Magazine article The Exceptional Parent

Safe, Accessible Bathrooms

Magazine article The Exceptional Parent

Safe, Accessible Bathrooms

Article excerpt

Making necessary changes to the necessary room

Throughout this series of articles, we have examined safety and accessibility from the front steps of the home, to backyard play areas, to kitchens. We have seen that with a little sweat and imagination, a family can make their home accessible, beautiful, and interesting, all at the same time. In this final installment of the series, we look at bathrooms.

Bathrooms are often the smallest rooms in any home, yet they may be the most important, especially for people with special needs. Safe, easy, and uninhibited navigation is the key. However, tight spaces and slipshod construction may produce potential hazards, and can make the bathroom a stressful, if not dangerous, place. There are many accessories that can be used to improve accessibility without making structural changes, such as raised toilet seats, bath chairs, and commode chairs. However, whether you do the remodeling yourself or with a contractor, regardless of budget, there are many factors that should be considered before you draft the design.

Getting your foot in the door

The first thing to consider for the bathroom is getting into it. Widening the doorway to accommodate a wheelchair is a viable modification, or you may consider installing space-saving, "swing-away" hinges, which allow the door to first swing open normally, then pivot via the special hinges all the way flush against the adjoining wall, saving a few inches of space.

Pocket sliding doors, where the door literally slides into a pre-cut "pocket" in the wall, are another possibility.


Freeing-up the space below the sink is an important consideration for wheelchair users. A wall-mounted or pedestal sink (you may have to replace an existing vanity cabinet) provides clear access for wheelchairs to slide under the basin. Wrap the drain pipe below the sink with insulation to prevent accidental burning.

Lower or adjustable-height sinks may be more appropriate for children. You may consider a partially elongated sink, which provides wheelchairs with slightly more room under the basin.


Consider using a single-lever faucet or motion sensor faucet, which senses the presence of the user's hands. This allows easy control of water flow, as there is no holding, grabbing, or twisting involved.


There are three available options regarding style and height of the toilet: removable raised toilet seats; high-rise or low-rise toilets; or just the standard, everyday model.

Raised toilet seats and "space ringers"--a simple attachment that is placed between the toilet rim and the standard seat for a raised effect--are good for people who are ambulatory but do not have the arm and leg strength to move onto or rise up from a standard-height toilet. The seats--available in adjustable or nonadjustable models--are easily clamped on to the existing toilet bowl and sometimes come with a padded, metal safety frame with arms and/or legs.

High-rise toilets provide built-in lift. For a person in a commode chair, however, a raised toilet or raised-seat attachment is not recommended because the chair often cannot slide into its intended position over the toilet bowl. Most commode chairs are made to fit over standard toilets only.

Grab bars: Safety first!--color and style second

Grab bars serve a multitude of functions: they ease general navigation and transfers; they aid movement around the toilet and bath; and they provide extra aid when assistance is unavailable. Without a doubt, grab bars are an essential accessory in a safe bathroom.

The most important consideration when planning your grab-bar installation is how and where they are to be installed. It is recommended that you have a knowledgeable contractor do the installation, but for the handy do-it-yourselfer, there are products available that give you step-by-step instructions on how to install grab bars into your bathroom walls or existing fiberglass showers and tubs. …

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