The bathroom is one of the most important spaces in a house. AIMEE SHAW looks at the specs of universally accessible bathrooms.
Universally accessible bathrooms specifically cater to the needs of people with disabilities without sacrificing aesthetic value. To get it right for different users is both a challenge and an opportunity for designers.
It’s important first to assess the existing structures of the house, as well as the user’s level of mobility and type of support needed. A large bathroom naturally allows for improved movement around fittings and fixtures, but a smaller bathroom can be just as navigable, if designed properly.
The bathroom needs to be accessible from all sections of the house. If there is more than one floor – or only one bathroom – it’s worth considering the construction of a bathroom, or at least a toilet, on each floor. The usability of an en-suite bathroom can be extended by adding a second door.
Entrance to the bathroom must be barrier-free, with enough space for the caregiver and the user to move around freely. Outward-swinging doors or a sliding door or even a curtain to replace the door will create added space. The door knob can be replaced with a lever-type handle.
Universally accessible bathrooms should have extra space around the toilet for easy access and transfer between the wheelchair and the toilet – making it more convenient for the user to sit to use the toilet and stand up afterwards. The pan should be positioned so that the lid can be used as support when it opens against the cistern.
Flush controls should be at a reachable height for users with limited strength, but grab handles can be fitted on the sides of the toilet for additional assistance. A wall-mounted toilet assists in the cleaning of the bathroom and toilet floor.
Conventional bathtubs can be challenging to access; instead, a combination bath-and-shower is recommended. Rubber mats or slip-resistant adhesive strips make the bath and shower safer, but a comfortable platform at the end of the bath with grab rails will allow the user to transfer from the wheelchair to the bath.
Removable bath boards provide a false base that will raise the user to a position where they can move around more easily. A vertical grip attached
from the floor and ceiling can give additional
support. Alternatively, mechanical and hydraulic lifting features help in lifting users in and out of the bath.
Mixer taps should be accessed from outside the bath or reached from within the bath. Four-pronged mixer taps are easier to use than round, knob-shaped handles, but separate taps will avoid the difficulty of operating two-directional mixer taps. The taps should be clearly marked: the hot tap on the left-hand side and the cold on the right.
Showers are safer to access than baths. Standard showers should be adjusted to an increased size: 900 mm x 900 mm or 1200 mm x 1200 mm. Users should have access to a barrier-free, level entry. Control valves and showerheads need to be accessed from a seated position while a hand-held hose will allow the user to shower while seated. Grab bars and a slip-resistant base provide extra convenience.
A wet shower area is accessible to all users and simultaneously convenient for carers or assistants. It is the safest type of shower because it uses the entire floor space and it allows the user to dry themselves and access the cupboard or toilet from the shower. The floor, however, needs to be constructed according to the regulation size 800 to 810 mm in length. Additionally, the floor needs to be sloped to allow water drainage to the nearest outlet.
A curtain can be fitted to prevent water spray to the user’s wheelchair and to the surrounding plug points. Weighted curtains allow ease of movement and do not drift or stick to the user.
Having a washbasin nearby allows the user to wash their hands before transferring back to the toilet. A small refuse bin, storage box or bidet can be used as a hygiene aid if placed along the same height as the toilet pan. The bidet should have appropriate clearances, with grab rails if necessary. The standard height for a basin is between 850 mm and 900 mm and can be securely fixed to the wall for support.
All users have the right to feel comfortable in a space that accommodates their preferences and capabilities – and where better than in the sanctuary of the bathroom.