Wheelchair accessible bathrooms – if not now…. when?

Stuart Reynolds, Head of Product and Marketing at AKW, explains how both private and social landlords can create well-designed wheelchair accessible bathrooms, cost-effectively.

A sizeable survey on wheelchair users and their housing needs revealed the chronic lack of wheelchair accessible homes in the private rented sector and recent Department for Housing figures showed that 119,621 disabled people or people with a medical condition were left waiting for an accessible home by their local authority in 2018/19, a rise of more than 10% since 2016/17

Although there are many factors impacting wheelchair accessible housing, there still remains a highly valid social and business argument for increasing the amount of suitable housing stock in this area of need. 

Good wheelchair accessible bathroom design

The first thing to understand is that well-designed wheelchair accessible bathrooms needn’t cost the earth but should incorporate some well-designed necessities, so that the space is fit-for-purpose and effective in the long-term. 

So, what does a well-designed bathroom look like when it comes to a wheelchair accessible bathroom? Well, ‘good’ design is when the space accommodates the needs of the individual and although this might seem difficult in a rented space, there are a range of common elements that should be included when specifying or installing any wheelchair accessible bathroom. The following is best practice advice taken from the Building Regulation’s Doc M for wheelchair user dwellings and also from Kate Sheehan, Occupational Therapist of The OT Service for a well-designed wheelchair accessible bathroom:

Manoeuvring into and inside the bathroom are key considerations. With this in mind:

  • Prioritise level access throughout the space – use a wet room former, or a recessed or ramped shower tray
  • Ensure doors are outward facing – this increases space in the bathroom and helps in case of emergencies
  • Ensure easy and safe level shower access – this can be done by using a corner design for the shower space
  • Minimise any gradient near the WC – a level access shower area has a gradient to help the water drain. Ensure that this is not part of the WC transfer zone, to minimise wheelchair tipping hazards
  • Incorporate a raised height toilet – to allow for easier transfer from wheelchair to toilet seat
  • Ensure toilet accessibility on both sides if possible – this is best-practice advice and facilitates transfers, personal assistant support and potential changes in need for the wheelchair user
  • Ensure that there is no external plumbing and pipe work – to promote ease of movement around the space, all pipework needs to be concealed within the walls
  • Think about the placement of radiators or towel rails –these can hinder wheelchair movement. Always opt for low surface temperature heat sources and consider underfloor heating as an alternative
  • Use slip-resistant flooring – to maximise the traction of the wheelchair and minimise falls
  • Use a wall hung sink – to improve access. Consider one with handles or a concave design to make things easier for a wheelchair user. The sink’s height should also be tailored to the user’s requirements (although compromises might be needed if the space is also used by the wider family).

Good design promotes independence

The aim of any accessible bathroom is to promote the dignity of the user. Key elements to include:

  • Think about shower placement – as this will impact movement around the space. For example, fittings can encroach up to 500mm on one side of the space (not both)
  • Use technology to promote independence 
  • Add a handle or rail to the door – to help the wheelchair user close the door behind them, without the need for additional assistance
  • Tailor the placement of grab rails – to suit the abilities of the wheelchair user. Think about rail placement beside the WC, washbasin and level access shower. Depending on the bathroom’s layout, fold-up rails may benefit some users and any personal assistants 
  • Think about the user’s reach – to ensure that all of the essential fixtures and fittings (such as the toilet flush, light switches and bath/shower controls) are at a height and reach that supports functional use
  • Incorporating a bidet – bidet’s promote user independence. If this is something that the wheelchair user would benefit from, remember to include an isolated electrical supply in compliance with Building Regulations for this.

Good design needn’t be expensive. For more details on how to ensure the best possible wheelchair accessible bathroom design, why not download the new occupational therapist co-written Wheelchair Guide for Accessible Bathrooms at www.akw-ltd.co.uk?

For more information, please contact AKW on 01905 823298, Email: sales(Replace this parenthesis with the @ sign)akw-ltd.co.uk or visit www.akw-ltd.co.uk