Wheelchairs are used all around the world for various reasons. Some people have sustained serious injuries and have damaged their spinal cords. Still others have genetic conditions which confine them to a wheelchair, while others have birth defects or just need more support as they age.
Whatever the reason may be, just as there are many reasons for using a wheelchair, so also the solutions you might need in your home differs when you must adapt your bathroom for easier accessibility with your wheelchair.
We are going to look at three main categories. Is the space accessible? Is the door wide enough? Do you have places to install grab bars? You should also look at your toileting structure, such as the toilet, sinks and the taps.
Is There Enough Space?
For you to make sure that you can access your bathroom, you would first make sure that it is accessible. Have you measured the width of your bathroom door? Is it wide enough to pass through? Is the space inside such a width that you can easily turn around while inside and on the wheelchair?
Is there room inside for you to install grab bars near the toilet? As you can see it is vital that you understand the layout of the room beforehand.
Doorways and Passages
Your doors should have a minimum width of 35 inches while the door is open at 90 degrees. The only way to know if it is wide enough is if your wheelchair or walker can pass through unhindered. The space between each fixture must also be wide enough for you to pass between them, use them or approach them.
In the end, the deciding factor should basically be what type of mobility aid you are using and what your maneuvering skills are.
In addition to wider doorways and spaces, the floor area should also be flush on the ground. There should be no threshold at the entrance to the bathroom.
If, however, you cannot avoid having a threshold; for instance if your bathroom is tiled while your hallway is wood, then make sure it is beveled, to avoid your mobility device getting stuck.
Also make sure to limit the height of the threshold to at least half an inch, which is a reasonable height to navigate over.
When planning the home, consider the location of the bathroom. If your home is going to be a multi-level home, its best that the bathroom be placed on the ground floor.
Even if there is a lift or you are perfectly capable of getting up the stairs, strongly consider this option because there might come a time when it will be impossible to do so. This will then make it much more convenient to have your living area downstairs.
When you are inside the bathroom, you should have clear floor space that allows for your turning radius. No matter whether you use a walker, manual wheelchair, or electric wheelchair, you should have room enough to:
-Close the door with both you and the mobility aid on the inside
-Be able to easily use fixtures such as toilets and sinks
-Be able to turn all the way round with your mobility aid, and be able to exit the bathroom without having to back up
With all of this taken into consideration, how much space will you need? Average manual wheelchairs use about 30 x 48 inches and an electric wheelchair 36 x 60 inches of clear floor space.
Thus, the wheelchair will need about the same amount of space adjacent to all bathroom fixtures. You must plan for another extra dimensions next to toilets and sinks, with even more space needed for electric wheelchairs, scooters, or recliners.
Grab bars are important for an accessible bathroom. However, you need to make sure there is room for installing them. When installed near the toilet they are used to assist in standing and sitting.
They are installed either in the horizontal or vertical position. When installed horizontally they are prone to be more ergonomically correct. They are less strenuous on your wrist and offer a gripping place along the way.
Diagonal bars can have the problem that depending on their length, they may not be able to reach between the studs. If this occurs, the bar can instead be mounted with mounting anchors.
Vertical grab bars on the other hand are more commonly used in showers and tubs.
Longer grab bars are preferable to shorter ones as they are more accommodating for height differences.
Grab bars offer a matter of safety when exiting or entering the tub, as they are safer to hold onto than having to grab towel racks, shower doors and other unstable bathroom fixtures.
When you are inside the shower or tub, you might want to make use of horizontal or diagonal bars. Horizontal bars add stability when you are standing while diagonal bars offer support when you are bending to sit down on a shower seat.
Bathing And Showering Options
The solutions to look at for bathing and showering can range from simple to the very complex. The options that might be perfect for you can largely depend on how mobile you are, what assistance you might need, and what features you currently have in your bathroom.
Some bathrooms may need to be completely remodeled while others might only need a little bit of modification.
One of the best ways to modify the bathtub is to add a bathtub board. This board sits across the top of the bathtub. It omits the need to have to go low into the tub or pull yourself up out of the tub. They are also non-slip.
Water will drain through them because they are porous. They can fit on almost any bathtub because they can be adjusted. The boards also come in various sizes and with different features such as shower head holders and hand grips.
The seat you can place in a bathtub is also very simple. You find them in two styles. Some can be used to sit down in the bathtub, while others are attached to the side of the tub and can swivel out.
The swivel seats are similar to the bathtub boards as they do not need you to lower yourself into the tub, but rather you would be sitting above them.
If you would like to go fully into the tub but are concerned about the safety of lowering yourself up and down, you can make use of a bath lift.
These types of devices provide complete safety as they can lower you down and lift you up out of the tub with the push of a button.
You can add neck and back rests, as well as swiveling bases to add comfort and stability to your bathing time.
Walk in tubs are quite expensive and more complicated but might turn out to be your preference. They are like bathtubs but with tall doors and sides. These tubs allow you to walk in, shut the door behind you, before lowering yourself into a bathtub seat.
Walk in tubs have many features, and your preferences basically depend on your budget and on your needs. These types of tubs will require a professional for installation.
An accessible shower should have no curbs. That means that the shower should have a seamless transition from the shower stall floor to the bathroom floor.
This type of transition makes it easy for those who use a wheelchair and who might have trouble navigating over the threshold. A shower like this can be designed with doors and sides or only with curtains.
