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Accessible bathrooms were once considered to be only for people with special needs, but product development has made these spaces useful for all users. Robin Tuffley from Closomat looks at the options that open up the bathroom to all.
What exactly is an ‘inclusive bathroom’? To most of us, it means a room suitable for a disabled person to use. But what about religious or cultural considerations in personal hygiene? What about a household that includes a number of generations? In today’s society, an inclusive bathroom needs to address all of those potential users.
That opens the door to a huge potential market for all involved in bathroom design, supply, and fitting. It applies to new build and refurbishment. It also applies to private homes and social housing. For new build, a YouGov poll found that 75% of people believe all new homes should be built to be accessible to all ages and abilities. Our home should be, and could be, a home for life.
In existing properties, adaptations are now common- some 40,000 each year in the public sector alone. The bathroom is the room most frequently adapted, with alterations ranging from fitting a grab rail to a full conversion into a wetroom.
A little thought at the start of the process can ensure the space meets needs and still looks good, one that is an aspirational setting rather than institutional, that is a stylish solution that still works for us in daily life, despite health or age issues, despite several generations using the one room.
There are a number of steps you can take that will make a huge difference:
• Level access to avoid trips, and ensure smooth progress for a frame or wheelchair
• Wet floor to ease transition in and out of the shower without risk of tripping over a low level shower tray
• Level access shower
• Shower seat
• Thermostatic shower
• Grab rails for support
• Washbasin positioned so it can be reached from a sitting position on the WC, ideally height adjustable so taller users do not have to stoop, but people who are smaller, or sitting, can still reach easily
• Lever taps for easy operation regardless of manual dexterity
• WC set away from the parallel wall
• Drop down arm supports to provide extra security or leverage
• Ceiling track hoist to help a carer transfer someone to any point within the room
• Good lighting
• Colour, which can influence the ambiance and mood, differentiate areas of the room, and highlight the location of fixtures and fittings
If creating a wetroom, the floorcovering needs to be appropriately waterproof and sealed at all edges to avoid risk of water penetration below. Further, drainage for the shower area needs to be addressed: falls may need to be incorporated and adequate space below the floor created to allow water to drain efficiently.
Grab rails, washbasins, and ceiling track hoists all need to be fixed to a structure strong enough to bear any load. As an aside, many modern stud walls may not provide sufficient load bearing capability, yet a recent report by the Home Consortium calculated it would cost little over £500 to build new homes to Lifetime Homes Standard including walls and ceilings to cope with the weight of a ceiling track hoist in use, grab rails, etc. Manufacturers are already, responding to such concerns: ceiling track hoists are available with slimline, discreet gantry legs.
Wash and dry WCs
The WC itself could be upgraded to a wash and dry – or ‘smart’ – toilet. This features integrated douching and drying and requires only the addition of an appropriately rated and protected electricity source. A wash and dry toilet really ticks the boxes in terms of inclusivity.
It future-proofs the bathroom for the disabled client, ensuring they can still be hygienic even if their dexterity , mobility and balance deteriorate. In a social care situation, where the emphasis is on ‘single handed care’, i.e. using equipment to enable one carer instead of two to support an Activity of Daily Living such as using the toilet. A wash and dry toilet means potentially no care intervention at all is needed. British Standards (BS8300:2018) note that a wash and dry WC in place of a conventional WC improves user dignity and independence. Upgrading to a smart toilet therefore gives the user their dignity and independence.
In mutli-generational households, it means everyone can use the same WC, which may not be possible if a conventional WC was adapted to suit a disabled user. The wash and dry features are aspirational elements to Generation X and Millennials for the technology and improved hygiene.
It is attention to such detail that instills trust between you and the client. They feel you know your subject and can give them a bathroom that they can use now and in the long term.
For further details on considerations for an accessible bathroom, there is a range of specific top tips for creating an accessible WC, a multi-generational bathroom, or an age-friendly bathroom, plus more technical, detailed white papers here: https://www.closomat.co.uk/resources.html