Aging in place has become an increasingly popular concept among seniors who choose to stay in their homes and neighbourhoods as they grow and age. A critical element to achieving this is being able to lead independent and barrier –free lives on a daily basis.

Relocating a senior relative to a senior living community is a big and often traumatic decision to be made. The good news is there are practical measures that can substantially transform the in-home living experience for them. Here is where Universal Design comes to the rescue!

What is Universal design and how it can help aging in place?

According to the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation, universal design is a concept aimed at accommodating the functional needs of children, adults and seniors with or without activity limitations or disabilities. Universal design seeks to maximize the usability of living and working spaces to enhance accessibility, safety, independence and comfort.

Making our home accessible and barrier-free with the help universal design concepts will enable aging in place without recurring to the relocation option. Planning for our senior relative’s changing needs and abilities would allow for periodic bathroom customization based on their changing requirements which will reduce the need for future costly renovations.

Since universal design is quite comprehensive (and a bit overwhelming!) depending on the home area you would like to re-model, this article will exclusively share expert tips on how to apply universal design concepts to your bathroom to enable a truly barrier-free, accessible and  independent bathing experience

We will refer to 5 design elements that need to be observed at the time of turning a bathroom into an accessible and barrier-free area.

  1. Efficient Design

A current trend in bathroom design focuses on creating a bathroom that maximizes safety and convenience as opposed to focusing on bathroom configuration within a small area.

Larger bathrooms are the undisputable trend these days. This applies particularly to newer homes with both a shower and spa or bathtub, a toilet, one or two vanities and maybe even a urinal or bidet. Larger bathrooms allow for easier manoeuvrability for people as they age or individuals using a mobility device. However, they still may find the need for additional support as they move around a larger bathroom. Some key technical requirements to meet for an accessible bathroom design include:

  • For a shower to be accessible by a wheelchair it should be no less than 3 sq. ft. and there should not be a “lip” or curb to hinder entering.
  • Bathrooms and halls must have a minimum of 36 inches width, free from all obstructions, and should include a circle, or “T” that is 5 feet in diameter so that the wheelchair user is able to make a 180-degree turn.
  • Avoid use of bathroom rugs whenever possible. If necessary, it should be a low pile, tight-weave type.
  • Toilet seats should be no higher than 19 inches, and bars for grabbing and lifting should be no higher than 36 inches both behind and next to the toilet. Sink rims should not exceed 34 inches high,
  • All mirrors should be hung with the bottom edge at no higher than 40 inches.

Creating good universal bathroom design relies on maximizing safety, adaptability, efficiency and convenience.

  1. Minimal Effort

Minimal effort is at the heart of universal design for an accessible bathing experience. Whether your new bathroom design requires a walk in tub or a barrier-free walk in shower, you need to plan a layout that considers the location and relationship of the elements within the bathroom.

As a result, related items will be placed together in the same location within the bathroom. For example, make-up and medicine are to be stored near the vanity/sink area, towels and bathing supplies  are to be stored near the bath or shower to reduce the need to walk around the bathroom while wet.

Access in and out of the tub is another element to consider. In order to reduce unnecessary effort at the time of entering and exiting the tub, we recommend an outward opening walk in tub or a barrier-free walk in shower. Either one of these choices is definitely the right solution to install in your bathroom to guarantee a quick and effortless transfer in and out of the tub.

Walk in tubs and shower

Why?  Inward opening walk in tubs feature a narrower door which restricts access into the tub. Wheelchair users or individuals with limited mobility find it harder to transfer into the inward opening walk in tub and in many cases there is a lot of manoeuvring involved before the user can position comfortably inside the bath. This prolongs the time required for bathing which many inward opening users find inconvenient.  In contrast, an outward opening walk in tub features a wide panel door swinging outwards which gives the wheelchair user the convenience and space to transfer laterally into the tub easily and quickly.

The door handle of the outward opening walk in tub features an ergonomic design which allows locking the door easily with the touch of a button and minimal closing effort. The door handle is engineered for complete watertight seal.

Ease of use is a desirable requirement to have in your accessible bathroom design.  To that end, choosing a walk in tub with an electronic pad is the smart decision to make. The universal design elements incorporated into the automatic control pad allows user to regulate all walk in tub functions with ease and at hand’s reach. No need to activate controls by pushing down buttons! This is particularly convenient for users suffering from arthritis and other similar restricting conditions.

  1. Adaptability

In some cases, an adaptation is a viable solution to make your bathroom barrier-free and truly accessible. Consider the manoeuvring space within the bathroom for your current and future needs. In some instances, standard adaptations are all it takes for an accessible bathroom to come to life. Some universal design adaptations to consider are:

  • installing a shower head on a vertical slide bar so that it can be adjusted and set at a variety of heights
  • providing a raised seat for the toilet and grab bars that fold down
  • using drawers for storage
  • pre-programming temperatures for the shower to avoid temperature fluctuations and scalding.

