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Design a Wheelchair-Accessible Bathroom

Tips for designing a bathroom to make it more accessible for those with limited mobility.

Bathrooms designed for universal access present both design challenges and opportunities. Take careful inventory early in the planning process of all intended users' capabilities, preferences, and tastes. While universal design better accommodates users in wheelchairs, it can make a bath more comfortable for all users without sacrificing style.

The first priority in bathrooms designed for people who use wheelchairs is plenty of room for access and maneuvering. Barrier-free bathrooms are usually larger than average. Provide for an open area within the bathroom that's at least 5 feet in diameter to allow for easy turning. Also provide 4 feet of clear space in front of each fixture, as well as between the sink and the toilet, if both fixtures share the same wall. These spaces also will allow room for a caregiver, if needed.

Make doorways 3 feet wide so a wheelchair can pass through. The bathroom door must swing outward rather than inward and should be fitted with a lever-type handle, not a knob. In small spaces, a pocket door may also be a good option.

Specify a vanity designed for use from a wheelchair. Plan for a sit-down dressing table with enough clear knee space underneath so a chair can pull in close.

The shower stall should have no threshold that would impede the entrance and exit of a wheelchair. Install the control valves and showerheads at two different heights, or include a handheld nozzle that can be used from a seated position. A built-in seat in the shower, along with a sturdy grab bar, can provide extra comfort and utility.

Other features of an accessible bath include grab rails mounted on reinforced walls beside the tub and toilet (and bidet, if there is one), faucets designed to reduce the risk of scalding, a telephone, and lower light switches.

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