9 Focus Areas for Wheelchair Accessible Universal Design Bathroom Remodels

November 28, 2017

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Universal design features make homes safer for all users. Here’s how to approach an accessible bathroom.


Accessible and universal design features are more in demand than ever as Baby Boomers seek to remain in their homes longer without concern for mobility and safety issues they may encounter down the road.

But these features don’t just benefit the elderly or the disabled. Many accessible design elements, from comfort-height toilets to low-threshold showers, increase safety and comfort for all users while enhancing home value—and typically with minimal added expense.

Wondering just where to start? Following are nine key areas on which to focus your universal design efforts in a bathroom remodel.


1. Bathroom Access & Doorway

When planning renovations to the bathroom, start by considering what a person of any ability, height, or age—whether standing, sitting, or using a wheelchair—would need to get there. Ideally, the approach to the room will have these characteristics:

  • A hallway with a minimum clear-width of 36”
  • Doorways at least 32” wide
  • Doors retrofitted to swing open to the outside or can be converted to pocket doors
  • Lever door handles, which are easier to use than knobs
  • Doors that can be unlocked from the outside in case of emergency


2. Flooring & Bath Mats

Reduce the risk of injuries from slips and falls in the bathroom by using a textured flooring surface and removing unnecessary bathroom mats and rugs. (Bestbath’s Grip Texture, for example, can be applied to almost any surface to make it slip-resistant and safer.)

If vinyl flooring is used, select a patterned option that includes texture and roughness. For tile, choose textured surfaces, matte finishes, or sand-containing glazes. Small tiles with more grout lines can provide a better “grip” than larger tiles.

A low-pile, rubber-backed bath mat is useful to help feet dry when stepping out of the shower or bath. Consider eliminating mats altogether when walking becomes more difficult or when walkers are being used.


3. Bathing

Walk-in baths and showers come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes and with many optional features.

Tubs: For bathrooms with tubs, the quick solution is to use an ADA-compliant bathtub transfer bench. Another option is a walk-in tub, which provides a low-step entry threshold and also has hydrotherapy benefits, can double as a shower, and can normally be installed in an existing bathtub’s space. Bestbath offers several options of walk-in tubs, including the Escape Plus featuring an ergonomically curved door for easy accessibility.

Showers: Barrier-free showers provide the best overall accessibility in bathing. Today, these are available in many styles, from custom-built showering areas to precisely manufactured units offering accessories, built-in plumbing features, and unique finishing touches. For example, one of Bestbath’s many barrier-free shower options offers the look of subway tile with the sleek, elegant look of a trench drain.

Consider these design and safety features when planning a barrier-free shower:

  • An area with a 5’ turning radius outside the shower or tub
  • A curbless or low-curb (1/2”) threshold for wheelchair or walker access
  • Slip-resistant flooring
  • Positioning and strong mounting of grab bars
  • Adjustable-height shower head and fixed head
  • Shower controls positioned low enough for easy use when sitting
  • Controls nearer the entrance for assisted operation
  • Anti-scald and water-pressure controls
  • A shower seat that runs the entire depth of the wall opposite the shower controls or on the back-wall perpendicular to the controls


4. The Sink

Many bathroom sinks are already within the height range for accessibility—32 in. to 34 in. from the floor to the top of the sink. Yet most do not have the 27” of clearance from the floor to the bottom of the sink.

To make the space under the sink suitable for wheelchair access, install an angled panel to protect legs from hitting pipes or being burned on the hot water pipe. An alternative is a wall-mounted sink that has no plumbing other than a short drain pipe going into the wall.


5. The Toilet

Creating an accessible toilet is based on height, clearance, and space.

  • Height: The top of the toilet seat should be 17”-19” above the floor. It’s important to distinguish toilet seat from toilet bowl because some bowls are sold without a seat; the total height is what is important.
  • Clearance: The undercut should have 9” of clearance from the floor to the bottom of the toilet bowl. Depending on style, some bowls are severely undercut or, in the case of wall-mounted bowls, never touch the floor at all.
  • Space: In bathrooms where the toilet is hidden by a wall or compartment, it is important to design access with a 60” radius for turning.

In addition, consider the accessories: The toilet paper holder should be placed on the nearest wall at a minimum of 19” above the floor and a maximum of 36” from the back wall. A partial in-wall holder will help keep space clear. Toilet grab bars are also often necessary.


6. Grab Bars

With proper placement and installation, grab bars make movement in and out of bathtubs and showers, and on and off of toilets possible and much safer for all users.

ADA guidelines provide detailed information regarding placement options. Keep in mind, ADA guidelines are for commercial buildings such as apartments and hotels. Private residences do not need to meet the placement requirements. Instead, grab bars can be moved to suit the user’s height and needs.

It is important that grab bars be mounted to walls to withstand 250 to 300 pounds of load. To do this, wall studs around toilets and tubs need to be located prior to installation. (Alternatively, Bestbath showers are built with integral wood backing, allowing the flexibility to mount grab bars in any location.)

Today’s grab bars come in many colors and styles. Some bars are designed to double as towel or toilet paper holders, others as corner-mounted accessory shelves.


7. Cabinets & Mirrors

The cabinets and drawers closest to the sink are the most likely to be used by a smaller person, a child, or someone sitting in a chair. From hinge options to the style and placement of handles, cabinets and drawers need to be easy to open and close. If a medicine cabinet is desired, its location and opening mechanism should be easy to access and operate.

For wall-mounted above-sink mirrors, the bottom edge of the mirror should be no more than 40” above the floor. Tilting mirrors are not a requirement, but are worth considering. And, where wall space is available, a full-length mirror, with its top edge 74” from floor, is a great addition.


8. Counters & Colors

The countertop height should be 32”-34” from the floor and have knee clearance of 27” so a person can easily snug up to the counter’s edge, whether standing or sitting. Plan plenty of countertop space for the future when it may be easier to leave some items out of drawers and cabinets for easier access.

For improved safety, install counters with curved edges and with a contrasting edge color for better visibility. In fact, contrasting colors throughout a bathroom can provide easier visibility and improved safety.


9. Lighting & Ventilation

A well-lit bathroom—day or night—improves the visibility of the room’s facilities. A lighting plan should include lighting for any area potentially sectioned off from the main room, such as the toilet or bathing areas. The plan should also address how light enters cabinets and drawers when opened. Finally, consider rocker-style light switches to make turning lights on and off easier.

The bathroom’s air circulation is critical as well. An efficient fan and, if possible, a window that can be easily opened can reduce moisture and help the room’s surfaces dry faster.


To learn more about these techniques and to browse accessible bath products, including barrier-free showers, walk-in tubs, grab bars, and linear drains, visit www.bestbath.com.


—This article is provided by Bestbath, one of ProTradeCraft's advertisers. Bestbath is a leader of innovative walk-in showers and bathtubs for residential and commercial applications. With more than 400 shower configurations, Bestbath offers intelligent universal design for all. All shower and baths are manufactured in the United States are backed by a comprehensive 30-year limited warranty. View all of Bestbath's content.