Accessible Bathroom Design | Advice, Info & Things To Consider
Everybody on the planet needs to have access to a bathroom. However, creating an accessible bathroom design for a person that lives with disabilities can be an intimidating prospect. With over 14.1 million disabled people living in the UK, it is clear that you are not the only person facing this challenge.
Accessible bathrooms are designed for people with a wide range of needs. According to NHS England, there are over 1.2 million wheelchair users in the UK alone. However, it’s not just wheelchair users that accessible bathrooms are designed for.
It may be sufferers from debilitating arthritis who struggle to turn taps and light switches on. Visually impaired individuals should be able to set the temperature of their shower without fear of being scalded. And anyone unsteady on their feet, for a whole host of reasons, should feel safe when using the bathroom.
No matter what accessibility concern you are designing for, this post has the advice and information needed to create a safe and welcoming bathroom for your parent, patient, client or yourself.
Let’s get into it!
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Considerations When Designing An Accessible Bathroom
When creating your design, it is crucial to keep in mind for whom the bathroom is intended. Somebody with poor vision will not require the same amenities as a person with mobility challenges. If you are planning a bathroom that will be shared by multiple people with different conditions, you may need to include more finishes.
In a hurry? Here’s a quick list of some of the main accessible bathroom consideration:
- Wider doors that open out
- Plenty of open floor space to manoeuvre
- Remove any thresholds on the floor
- Walk-in bathtubs
- Wet room shower
- Non-slip flooring
- Accessible Toilet height
- Wall-mounted or cut-out basin
- Grab rails
- Easy lever taps (no knobs)
- Good Lighting
- Accessible storage
The following sections dive deeper into what kind of accessible fixtures and features are currently available on the market and what may take a custom builder to achieve.
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Access and Layout
Your first challenge in the layout will be to determine the required floorplan. If you are aiming for a wheelchair accessible room, the hall and doors must be at least 950mm wide. The door must open out into the adjoining room, not into the bathroom. A sliding door may provide a better choice for privacy.
You may need to leave extra room in front of the vanity and use a floating vanity so that the wheelchair occupant can roll under the counter for better reach to the basin. This is also a great option for people that use a walker-seat combination. There should be an open floor measuring approximately 150cm x 150 cm so that the chair can fully turn around in the room without bumping cabinets or the toilet.
No-trip thresholds remove the bump found under most doors, which are great even for seniors or people that use crutches to get around.
Shower and Bath
The great news in the shower and bath department is that there is literally a functional design for almost everybody’s needs. If you are not planning a full bathroom renovation, adding some upgrades to your existing bath will go a long way in providing a safe and accessible wash every day.
Look for a walk-in tub if you struggle to get in and out of a standard bath. Take a seat on the built-in bench, lean back, and the sealed door allows you to fill the water up to your chest. Some models even come with jets and massage features.
A wet-room style shower removes the barrier of a tub or even a single step. Just roll in the chair or use a shower seat and don’t worry about stepping over an edge. No-slip floor tiling gives unsteady feet a better grip. Grab bars can be positioned where they are needed from chair to shoulder height.
Install the hand-held shower at a height that can be reached by the user. Ensure that you add a no-scald mixer valve that delivers a perfectly warmed shower with a single touch. Another option is to install the on and off taps on the wall outside the shower or bath enclosure for the use of a caregiver.
Popular types of accessible showers and baths:
- Walk-in/roll-in shower enclosures
- Wet-room design with no enclosure
- Low walk-in bath
- Hip-height walk-in bath
- Jetted walk-in bath
- Hand-held shower head mounted within reach of the user
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You might think that you only need to add a grab rail in the bath or shower. The fact is that you can have them mounted wherever the resident may need them. For an individual that can walk but is unsteady on their feet, having a rail that runs along all the walls may provide the extra support needed at any time.
Grab rails can be just 15 cm wide or up to a meter long. They must be screwed into a structure that can support the entire weight of a person. They can be installed at any time, so are not a requirement for your initial design. Use as many or as few as needed.
Places to add a grab rail:
- By the toilet for transfer or to support weight while sitting down and standing up
- Outside the shower or bath to hold while stepping onto the wet tile
- Inside the shower or bath to use while turning around, sitting, or reaching
- By the basin for support when turning around
- Along the walls
Basin and Vanity
If you think that the only way to get a person that uses a wheelchair close enough to the sink is to eliminate the vanity, think again. Instead of placing the cabinet on the floor, wall-mounted units with a full counter and cut-outs for wheelchair accessibility put everything within reach. You can select the style that you like and include drawers or open shelves for toiletries and towels.
