Carole Armstrong of Delabie UK suggests that design, comfort, safety and hygiene should be seen as equal to compliance when specifying accessible washrooms
Inclusive design for accessible facilities should be a given. However, adapted washrooms in the care sector are subject to much higher levels of constraints compared to domestic settings. Typically, the emphasis is on compliance, over aesthetics. But this doesn’t need to be the case. Design, comfort, safety and hygiene are all equally important and should be considered as well as compliance and regulations.
Designing for shared use
In the care sector, adapted washrooms must cater for the masses, not just the individual. The obvious solution is to specify washrooms that are accessible to all, regardless of age, level of mobility or independence. This means designing a neutral environment, one which is discrete, non-stigmatising, aesthetically-pleasing and comfortable. Every user will then feel more at ease, whether they are able-bodied, ambulant disabled, wheelchair users or fully dependent on a carer. The ultimate design objective is to create washroom facilities with access for all, without appearing to. Good aesthetic design will remove the medicalised aspect of institutional accessible washrooms. Designers are very conscious that product appearance is just as important as technical performance. Not only do the taps, showers, WCs and grab bars comply with current guidance, but do they also have sleek, stylish lines that are easy to keep clean and maintain? Offering products in a range of finishes provides specifiers with options that complement any decorative style and provide a good visual contrast with wall finishes. Adaptability is also important for those facilities providing short-term accommodation for people with reduced mobility, such as rehabilitation or respite care centres. Removable shower seats provide a practical solution where the use changes according to the user’s level of independence. The seat need be installed only when it is required. When considering design in accessible washrooms, the accessories are easily overlooked. Simple touches such as matching the finish on the taps and sanitaryware to the soap dispenser and toilet brush can improve the aesthetic. Ergonomics play a significant part too, so installing toilet brushes – with a long ergonomic handle that self-centres when replaced in the holder – can be a small detail that improves the user’s experience. Similarly, tilting mirrors that can be adjusted by wheelchair users contribute to equality of experience in the washroom.
Specifying for intensive use
Specifying for accessibility in the domestic setting is comparatively simple, as the household is relatively small with regular, but light, usage. Accessible washrooms need to provide a safe space for vulnerable people, but they may also be subject to heavy-handed use, and even abuse. The primary role of grab bars and shower seats is to support the static weight of any user, and assist their movement within the washroom. The elderly or people with reduced mobility can easily lose their balance and fall. If they reach for the nearest hand hold, whether this is a bar, a riser rail or even a shower mixer, it must support the additional force required to arrest their fall. The mixer body must be at an ambient temperature to prevent burns, and the type of fixings subsequently becomes very important. Recessed shower mechanisms and concealed fixings for grab bars provide the ideal solution. Not only can the fixings be totally hidden, they also prevent unwanted removal, and they are visually more pleasing. In the event of a user falling, grab bar dimensions also take on a greater significance. If they slip, their arm may get trapped between the wall and the grab bar, resulting in a fracture. By limiting the gap between the bar and the wall, this can be avoided. User comfort must not be sacrificed at the altar of design and function. For example, to provide full support the profile of the grab bar or support rail must allow a firm, natural hold. If the bar’s profile is too angular, a hand cannot grasp the bar properly. Similarly, if the diameter is too small or too large, the forearm muscle is activated rather than the shoulder muscle, placing unnecessary strain on the user. Similarly taps, showers and WCs should also be easy to operate (e.g. non-contact), electronic controls or ones with long levers which can be operated by a fist or elbow. Adapted washrooms should economise on user effort.
Hygiene in adapted washrooms is of primary importance, especially for those in constant use. Some Bioclip mixers and taps ranges have been designed with removable bodies or spouts that can be removed if bacterial contamination is suspected. They also have smooth interiors and exteriors with fewer niches where bacteria can adhere and develop. Alternatively, electronic controls have an automatic duty flush that prevents water stagnation, a key factor in Legionella development. All models will also withstand thermal or chemical shocks for preventative or curative purposes. The straight sections of grab bars should be extruded in one piece to avoid seams where the hands have most frequent contact. Smooth, uniform surfaces such as stainless steel or high-density nylon offer excellent hygienic properties. They will both withstand intensive use and regular cleaning so the surface remains smooth and bright, maintaining the attractive appearance of the washroom. Design also plays an important role in hygiene. Complex shower seat structures have multiple niches where dirt can build up, allowing bacteria to develop. Simple, clean lines reduce such niches and facilitate cleaning. The seat profile is equally important as water must be able to drain away to avoid pooling. Any standing water, especially soapy water, provides a slip hazard and encourages bacterial growth. Designers of adapted washrooms in non-domestic care environments no longer need to compromise on aesthetics. It is possible to incorporate stylish designs that will withstand intensive use while upholding user safety and hygiene standards. In environments subject to intensive use, attractive products and well-maintained fixtures with clean, bright surfaces are more likely to elicit respect and care from users. There is no compromise on functionality or ergonomics, ensuring safety for all users of accessible washrooms in the care sector.
Carole Armstrong is marketing manager at Delabie UK