway. If it 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 ¾ inch high.
  • An easy way to increase accessibility is to install easy-to-grasp lever door handles on all doors.

Non-slip Surfaces

Bathroom floors can be very slippery, especially when wet.

  • 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.
  • If using ceramic tile, select large, smooth tiles to minimize grout lines and surface irregularities, and look for a non-slip surface texture.

Bathroom Safety Grab Bars

Grab bars are a great way to make any bathroom safer for everyone.

  • 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".
  • A horizontal grab bar can be placed on the wall behind the toilet, and a second one on the wall beside the toilet.
  • 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

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 can easily be added to the shower, bathtub and sink.
  • Adding a hand-held shower head improves water control and allows the shower to remain accessible to everyone in the family.
  • A pressure balanced mixing valve with anti-scald temperature controls allows for a constant water temperature, which will help users with limited sensation in their bodies less susceptible to burns.

Walk in Bath Tubs

Walk in tubs have become popular and are seen in television ads all the time.

  • These “sit up style” bathtubs offer people a low 4-6 inch step instead of stepping over and into a standard tub.
  • Walk in tubs are a great option for people who prefer to rehab at home with water or air jets, creating a personal therapeutic spa.
  • 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 designed for residential applications.

  • Roll-in showers make it possible for a person with a disability to wheel into the curb-less shower, then transfer, with our 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 if needed.
  • 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 5 foot tubs, and fit well into standard bathrooms.
  • 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 tile walls for a beautiful custom shower that will accomodate someone in a wheelchair. See ADA and Accessible Shower Bases.

For more information on Accessible and ADA Showers:

Finding additional floor space required for easy access by a person using a walker or wheelchair requires creativity. Sometimes extra space can be found within the existing structure.

Removing an adjacent closet would allow room for a larger shower, including a bench and a hand-held shower. Sometimes an existing swinging door can be replaced with a larger 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.
  • Recommended 34" maximum from top of counter to floor and 29" minimum from underside of sink to floor.
  • Insulate hot water pipes to prevent burns.
  • 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 will increase your freedom and independence in bathing.

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