For sufferers of arthritis, opt for levers instead of knobs for your basin taps. These are much easier to use and require less hand dexterity and strength. You can also opt for a basin tap with a mixer valve so that the water never scalds, but is still hot enough to clean your hands. Take it one step further and eliminate the levers altogether by you installing a motion-activated tap.
Remember to consider the mirror position. It may not need to be mounted up so high, but rather where the user will actually see themselves. A full-length mirror on the back of the door gives the occupant an extra angle to check today’s style out from head to toe.
For many people, the WC is used far more often than the bath, and yet we tend to focus on the tub and shower combination at first. When planning an accessible bathroom for a particular individual, the height of the toilet should be a primary consideration.
Whether you purchase a wall-mount or a comfort height unit, it can be customized through mounting points and adjustable pedestals. A person that uses a wheelchair may need a slightly higher or lower seat that matches the level of their chair. Somebody who uses canes or a walker needs a higher seat so they do not have to lower themselves as far. You may wish to install a urinal or a bidet that can help better maintain skin health by making good hygiene easier to achieve.
Look for ease-of-use handles, buttons, or opt for motion-activated flushing to help those with arthritis. Some toilets have seats that open when a person approaches and closes after you leave.
Whatever sanitaryware that you decide to use, take the time to look at the space around the toilet. If you need to transfer from a wheelchair, extra room between the wall and toilet or vanity and toilet may be needed. Dropdown railings fold up out of the way but give the user sturdy support when moving from seat to seat. Think about where the toilet paper holder should be positioned for easy reach–not tucked behind you or down at the floor.
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When you are designing a bathroom for anyone, good lighting can make the difference between feeling safe or uncomfortable in the space. Those with impaired vision may require brighter lights or ones that use the same wavelength as natural sunlight. Add spotlights above the taps to make reading Hot and Cold easier. Think about adding a bright overhead light in the shower or bath to help eradicate shadows. A strip of LED underneath the cabinetry can help prevent stubbed toes. A light at ankle height by the door will illuminate any transition strip.
Consider how the lights will turn on and off. Rocker switches are easier on stiff or painful joints. Longer pull chains put that overhead light within reach of a person in a wheelchair or that is a few inches shorter. New motion-activated switches can turn on the overhead light when somebody enters the room and switch off after no motion has been detected for a set amount of time.
What about the extractor fan? If multiple switches are located next to each other, make use of colours or tactile labels to help a visually impaired person pick the right one.
What do you do for storage when you are optimizing floor space? You must get creative! Order an extra-wide vanity and instead of installing a second basin, use the width for two sets of drawers or open shelves for towels and toiletries. Pressure activated drawers can pop open when pressed and soft-close hardware pulls them shut with a gentle nudge.
Is there a closet? Look at rotating shelves that can be moved using a switch or an easy pull of a knob or lever. You can use all the shelving all the way to the ceiling and still bring it down within reach with a little ingenuity.
In the shower, install shelves and baskets at the height of the person that will use them most often.
A rolling cart may be a good choice. You can push it into a corner and bring it out when you want your makeup and hairdryer right by your side.
An articulated towel rack can be pulled down using a lever or rope and springs back up when you are done. You can still hang multiple towels or clothing to dry while taking advantage of the full height of the wall.
If the resident struggles to open and hold heavy bottles of shampoo or shower gel, install a push-button dispenser in the shower enclosure.
Technology that Makes the Bathroom More Accessible
With the advent of voice-activated technology, even going to the bathroom can be easier with a few smart pieces of hardware. Installing a Google or Alexa unit in the home and pairing it with compatible bathroom fixtures enables anybody with a voice to turn everything in the bathroom on and off.
Teach your unit different skills to set the thermostat, water temperature, or time for a shower. You will need to work with a plumber and electrician that are familiar with installing automated shower and basin taps. For a person with a visual impairment, the audible feedback from the units can indicate that they completed the skill by stating that the water is on at the set temperature.
Looking at the Rest of the Home
If you are undertaking a major bathroom renovation to better meet the needs of a disabled individual, now may be the time to look around the house for other impediments. If you are widening doors, removing walls, or changing out cabinets, it may be more cost-effective to have the same builder tackle some customizations in the kitchen, entry, and bedroom at the same time.
There you have it. Some tips, advice and what to consider when designing an accessible bathroom.
I hope this post has given you some food for thought and a few ideas if you are starting to design your own accessible bathroom.
No matter who you are designing for and what the user’s particular needs are, there’s always some simple solutions or helpful technology to make day-to-day life that much easier and more accessible.
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Michael is a KBB designer from the UK. He's been designing and project managing new Kitchen, Bedroom and Bathroom installations for over eight years now, and before that, he was an electrician and part of a KBB fitting team. He created The Bathroom Blueprint in early 2020.