How to make your bathroom universally accessible

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Whether you live with a person with a disability or you’re one of the growing number of people who have elderly parents moving in with them, it may be beneficial to undergo a bathroom renovation to accommodate their needs. Changing your bathroom to be more in line with your loved one’s needs doesn’t just have to be for functional reasons. The modifications can be aesthetic as well.

“We can create Universally Accessible bathrooms without making them appear that way,” said Christina Piekut, a bath and kitchen designer at Alure Home Improvements. “That way, you don’t have to worry about the resell value of the house.”

Piekut, along with Ken Gold, also a bath and kitchen designer at Alure, shared all of the ways you can modify your bathroom for people with disabilities.

1. Modify the entrance
According to The Americans with Disabilities ACT (ADA), a wheelchair accessible doorway should be 36″ whereas most standard bathroom entrance doors are 24″ wide. Additionally, the handle should change to accommodate the person’s disability. Lever handles should be installed to make the knob easier to grab and turn for those who have difficulty rotating their hands.

2. Remove ‘barriers’
Standard bath tubs and showers come with a 4-inch step in the entrance to prevent water from escaping and causing damage. However, this can make it impossible for wheelchairs to get through, and it can cause those with mobility issues to lose their balance and fall. Either remove the barrier completely or install a ramp that wheelchairs can get over and people can easily use without having to step over anything. Additionally, you can remove the vanity under the sink to allow for a person to sit underneath it.

3. Make it a ‘wet room’
If you do choose to remove the barrier to the shower or tub, transform your bathroom into a “wet room,” noted Gold. This involves installing tile around the entire space so if water gets out, it doesn’t cause any damage and can be easily mopped up. Handheld showers can also be installed to make bathing easier, and it’s even more reason to have a wet room, since the water has the potential to spray the floor and walls.

4. Install grab bars
Bars can be added to the walls throughout the bathroom to assist those with difficulty maneuvering.

“They’re nailed to the studs in the walls to support a person’s weight, and are especially useful,” said Gold. “They can really help a person safely get around the bathroom without falling.”

While bars can be placed anywhere with studs, they’re most effective near the toilet and in the bath, which are spots that are notorious for people falling. They could slip in the shower or when stepping over a threshold, and have difficulty getting up from the toilet seat.

5. Use light sensors
Light switches can be difficult to find, and flipping them on can cause pain in those with arthritis and other conditions. Automatic lighting can be installed to help alleviate pain and provide a convenient way to enter and exit the room.

How to make your bathroom universally accessible

“Sensors can help those with MS who might not be able to reach a switch or make the hand motion needed to turn it on,” explained Gold.

6. Follow ADA height guidelines 
Gold suggested lowering the sink and countertops and elevating the toilet seat to accommodate those with disabilities. Consider installing a chair in the tub to allow for easier washing, and move outlets and light switches lower so someone sitting in a wheelchair can easily reach them.

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