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Accessible Bathrooms: Designing for Aging in Place and Disabilities

A well-designed accessible bathroom allows for safe entry, exit and performance of essential daily tasks by people with different abilities, ages and body sizes. These modifications can be as simple as relocating a toilet, sink or shower curtain to the correct height or incorporating more specialized fixtures and amenities. Most importantly, they can help prevent the need for family members to enter a loved one’s home or move into a nursing facility.

Often, homeowners fear that adding a large number of accessibility enhancing features will compromise their bathroom’s aesthetic and design integrity and give it an institutional look. However, a wide variety of modern products and design tricks now allow accessibility-enhancing features to be seamlessly incorporated into the overall room theme. This is part of a style philosophy known as Universal Design, and it makes for a more comfortable space for all family members and guests.

One major consideration is adequate floor space to accommodate wheelchair maneuvering and turning. ADA guidelines require that there be a full 60” circumference for a wheelchair to turn without hitting any obstructions. Wider doorways and more space between fixtures also help to comply with these standards.

Another important consideration is good lighting and visibility. This can be achieved by installing a consistent amount of bright, even lighting and installing supplementary recessed or vanity lighting throughout the room. Lighting switches should be placed at the lowest possible height for a person using a wheelchair to reach, and dimmers allow you to adjust brightness based on individual needs.

Other elements to consider include low-maintenance materials and fixtures. Slip-resistant flooring is a must, as are easy-to-clean surfaces and furniture/vanities that can be raised or lowered when necessary. Hand-held shower heads and faucets, touchless/hand-washing faucets and toilets, programmable servo-powered cabinets, comfort-height toilets and lowered medicine cabinetry all contribute to making your bathroom easier and safer to use.

In addition to these more functional improvements, it’s also a good idea to incorporate some decorative accessories that make the space more visually appealing. Grab bars that don’t look like grab bars and dual-purpose items, such as towel racks or toilet paper holders, are available in a range of styles and finishes to match any décor.

A fully accessible bathroom is an asset to any home, and it doesn’t have to cost a fortune. In fact, there are many grants and other financial resources available to cover the costs of making your bathroom more user-friendly. Contact local government agencies, private organizations and disability advocacy groups for more information on how to apply.