How to Design an Accessible Home Bathroom07/17/2023
There are conflicting claims about which room in the home is the most used, but the bathroom always tops the list. Most people visit the bathroom between 5-7 times per day, and that’s just for using the toilet. Add in time spent grooming and bathing, and people spend somewhere between 1-2 years of their life in the bathroom.1
For people with physical disabilities, an even larger amount of time may be spent in the bathroom. Standard bathrooms are not well-equipped to provide the assistance many mobility-restricted individuals need to use the bathroom safely and efficiently, so everyday grooming, bathing and toileting activities tend to take a bit longer.
Most people want to get in and out of the bathroom relatively quickly (except of course for those with small children, where the bathroom may provide temporary refuge), because who really wants to spend over 2 years of their life in the bathroom? Making modifications to create a more accessible bathroom will make it easier (and safer) to use, so everyone can get in, out and on with their day.
What is an accessible bathroom?
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires that public and workplace restrooms meet certain criteria, such that persons with disabilities can comfortably and safely use the restroom.2 While home bathrooms are not required to meet these standards, the recommendations are still useful for providing guidance to ensure maximum accessibility. The full guidelines are available on the ADA website, but below we will provide some more general guidance for the home.
When does an accessible bathroom make sense?
Unlike in public spaces where accessibility is clearly defined, home bathroom accessibility exists on more of a personal scale. Not everyone will need a fully accessible bathroom, so level of accessibility should depend on degree of mobility challenges and personal preference.
Many accessibility guidelines are related to wheelchair access, because most standard bathrooms simply aren’t laid out to accommodate a wheelchair. This means that any home with an occupant in a wheelchair will need a highly accessible bathroom.
By contrast, the home of someone who has mobility challenges but does not require a wheelchair will likely not need the same level of bathroom accessibility. For instance, an elderly person who is aging in place at home may only need a few modifications to make the bathroom easier to use.
How much should you expect to spend?
HomeAdvisor estimates the cost of making a home bathroom accessible to range between $100 and $15,000. The amount depends on the level of accessibility, with minimal additions such as grab bars costing much less than more extensive technology and renovations such as walk-in tubs, widening doorways etc.3 Many people will end up somewhere in between, and may make modifications as needs change rather than making them all at once.
Some individuals may be eligible for financial aid and should check with their insurance company, as well as other organizations, to see what type of help may be available to offset the cost of accessibility-related construction and equipment. Veterans, seniors, and persons with neuromuscular diseases like muscular dystrophy may all be eligible for some kind of monetary assistance.
What should be included?
Space and support are 2 key factors for designing an accessible bathroom. There must be enough space to maneuver, especially for wheelchair users. There must also be adequate support provided to perform essential activities such as bathing and using the toilet. Here are some of the most common modifications:
The bathroom floor should be designed to minimize slipping/tripping and maximize maneuverability. The threshold in and out of the bathroom is particularly problematic but can be made safer by installing a small ramp. Removing rugs or using only those with low-pile and non-slip backing is an easy modification. There is also special non-slip flooring available for those looking for a more comprehensive solution.
Showers can be modified for greater accessibility in a few ways. Adding some simple in-shower seating and a few grab bars is a good low-cost option for people needing minimal assistance. More extensive upgrades needed by those with less mobility, such as lowering/eliminating the shower threshold so that it’s easy to walk/roll in, will require construction and cost more.
Baths are more challenging to modify. To make a bathtub more accessible without remodeling, a slide seat can be used. This equipment has legs that rest both inside and outside the tub with a chair that slides across the top. It requires a bit of learning to use and can be tough in a tight bathroom space. There are also walk-in tubs, which are excellent for people who need maximum assistance, but they are costly and require skilled installation.
The toilet is one of the easiest items to modify in the bathroom, and one that can make a huge difference for both disabled individuals and their caregivers. People who have fair mobility can make getting on and off the toilet easier by using a toilet seat riser that sits directly on top of the existing seat. However, these toilet aids don’t provide continual support during the sit-to-stand process and thus require the user to engage their leg muscles, which is not ideal for people needing moderate-to-full support.
Powered toilet lifts are a better option for those requiring greater help using the toilet. This type of aid continuously supports the user, gently lowering and raising them onto and up from the toilet. Most can also be installed without any tools, sitting freestanding over the existing toilet.
The LiftSeat line of toilet lifts can all be fitted with a bidet for complete hands-free cleaning. They also offer the largest amount of customizability, from seat and lifting height to a wide range of accessories for every need.
Wall-mounted sinks are a good for maximizing space and allowing for unobstructed movement. Automatic faucets are also a nice feature and easy to install.
Walkways and Doorways
Small bathrooms are hard to navigate. Having more space makes it easier to move around. The same goes for doorways – if the doorway is too narrow, it will need to be widened to accommodate a wheelchair and/or assistive walking device.
When it comes to bathroom accessibility, there is no “one-size-fits-all” answer. From budget-friendly to top-of-the-line, there is a wide range of possibilities for transforming a bathroom space. To determine what’s doable, it is helpful to determine a budget and then make a list of “must-haves” and “nice-to-haves”. The common modifications above can provide a good start and help make sure your home bathroom is accessible for all who may need to use it.
1. Knight, R. (2019, July 4). People spend 416 Days of Their Life in Bathroom, Poll Suggests. The Independent. https://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/bathrooms-shower-washing-habits-poll-a8988626.html
2. Dept. of Justice, Guidance on the 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design (2010). Washington, D.C. Retrieved July 14, 2023, from https://www.ada.gov/law-and-regs/design-standards/2010-stds/
3. HomeAdvisor. (2022, January 26). Learn How Much it Costs to Build an Accessible Bathroom. HomeAdvisor. https://www.homeadvisor.com/cost/additions-and-remodels/accessible-bathroom/
This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.