Adaptability in your bathroom design goes hand in hand with flexibility. In our experience, we have met customers for an initial in-home consultation who have expressed a specific interest in an American Standard walk in tub.  After evaluating the customer’s needs and current bathroom’s layout, we alternatively recommend to install a barrier free walk in shower as a more suited solution for their specific needs.

So what factors determine choosing a walk in tub over a walk in shower?  Mainly, user’s bathing preferences, i.e. favouring a shower over a bath or vice versa, and accessibility. An experienced safety consultant will determine the best bathing solution based on the bathroom’s current layout, dimensions and user’s specific scenario.

  1. Ease of Cleaning

Surface finishes are an important element to consider when making decisions about the selection of bathtubs, floors, toilets and showers. The type of surface you choose has a direct impact on whether cleaning becomes a laborious effort or a breeze.

To ensure easy cleaning in your accessible bathroom consider the following requirements:

  • Wall and floor surfaces in the shower should be designed to drain fully to prevent mold from growing.
  • Adequate ventilation in the bathroom is extremely important to eliminate moist air and the potential for mold or mildew growth.
  • Flooring should be slip resistant, yet easy to clean and maintain.
  • minimal effort should be required to clean the bathrooms so eliminate the presence of difficult-to-reach areas and select materials that do not need special cleaning supplies
  • Bathroom cleaning products should be stored in easy-to-reach locations, preferably in drawers that slide out so that the products can be easily seen and reached.
  • Careful thought should be given to the storage and security of cleaning products if bathroom users include children, people with Alzheimer’s, individuals who are very forgetful or have developmental disabilities.

Being the most important piece of furniture in an accessible bathroom, your choice of tub or walk in shower needs to meet most (if not all) of the requirements mentioned above.

An American Standard outward opening walk in tub is made of solid construction providing a smooth and high gloss finish that is bacteria and mold resistant. It also features a self-cleaning sanitary system that keeps jets clean with Ozone. This safe and effective sanitation system automatically oxidizes and eliminates disease-causing microorganisms in the tub, plumbing and jets. Cleaning an American Standard walk in tub is virtually maintenance-free and it does not require active user participation.

outward opening walkin tub

Outward Opening Walk in Tub

Likewise, the barrier free walk in shower by Swan presents attractive benefits when it comes to ease of cleaning, namely, it is made of Swanstone, a material built to last a lifetime. It is impervious to common household chemicals so regardless of how well it is treated by the user, it will remain in its original condition. And last, but not least, Swanstone repels mold or mildew which makes it maintenance-free.

  1. Safety

The bathroom is the area with most accidents and falls; hence, careful attention should be given to safety hazards in the bathroom.  Safety is a heavy component in making a bathroom fully accessible and barrier-free. Here are some elements to consider for safety:

  • A non-slip flooring surface is extremely important, especially when wet. Bath mats on the floor should be avoided because they can be a tripping hazard and an obstacle for wheelchair users or individuals with walkers.
  • The use of mixing valves that limit the water temperature to a maximum of 49°C (120°F) is recommended to avoid burns. This is particularly recommended for children and people who have reduced sensitivity or ability to feel temperature changes.
  • Avoid sharp edges on surfaces in the bathroom to prevent injury in case of a fall.
  • Installing grab bars is highly recommended. Grab bars should be installed to suit the particular user or users. There is a wide variety of types of grab bars; some that fold down and others that are permanently installed.

Both American Standard walk in tubs and walk in showers by Swan keep the highest standards in terms of safety. As a results their safety features including chair height seats, safety bars, non-slip floor surfaces, easy grip and safe transfer, make them an obvious choice for users seeking to transform their bathroom into a truly accessible room.

Preventing falls is an important consideration when you are renovating your bathroom using universal design concepts. Consider incorporating a barrier-free bathing solution, grab bars, non-slip surfaces, adequate lighting and ventilation into your plan.

Making a bathroom a barrier free area is a comprehensive effort that involves careful planning and involvement of both the user and an experienced safety consultant. The key to success is to come up with a bathroom layout that is both flexible and adaptable to adjust to the user’s evolving needs in time.

To protect the longevity of your investment, we recommend that you tackle from the beginning the installation of a tub that is suited to the user’s needs (be it a walk in tub or a barrier-free walk in shower).This is a key element in an accessible bathroom that would surely be the heavy weight player ensuring you or your senior relative is able to age in place with grace and ease.

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20 Apr 2016
outward opening walkin tub

Rick Fangeat

Rick Fangeat is not only the man at the helm of the Walk in Tub Company, but also your trusted source for anything you need to know in connection to walk in tubs and safety showers. Having experienced for himself how family members can sometimes find themselves facing health issues that challenge their independence and mobility, Rick is adept at sharing valuable and straight-forward insights on ways to enhance accessibility and safety for individuals with physical limitations.