Safe Accessible Bathrooms

Lucile Guidry, Attaway, Denise  |  4/14/2009 5:31:47 AM

It is no secret that the bathroom is the site of many home accidents. This is partly because of the wet, slippery surfaces and the hard, unforgiving fixtures and furnishing found in all bathrooms. Anytime a part of the human body comes into contact with one of these surfaces -- with enough force and lack of control, the chances are very good that tissue damage from surface bruises to broken bones and bloody damage will occur. Many people take measures to reduce the possibility of injuries -- most notable by reducing “slipperiness” with higher friction mats, coatings and by attaching “safety tread” type materials. This is a good start, but, it is only the beginning.

While many of the adaptations and design features to include to make a bathroom safer are often thought of as “handicap accessible” changes, the fact is these improvements are really a matter of common sense and safety awareness. The actuality is that many of us may only implement these changes when we must (because of life changes), but if we are smart, we’ll include them from day one.

There are several points of consideration:

  • Overall design,
  • Materials,
  • Construction methods,
  • Fixture designs and placement, and
  • Accessories.

When determining how to make your bathroom safe and easily accessible, ask yourself these questions:

  1. Is there enough room to get into the bathroom? Is the entry wide enough? Older homes often have doorways that are less than 30 inches wide which is a bit narrow for most families. For instance, when walking into the bathroom with a child on your hip or in your arms, the door is too narrow in many cases. It goes without saying that such a doorway is inadequate to allow a wheelchair or walker to pass through.
  2. Have you selected the proper materials to use in the area? To ensure safety and durability, using the appropriately rate materials will reduce the rate and severity of accidents. It may mean a slightly increased cost initially, but will last longer and do a better job (regular drywall behind tile, can mean a rotting and mold infested product collapsing into a tub area or even a wall -- not good! Not easy or cheap to fix. Improperly secured grab bars may result in a nasty fall and hospital bills for the person who falls—not to mention: a big ugly hole in the wall.)
  3. How about the floor plan? Is there enough room to affect a transfer from a wheelchair to the toilet from a wheelchair? Into the tub from a wheelchair? Do you have a minimum 4 feet clearance for 360 degrees?
  4. Are the fixtures at accessible heights?
  5. Is the flooring material slick and shining or is it matte and slip-resistant? Is the tub and shower surface also slip-resistant? Carpeting is not the best choice due to its likelihood of contamination by mold and other micro-organisms, but there are many other options out there, including unpolished stone, matte and texture finished ceramics and porcelains, and so on.
  6. Is the fixture design conducive to cleanliness and good health? Are wall hung toilets an option?
  7. Have the interior walls -- especially those surrounding the tub, toilet and shower-been reinforced to allow safety/grab bars and other assistive devices? Remember, youngsters often view even towel bars as playthings and will try to swing on them. Will your towel bars support the entire weight of your 5 year-old? Consider the addition of safety/grab bars in appropriate locations.
  8. How high from the floor are the towel bars? If I am confined to a wheelchair, can I reach a hand towel after washing my hands?
  9. Is there enough room to the side of the toilet to allow a transfer to and from a wheelchair?
  10. How about the placement and design of the tub? Can transfers between chair and tub be performed?
  11. Is the shower a roll-in type shower (also called "no-lip") or is the shower accessed from the tub (usually in a seated position from a specially designed stool)?
  12. All the sinks, faucets and controls at the appropriate height for safe access?
  13. Is the mirror at the best height for everyone who uses the space?
  14. Do the bathmats have a heavy, slip-resistant backing?
  15. Will you be using a shower curtain? Be sure and secure it in such a way that it will not be used to support someone’s bodyweight, or attach a safety/grab bar to prevent the use of the fabric of the curtain being improperly used.

While many of these points may seem like no-brainers when discussed in context of safe bathrooms, they can easily get lost in the overall discussion of building or renovating a home when there are so many points to consider for the project. The result of utilizing these suggestions effectively, though, will result in a more valuable, safe, comfortable and attractive home.

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