Another important feature to make accessible is the showerhead. Although traditional showerheads can easily be used, they make it difficult to wash your whole body.
A showerhead that is adjustable and removable is necessary in this regard. When the height of the showerhead can be adjusted it allows for a more comfortable water flow.
With a detachable showerhead you can point the water stream to areas where it is needed.
With a traditional tub or shower, soap dishes are mostly designed out of the reach of a seated person. In cases like these, bath caddies should be designed with an adjustable element for people with disabilities, to make them fit your situation.
You could also opt to have a built-in shower bench or a separate seat for showering, which comes in as fixed, wall-mounted, or as a folding seat.
A fixed chair is placed in the shower like a regular chair and can be picked up and moved to a different position. Folding chairs are similar, but they have the added benefit of being foldable. In this way, they can be put out of the way should someone else want to use the shower.
The wall-mounted seats are a good option for saving space. They are mounted on the wall but can be folded up and moved out of the way when not in use.
Shower chairs that can be pushed offer more stability as they allow for a seamless movement from the toilet to the shower. If your body is feeble and you need assistance while in the bathroom, this type of chair will come in handy.
Pushable shower chairs also come with more options such as harnesses, arm and back rests and seat belts. Their bases are wider for added stability and they are designed big enough to straddle the toilet.
Toileting: Taking Care of Business
When entering your bathroom using the toilet and sink are the main functions performed. Therefore, you would want to do this as independently as possible. The assistance you will need while in there will largely depend on your mobility.
You would however want to ensure that the area is adapted as comfortably as possible. There are tons of options to adapt your existing toilet. Your sink might need a bit of remodeling though, depending on what type you have available.
Toilets And Bidets
For your toilet, it all really depends on what system you already have installed currently and in what way you transfer on. It also depends on the type of floor space you have, coupled with your personal preferences.
Some people need a specific angle in order to transfer on. It might be that you prefer to slide in from the side, stand, or come from the front, to swivel onto the toilet seat.
Toilet seats can be lifted in several different ways. One way is to use a toilet seat raiser. This raises the toilet seat in such a way that you don’t have to lower yourself too far. Sometimes the raisers come in the form of a combination of a raiser and a bidet.
Bidets are quite useful when you have to clean yourself, as the warm water spray provide a gentle cleansing solution. Some people find them to be an essential part of the hygiene routine.
Another way that you can use to raise your toilet seat is by using a toilet frame or a shower chair. With a toilet frame you can position it right over the toilet seat as it provides a fuller surface for sitting, as well as an armrest and a back rest.
Toilet frames in general come equipped with a hole that opens to the toilet underneath or have a place underneath to put a bucket for collecting.
Shower chairs function in about the same way. However, they have wheels for propelling you from over the toilet into the shower.
In order to access the sink, the wheelchair user will find it more comfortable to sit and face the sink. This means that there should be room underneath for the feet to be positioned comfortably.
If there is no way to do that, then maybe the wheelchair user can park sideways, using the sink in that way instead. However, it might be slightly cumbersome to perform hygiene and grooming tasks this way.
Pedestal sinks are also very popular, as they allow the wheelchair user the ability to roll right up in front of the sink. Because there are no cabinets underneath, there is that extra space for the feet and knees.
Another good idea is to have the pedestal sink reinforced, to use the sink to pull up on, almost like an extra grab bar. This way you will be able to transfer over or wash hands.
Hand wash basins that are wall mounted also offer more flexibility and keep the floor space clear. These basins do not have a pedestal underneath and are basically “floating”.
You can install them at any height that is appropriate and preferable to you. They can also be fitted onto adjustable wall brackets, that allows the height to be changed for each user.
Some models can be slid to the side in order to maximize bathroom space. If you decide to go for a pedestal sink, make sure that the water and waste system is flexible enough so that the wheelchair will not get caught on the pipework.
Fixtures And Fittings
Something else that needs to be considered are the taps. Use lever taps if you have trouble turning or gripping a standard knob. You could also rather go for extended lever taps.
These extended taps have an extension that makes the lever reachable from a distance or make them easy to move up or down with less force.
Yet another option is infra-red motion sensor taps. These are triggered by movement. These types of taps are perfect for someone who has limited fine motor control, as they can offer an amount of independence.
The temperature also plays a major part. If you suffer from motor control issues or have reduced sensation, it is important that you be very careful to not get burned.
In order to avoid burning, many people turn down the water heater at the source. However, its not always practical for everyone to do so, therefore there is the option to purchase taps that come in thermostatic versions.
These taps can control the temperature of the water right at the tap. As you can control the temperature of the water through a pre-set regulation, you can avoid getting scalped.
It is important that light fixtures such as switches and outlets be installed at the right height. Outlets are typically installed a little higher, while light switches are installed a little lower.
A good height to install light switches is 35 inches, but not higher than 43 inches. Also make sure not to install light switches behind counters or near any other cabinets or appliances, as this can make them difficult to reach.
Hopefully the information shared in this article has provided you with the insight you need to help yourself or your loved ones transform their bathroom into a wheelchair accessible environment. Please feel free to let us know if you have any questions or if you feel we need to add more of these types of articles to our site.
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If you are more interested and looking for other related articles, our staff compiled a great list of articles. Here are 2 that might interest you: Pride Mobility vs Golden Technologies vs Drive Medical - Powerful Power Wheelchair Brands as well as The Best Wheelchair Ramp Buying Guide.
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