Bathrooms for the Disabled Buying Guide

Where to start

A daily bathroom ritual is a joy for many. However, if you’re physically impaired then your bathroom needs will need addressing in a functional and practical way. As a starting point, bathrooms for the disabled are best situated on the entrance level within the home. Allow plenty of clearance to the sides and front of all bathroom fittings for wheelchair users, and also by the door and for the turning circle in the middle of the room. Think about space for two people if assistance is needed. For the visually impaired, it’s important to have a logical layout and plenty of room between bathroom fittings with no obstacles in the way.

The exact height and position of fittings is determined by your own needs and for wheelchair users, with consideration to body reach – for example the vertical reach for shower controls. Guidelines determining this can be found in Building Regulations Approved Document M ‘Access to and use of Buildings’ under Requirement M4(3): Category 3 - Wheelchair user dwellings.

You’ll also need advice on where to place grab rails, but don’t forget to check the walls are strong enough to support them. The bathroom door needs to be wider than usual for wheelchairs, swing outwards, and with a lock that can be opened from outside in case someone needs assistance inside. You may want to think about removing the bath to free-up floor space and make way for a big shower. An occupational therapist can assess your needs through social services (see ‘What else?’).


Baths

A walk-in bath has a door at the side or front. You’ll still need to climb in but you’ll be navigating a low step rather than the high sides of the bath. Fill the bath after you’ve got in and shut the door. The bath needs emptying before you get out. Walk-in baths can be short, deep and rectangular with a built-in seat for bathing sitting upright. Others are just like a standard bath with a door. Just make sure the length is long enough if you want to stretch out.

Adjustable height baths move up and down, making access easier for carers. A bath hoist is used with a standard bath and fixed to the floor or ceiling. A bath lift inside the bath needs to drop low to reach the water and rise high enough to the top of the bath to get out.

A bath seat and swivel seat are on a frame fixed to the sides of the bath and rest lower down than a bath/shower board. A board is best for seated showering. Fitted to the sides of the bath, a rim of 2.5cm on each side is essential for resting the board safely. The board mustn’t overlap the edges by more than 2cm. Check the product is the right width for your bath.

A double-ended bath with a straight profile has taps placed in the middle or mounted on the wall out of the way. The sloping sides means you can sit at either end but choose the height of the bath carefully (a standard bath height is 520mm) because too low and it will be difficult to transfer over. Seek advice about fitting appropriate grab rails (see box) too.

If you’re using bath equipment with your new bath then a bath shower mixer tap will help as you can direct the spray where you want to. A standard bath is 1700mm long so you may want to choose a longer length of 1800mm to allow for stretching out and the bath equipment.

Top Tips

  • A builder needs to check the strength of the ceiling structure before you fit a bath hoist
  • Cushion your head with a bath pillow
  • Use a slip-resistant mat inside the bath
  • Don’t forget to seek advice about where to place an emergency cord. The cord needs to be long enough to reach from the floor and not trapped behind furniture. A free assessment of your bathroom needs may be possible with an occupational therapist (OT) through social services. Or you can pay to have a private assessment done. See: www.cotss-ip.org.uk to find a private OT.


Showers

A wet room design is ideal for creating an open, level, waterproof bathroom, which also maximises space. The walls and floors are protected with a waterproof tanking membrane and tiled over the top from floor to ceiling with non-slip tiles. There’s no need for a shower tray as the tiled floor is watertight and slopes gently towards the drain. You don’t have to have a shower screen either. It’s also possible to create a wet room shower area in just one part of the room. Use a concealed wet room shower tray that integrates seamlessly and safely into the rest of the floor.

A level walk-in shower with a glass panel provides good access. Otherwise look for a shower with a hinged or folding shower door that folds out of the way.

The height of the shower head needs to be appropriate – for sitting and/or standing – with a separate handset rail kit within reach. Shower mixer controls fitted outside the shower might work best so the temperature can be set before you go in. Look for adjustable water flow controls and mixers with a cool touch finish and anti-scald protection like all our models feature. Square and Circular Body Jets can be fitted to ease aches and pains. Be sure to fit grab rails where you need them.

Top Tips

  • Buy a long-handled sponge or brush to wash hard-to-reach areas like your back
  • Use a shower curtain instead of glass as it won’t need cleaning nor get in the way


Toilets

The toilet seat needs to be 480mm from the floor for wheelchair users with the pipes on the wall side out of the way. A wall-hung toilet, like the Janssen Signature Wall Hung Toiletis the most flexible design because the seat height can be positioned where you need it. Just make sure the push button flush built-into the concealed support frame is at the right height on the wall. Check the width and projection of the toilet works for the clearance space in front and to the sides for wheelchair users, away from other fittings and the door swing.

Top Tips

  • Use a toilet seat cushion if you need cushioning from the hard surface
  • Seek professional advice on grab rails, support rails or a toilet frame


Wash basins

A wash basin needs a clear zone underneath of around 400-600mm for a close approach in a wheelchair. Again, a wall-hung design is great because the basin can be fitted at a height that suits; just check the dimensions tally with the clearance you need, including underneath.

If space permits, a wide basin is easier to access and a shallow bowl will be more comfortable to use. Basins tend to be 100-120mm deep. The Rinaldi Signature Wall Hung basin is 110cm deep and 605mm wide.

A ledge around the basin like the shape of the Maderno Signature Wall Hung basin, can be used for a soap dish and toothbrush mug. While counter-top basins sat on top of a wide piece of furniture have even more surface area. Contrasting materials and colours will help the visually-impaired locate what they need.

Top Tips

  • Drawers and cupboards with chunky handles are easier to grip
  • Lever taps can be pushed on and off with a closed fist
  • Place mirrors at eye level and have a magnifying mirror to hand
  • If you’re visually impaired, choose accessories in bold colours so they’re easy to find


What Else?

The Disabled Facilities Grant may be available to those who need to make changes to their bathroom to meet a disabled person’s needs. To see if you’re eligible, click on: www.gov.uk/disabled-facilities-grants. A local occupational therapist (OT) will come to you home and assess your needs.

VAT relief is available on products to those who are disabled with a long term illness or disability, or are terminally ill. Products that aren’t specifically designed for these needs, but have been bought to be used for this purpose, will need a letter from a plumber or builder advising of the adaption so you can claim a VAT refund. For more information, see: https://www.gov.uk/financial-help-disabled/vat-relief.

Contrasting colours, such as bright-coloured accessories and towels that zing out against light surfaces and bathroom fittings, will help the visually impaired differentiate between items in the room. A non-slip floor is essential such as rubber or textured tiles in a colour different from the walls. Big windows that draw light into the bathroom will help too and avoid reflective surfaces that may cause glare.

Pin-down your bathroom needs through an occupational therapist assessment

Access and comfort is designed into a double-ended bath

Maximise space and access with a wet room shower

Ease aches and pains with body jets

Direct water where you need it with a handset rail kit

Wall-hung fittings let you choose the right height

Contrasting colours help the visually-impaired navigate the bathroom

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