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There is a lot to take into consideration when planning an accessible bathroom.   Ultimately, everything is secondary to these two primary goals:

1.  Making the bathroom experience safer

2.  Making the bathroom experience easier and more comfortable

While safety is obviously a primary concern, ease of bathing should not be overlooked.   Once a person becomes elderly or 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 proper bathroom design will often allow an elderly or disabled individual to bathe without the assistance of another person. 

Here are 10 ideas that every handicap 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.  

2) Walk-in Shower

It is possible to build a shower room 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.  

3) Wheelchair Manoeuverability

The more space you leave for manoeuvring around a bathroom in a wheelchair, the easier and safer it is going to be.   You should allow for tons of wheelchair space, and also consider a door-less shower.   A vanity that is elevated from the ground can also help so that a wheelchair can be rolled up to the sink.  

4) Seats and grab bars inside your walk-in shower

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. 

5) Sink with Wheelchair Access

A handicap bathroom vanity is a vanity sink with space under it for a wheelchair that makes it extremely easy for a handicapped person to wash their hands and brush their teeth.   An ideal 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" 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.  

7) Bathroom Entrance

In order to make it easy for an elderly or handicap person 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 handicap 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 toilet seat height 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 easier.  

10) Creating a bathtub door in an existing whirlpool bathtub

If installing a new handicap bathtub is not within your financial means or you don't have the space, another option is carving a door into an existing bathtub.   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. 

Source: Becca Joyce, Wasauna Bath

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