How to Make a Bathroom Accessible for the Mobility-Impaired
Mobility-impaired people face challenges getting around almost anywhere, but bathrooms pose special problems. Since a bathroom is often the smallest room in a house, it might not leave much room for a walker or a wheelchair. That can make a bathroom difficult to use or completely inaccessible, depending on the person's mobility problems. Fortunately, there are several things you can do to make a bathroom fully accessible that range from the installation of a walk in tub to simple things like better lighting and an easy-to-use door handle.
There are a variety of mobility problems that can make using a bathroom difficult. These could be things like problems using the hands and fingers to the inability to walk unaided. If the bathroom needs to be wheelchair accessible, then sitting in a chair in the room will help you see some problem areas. Door handles can be an issue for people with hand mobility problems. Gripping and turning a doorknob can be difficult or impossible for some. Switch to a door handle that's a simple lever that can be pushed down with a hand or arm.
Someone in a wheelchair who has some independence will still need to be able to reach the sink faucets, the light switch and storage areas. The doorway may also need to be widened to allow easy access for a wheelchair. A lower toilet with plenty of room around it can also be helpful. Be sure to have grab bars and rails installed to allow someone to use for leverage when getting up and down. Someone who uses a walker may prefer a higher toilet. A raised seat can be purchased and installed easily.
Grab bars and rails inside and outside the tub and shower area can help prevent dangerous slips and falls, as can a non-slip mat in the tub or shower. Make sure there's a non-slip surface outside the tub or shower, but watch for inexpensive bath mats that might be easy to trip on. A bath lift seat will hydraulically lift and raise a person in and out of the bathtub, and a shower chair along with a hand-held shower head can let someone shower without the fatigue that standing might cause.
Something you don't want to overlook is good lighting. Make sure that the entire room is well-lit, especially around the toilet and the tub.
Two other good options for more independent bathing include a motorized lift that can help lift someone in and out of the bathtub when he or she is unable to do it alone, and a walk in tub. The lift is ideal for someone who has very limited-mobility or no mobility at all. A walk in tub, on the other hand, are made to be accessible for people who are mobile but might find standard tubs or showers uncomfortable.
Walk in tubs allow the bather to sit at about chair height while taking an actual bath. Instead of having to step high to get into a bathtub, the step-in is usually only about 5" or 6" high. This type of tub can let someone bath more independently, while at the same time lowering the risk of slips and falls.
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