Speaking to my Guru from the National Defence Academy days – Veteran General Raj Mehta – the need for designing a bathroom for his wife with reduced mobility came up. The discussion we had is summarised here.
Most of our friends – we over 60 years of age – with our mobility in and around our homes reducing with each passing year, will need a walker, a stick or a wheelchair to move. Are our homes designed for it?
The floors of the home got to be non-slippery and the doors curb-less to facilitate movement with a walker/ wheelchair.
Our discussion zoomed in to the bathroom, the most important space at any age – especially during old age. The bathroom needs special care and precision in furnishing choices and solutions.
Dimensions. The bathroom must be large enough to enable ease of movement. It should accommodate two persons as one may need assistance. Hence it must offer 2 meter free space on every side.
Door. There should be no curb at the bottom of the door frame protruding out from the floor. The door must open inwards and not outwards. It may also be a sliding door which disappears in the wall, or a folding door with a vertically-positioned handle to optimize space even more. The door must be made of material, strong enough to withstand the blows from a wheelchair. The door should be a minimum of 34” wide for wheelchair users. Install lever style door handles that are easier to use than doorknobs.
Floor. Must be non- tripping and non-slipping. Fast drying and anti-slip materials should be preferred, without steps, large grout lines or uneven joints. Make sure there are no loose bath mats on the floor. Bath mats are an obstacle for people on a wheelchair and a tripping hazard.
Grab Bars. These must be fitted firmly on to the wall in strategic locations to ensure that people using a space have something to grip onto for supporting their body weight. They help to prevent the user from slipping and also assist the user to move more easily without help from others. Grab bars, preferably circular, should have an outside diameter measuring 1.25 to 2 inches. They must be free from any sharp or abrasive elements, must not rotate, and should sustain at least 250 pounds (114 kg) of force. There should be a space or gap of at least 1 inch between the wall and the grab bar.
Washbasin. The consideration here is that a differently-abled person approaches the sink with the wheelchair and therefore must have the space to assume the most comfortable position at the sink. Adequate space must be left under the sink. The sink must ideally be placed with 34” maximum rim height with a 27” clearance for knees. The handles of the faucets must be long enough to make it is easier to reach and turn on the jet of water. The mirror should be broad and positioned in such a way that the person can have it at their height. Fix grab bars to maneuver around the sink.
Bath. An accessible bath needs to be 30” x 48” for mobility devices in front of each plumbing fixture and room to turn around in a wheelchair. Using a rolling shower seat or fixed shower seat at the height of 17” to 19” is a good idea. A small stool or plastic chair can allow the bather to sit while taking a shower and can be removed for users who don’t use the seat to shower. The opening to the shower is level with the floor and is sloped down to the drain. The shower should be about 60” wide for someone in a wheelchair to be able to turn around in or for an accompanying assistant. A minimum of two grab bars are recommended in the shower area. The controls to turn on the shower must ideally be near grab bars. Place items such as hair care, bathing products, soap, washcloth, etc, so they are easily reachable and do not fall on to the floor. Towel shelves or hooks should be installed within easy reach for drying off before exiting the shower to prevent wet floors.
Toilet. The toilet must be 17”to 19” high. A higher toilet seat makes it easier to lower, stand, or transfer from a wheelchair/walker to the toilet. Thicker toilet seats can be used to add height to existing toilet. Installing a bidet may allow for more privacy and good hygiene. Install at least one grab bar to one side of the toilet at the distance of 18” to nearest wall or fixture. The toilet must ideally be between two support bars that are 36” apart.
Lighting. Even lighting that avoids shadows and glares is preferred. Using natural light as much as possible is ideal. Easy to operate light switches must be placed at a lower height for a wheelchair user. Motion detector lights are preferred for individuals who have trouble accessing light switches.
All walks, halls, corridors, aisles and other passageways at home should be wide enough to allow ease of movement for a person on a wheelchair. The minimum clear width of an accessible route required is 36″ (915 mm) except at doors.
Modern bathroom design that blends attractive look, clever solutions, safe building materials and easy access are great for differently-abled people. The comfortable and functional layout enhance modern bathroom design for them.
“If I have to feel thankful about an accessible bathroom, when am I ever gonna be equal in the community?” – Judith Huemann – American disability rights activist.