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Designing a Handicapped-Accessible Bathroom

In years gone by, apartments and houses were hardly ever designed with the idea that someone wanting to access the bathroom might have mobility issues, perhaps needing a walker, a wheelchair, or even just a cane. In older dwellings, the bathroom door is usually narrower than other doors in the house, and often accessed via a narrow hallway. Builders assumed that because no one was ever going to try to move a piece of furniture into a bathroom, the doors did not have to be all that wide. Even today, doors are usually wider than they once were, but those doors and the access to them are still not typically designed with the needs of a person with a disability in mind.


For purposes of this article, we are going to assume that the bathroom has to be accessed by a person in a wheelchair, since this is usually the type of mobility issue that presents the most difficult access problems. So, when a home is being designed for a wheelchair user, the bathroom should be accessible directly from another room, or from the end of a hallway, so that the person does not have to turn in order to enter. Further, the door should be at least three feet wide.

Inside the Bathroom

Once inside, the more room available for moving around, the better. The person should be able to approach each fixture from any direction, and should also be able to turn around
Once inside the bathroom, the more room for maneuvering the better. Not only should the user be able to turn around, there should also be enough room for a caregiver – even if a caregiver is not immediately needed, that situation could change.

The Sink

A conventional sink mounted in an open cabinet, or a wall-mount sink is the best choice. Taps should be operated by means of a single lever.

The Bathtub

You have a number of options. You could consider a bathtub on a raised base, which makes it easier for a caregiver to bathe the client, but this means that some sort of mechanical transfer method will need to be employed. There are also bathtubs that can be elevated once the client enters the tub, but they are so expensive (in the tens of thousands of dollars) that they are usually only found in special care facilities.

Of course, you may have seen bathtubs with a door in the side, and a seat built in. This option would seem to make sense, but the problem is that the user has to get into the tub, fill it, bathe, and then wait while the water drains away before getting out of the tub, since obviously, it would not be a good idea to open the door while water is running or draining. This means that the user has to sit there being cold, and then later, being both cold and wet.

For many people who have mobility issues, a shower is the better option. A roll-in shower stall can accommodate a wheelchair, and seats can be used as well. A hand-held shower is also a useful option, as the user can direct the spray to where it is needed, as opposed to having to move themselves toward the spray.

The Toilet

For people with mobility issues, the toilet should be easily accessed from both the front and the sides. This is because even if the user is currently able to transfer from the front, at some point, their condition could change, and they might need side access. A taller toilet will also make for an easier transfer; as conventional toilets are usually too low for wheelchair users. You could also consider one of the devices on the market that will work to raise the height of a conventional toilet seat.

Ceiling Track Lifts

If it’s in the budget, a ceiling track lift can be very helpful when it comes to transferring a wheelchair user from chair to tub or toilet. This is an electrical device that uses a sling to move the user.


If you have an older home, and one of the occupants has mobility issues, you may wish to consider adding a bathroom to your home rather than attempting to renovate the existing one, which is almost certain to be far too small. In a more modern home, though, you may very well have bathroom space that could be renovated to accommodate a person with mobility issues.