Addressing safety and accessibility in the bath.
By Sarah Reep
Our homes are supposed to provide comfort, protection, and a safe environment for our families. However, despite our best intentions to keep our homes safe, potential hazards that are at times hard to spot may lurk in every room. One of the rooms that pose the greatest risk—especially for those that have vision, balance and mobility impairments—is the bathroom. The National Safety Council estimates that nearly 200,000 bathroom accidents occur in the United States each year, which accounts for 70 percent of all home accidents. This nets out to approximately one person dying everyday from a bathroom-related injury largely due to trips, slips and falls, burns from hot water and drowning.
Well-designed bathrooms help assure that residents at home and in facilities are able to use the bathroom as easily, safely and independently as possible. It also makes it easier and safer for caregivers as they assist residents, and for family members of any age to use these spaces. However, it’s important to keep in mind that incorporating greater accessibility in the bathroom has different design considerations than other spaces. Mainly because the space is very personal to the user and their specific needs.
In the end, no one wants to be reminded that they are less capable or independent in their own home. By planning the space to support the user with accessible products, and working with a bath design specialist, accessibility solutions can easily be applied. What’s more, bath design, even with accessibility in mind, doesn’t have to be institutional and only accommodate the users’ needs. It can fit their personality and tastes as well.
From floor to ceiling and everything in between, here are a few of the design elements that should be considered when creating a safe yet stylish bathroom.
Cabinetry Solves Challenges. When it comes to cabinetry, there are many ways to design a bath space to solve for accessibility challenges. For example, multi-level vanities work for users of different heights and for those who need to sit down while grooming. Storage space should be easy to access with pullout and rollout drawers and shelves so users don’t have to reach, stretch or bend.
KraftMaid Cabinetry’s Passport Series has a wide variety of finishes, door styles and decorative enhancements so homeowners can select cabinetry that suits their personal style while supporting an atmosphere that is comfortable for anyone to live in. There are also countless cabinetry storage solutions to reduce clutter and keep organized.
On the Surface. The bottoms of our feet can be very sensitive, especially for those with special needs. Choose a longwearing surface that is smooth, has some grip when wet and is free of raised edges that could result in stumbling.
Freedom-Enabling Fixtures: Elevating the height of the toilet is generally more comfortable for those who have challenges transitioning from sitting to standing and vice versa. Even better is a wall-mounted toilet, which makes gets the toilet off of the floor and is easier to clean around, too. When selecting a vanity faucet, look for styles that have lever handles rather than knobs. Or consider faucets with hands-free technology such as Brizo’s SmartTouch® faucets. These faucets are beautifully designed and allow users to simply touch anywhere on the faucet body or handle to turn the water on or off, with very little effort.
Mirror, Mirror on the Wall. A mirror on the wall over the vanity allows users to see themselves while seated. There are also full-length medicine cabinet wall mirrors that are more accessible than vanity styles and make the space feel larger.
Bathing Beauties. Zero-threshold shower bases make it easier to walk or roll in, yet won’t lack in style or break the bank. The slip-resistant base installs flush to the bathroom floor so there are no stumble points and the integrated drain drains water more quickly and won’t leak out.
A hand-held shower in a complementary finish to the vanity faucets and accessories can be mounted at any height and has a flexible hose for a wider range of motion. It also makes cleaning the shower and tub easier. Pre-made niches and shelves can be built into the shower wall at any height to keep shampoo and toiletries off the shower floor and within reach.
Double Duty Accessories. Grab bars do double duty as towel holders while providing a sturdy place to hold on to when reinforced with plywood behind the drywall. Today, grab bars come in any number of styles and finishes so they add an element of design without looking institutional.