Monday, 9 March 2009

Wheelchair Accessible Bathroom - The Basics You Need to Know

One of the questions that I'm asked most often is "What must I do to make a bathroom accessible?" Well the first thing you must do is make sure that the disabled person can get into the bathroom, or any room for that matter. So let's start with the door. Ideally you want to use a 36" door. I understand that when remodeling, it is not always going to be possible to fit a door that size without some major tear out. However try to use a door no smaller than 30" if you can. Sometimes a pocket door is the answer. In new construction, it is always going to be 36" doors throughout the house. Next, in new construction we need to consider the size of the room. In bathrooms, other than the master, we sometimes lean toward smaller rather bigger when it comes to the second or third baths.

A 6'-0" x 8'-0" bathroom is going to be cramped, especially when there needs to be room for a wheelchair. You need to consider that a wheelchair requires at a minimum 48" to turn around and by standard it is 60". So if you consider this, then the minimum size bathroom becomes 8'-0" x 10'-0". In remodeling it may not always be possible to expand the bathroom in both width and depth. The most critical dimension is the width or area in front of the sink and toilet which must be 60", so in this cases we need 8'-0" perpendicular to these fixtures. Also with a wheelchair bound person counter top height is important.

So, as with the kitchen counters, use 32" maximum height counters and at the sink or anywhere else a person in a wheelchair must face a counter, in order to use the counter top area or sink, because knee space must be provided. For the toilet itself, keep in mind two things: height and shape. The fixture needs to be chair height and it should have an oval shaped bowl. Now, we come to the tub and shower area of the bathroom. In the master bath where you sometimes have both a shower and a bathtub both have to be considered. Let's start with the tub in the master bath where there is a separate shower. If the wheelchair user is planning to use the tub, then a device to raise and lower the individual will be required. Depending on the device to be used, some consideration may be needed during construction. As for the shower in the master bath, a roll-in shower will be needed along with a fold-down seat. These units take up no more room than a standard tub enclosure would. Grab bars will have to be installed around the tub and toilet areas as well as the shower area.

Additional reinforcement in these wall areas will need to be provided to support the grab bars. The grab bars for the toilet need to be installed both behind the tank and to the side opposite the counter or on both sides where the toilet is enclosed. The grab bars need to be installed at a height just above the tank. While we are on the subject of an enclosed toilet area, we need to be sure that the opening to the toilet area, or the door, is 36"and opens out of the enclosed area. You also need to allow space for 60" of turn around area. If this is not practical, then you might want to reconsider enclosing the toilet. The grab bars in a roll-in shower, as well as the fold down seat, are usually installed by the manufacturer. In the case of a custom shower enclosure, refer to the manufacturer's instructions on placement height for the grab bars. The seat, whether built-in or a fold-down, must be of chair height.

For bathrooms other than the large master, the tub will either need to be replaced with a roll-in shower, or you will want to make accommodations for raising and lowering the client. Whichever one you choose, the same rules regarding dimensions and fixtures apply here as with the master bath. Other things to consider here as well as elsewhere in the house are door handles, water valve levers in the sink and tub, temperature control in the shower and tub, and lighting. Door handles throughout the house should be a lever type, as these are easier for those with limited use of their hands to operate. The same is true of the levers on the sink and tub or shower controls for the same reason. Temperature control should be provided to prevent scalding for those individuals who lack, or have diminished, feeling or sensation. And lastly, you must consider the height and placement of switches and outlets.

Height must be in accordance with ADA specifications and you need to consider the ability of the individual to reach them when deciding the placement of outlets. Consider placing a GFI outlet, a Ground Fault Interrupter, on the front or side of the cabinet. Lighting is not something that you would normally consider important when designing for accessibility, but to a person in a wheelchair who can't reach the light switch, it is very important. Switches, as I mentioned before, must be at an easily reached height. We also must consider changing the bulbs in these fixtures. Consider using florescent bulbs or LED's for long life as the handicapped individual is going to require help in changing bulbs. And sometimes if we have to ask, too often we won't because we feel as if we are imposing on others, or we simply can't afford to have someone do it. Well, I hope I have answered some of your questions regarding accessible bathroom design. If you have other questions, don't hesitate to ask. Breath Peace and God's Love.

My name is Gary M Renick and I am a 55 year old retired engineer. I have be handicapped since the age of three when I was stricken by polio. I have spent the last 37 years confined to a wheelchair. The last five in a power chair as I now suffer from Post Polio Syndrome. My experience as a wheelchair user helps me to write about accessibility problems and solutions. My blog is called "Ask Gary ADA" and it deals with answers to accessibility problems and other handicap issues and changing government policy. You can visit my site at

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