Designing an accessible bathroom: The do’s and don’ts
There are many things that need to be considered when designing an accessible bathroom for elderly and disabled people due to it being one of the key rooms in the home for enabling people to remain independent. Whether it’s considering turning spaces for wheelchair users, gathering insights from the client’s occupational therapist or thinking about how an accessible bathroom can work for an entire family, there are plenty of points that need to be carefully approached.
To find out more, we spoke to two of the leading players in the field of accessible bathroom design: Peter Davies from Ropox and Dale Spademan from KingKraft, who have worked together on many accessible bathrooms over the years in domestic, SEN schools and Changing Places environments.
What should be taken into consideration prior to any installation?
Information gathering is vital! How does the client transfer to the toilet, shower seat and access the basin, and what is their level of independence? Most equipment can be tailored to be used with a left or right hand, therefore, it is important to ascertain if the client is stronger on one side should they be using the equipment themselves.
Space is always one of the primary topics for discussion. You need to be aware of required turning spaces for a wheelchair and reach to ensure that taps, shower valves and support rails are all in the correct positions to provide as much independence as possible. If carers are needed, how much space will they need to facilitate their work? It is also important to consider the possible changing needs of the client in the future.
“Removing and replacing the wash basin for a small inaccessible one to create more space, which then often makes the basin impractical to actually use, is a common mistake.”
The best way to gain all this information is by talking to the client, family members, healthcare professionals and anybody else involved in providing day-to-day care to ensure the final bathroom ticks all the boxes. It is then a case of designing a bathroom which best suits the needs of everyone who will be using it and this can often include adults and children if it is a family home.
What are the most common mistakes people make when designing an accessible bathroom?
Using the Part M guidelines, which are useful but only apply to adult wheelchair users and are not mandatory in a private bathroom. Removing and replacing the wash basin for a small inaccessible one to create more space, which then often makes the basin impractical to actually use, is a common mistake. Providing drop down grab rails that do not project beyond the toilet, which makes transferring harder, is another common mistake.
When planning a bathroom, in addition to the client, do you work alongside other people, such as their healthcare professional and family members?
Yes, as everyone can offer valuable insight and information – it is a bit like putting a jigsaw together. OTs will give insight into the needs of the client that an architect may not see, but the architect/technical officer may know the limits of the building and what is physically possible with the space and it is our role to help everyone get what they want and what is possible. Ultimately, no one knows the client better than their family so their input is also extremely important.
How have accessible bathrooms and the equipment available evolved over the years?
Greatly, including recommendations and requirements such as building regulations which now require accessible height switches and ground floor toilets in all new builds. Also, in the last twenty years, equipment and product design has become less institutional. Products no longer look like they have come straight from a hospital or care home, but as though they belong in a home and people can have a stylish adapted bathroom which fits seamlessly within their own home.
What are the most common misconceptions people have about what can be incorporated into an accessible bathroom?
That there is not enough space for everything.
“OTs will give insight into the needs of the client that an architect may not see, but the architect/technical officer may know the limits of the building and what is physically possible with the space.”
Having flexible equipment which can move, such as shower chairs or the Ropox wash basins, can greatly improve accessibility and make the best use of the space that is available.
Do you think that installing an accessible bathroom/changing room in a person’s home is a better option than moving house or potentially moving into a care home?
Yes! Many people we work with have been living in their current family home for years and they do not want to move out as a consequence of their reduced mobility. They just need equipment that will provide them with more independence and this is where we can help.
“In the last twenty years, equipment and product design has become less institutional.”
It is also far more cost effective for all concerned to adapt an existing bathroom, if possible, compared to the cost of either moving house or going into a care home.
What has been the most challenging domestic installation you have completed?
We recently had to completely overhaul a family bathroom for a client, but this room was being used by everyone so it had to be practical, have the features the user needed, but also look like a standard domestic bathroom that anyone would be happy with in their own home. Space and time were both an issue as the clients were going on holiday but we achieved it and the client was very happy.
“Many people we work with have been living in their current family home for years and they do not want to move out as a consequence of their reduced mobility.”
Looking to the future, what do you think we will see in terms of product innovation?
In the future, we will see even more aesthetically pleasing products and connectivity. As technology evolves, we will also see products using the internet, so users will get alerts if a product needs servicing or something, such as ‘the temperature may need adjusting’.