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How to Equip a Handicap Accessible Bathroom

Updated on July 31, 2013

As our aging population grows, more and more people are finding themselves in the role of "at home caregiver." Caring for a family member at home can mean that some adapting is necessary to make the home safe and functional for the one in need. This is a simple guide to modifying any standard bathroom to a handicap accessible bathroom.

While there is some expense involved to create a safe and functional handicap bathroom for someone who is ill, injured or otherwise weak, the benefits of doing so by far outweigh the expense. Adapting the bathroom to a handicap accessible bathroom to care for a loved one in your home can prevent accidents and injuries. It also gives great peace of mind to both the caregiver and the person in need.

Step 1: The Doorway of a Handicap Bathroom Should be 36" Wide

For those needing a handicap accessible bathroom, the first thing to be evaluated is the width of the entry doorway. A width of 36 inches is ideal. This width will accommodate walkers, wheelchairs, and standby assistants. If the doorway is not 36 inches wide , I would highly recommend this change to meet the needs of your loved one.

The cost of expanding the doorway will vary from one home to another and among service providers. My best advice here is to get at least 3 bids from reputable home remodeling providers to get the best deal possible. If you need to expand the doorway to the bathroom, you can expect this to be the most expensive task of converting the room to handicapped accessible.

Step 2: Handicap Toilets Should Be Elevated

For most people with a disability or weakness due to illness or age a handicap toilet is necessary. While this may seem like an expensive item, there are three options that may be considered. The options are:

  • purchase and install a taller, handicap accessible toilet;
  • use a plastic elevated toilet seat; or
  • install an elevating device on the floor beneath a regular toilet.

As someone who has worked in healthcare, I have seen the gamut of handicap toilets. There are pros and cons of each. While the handicap accessible toilet is made the correct height and with an elongated seat, it can cost between $400-500.

Plastic elevated toilet seats may or may not have bars attached for grabbing. However, these seats sit on top of a standard toilet and can shift with weight or pressure. They are also prone to getting very dirty and are difficult to keep clean. Further, the plastic elevated toilet seat must be moved for a non-handicap person to use the toilet. This can be cumbersome.

By far the best device I have ever seen is called the Toilevator. This is an easy to install platform for any standard toilet that raises it 3.5 inches. It is less expensive than purchasing a handicap toilet and has the benefit of normal cleaning. The Toilevator device costs about $100 and can be easily installed.

Elevating the toilet seat is necessary for safety in your handicap accessible bathroom. These are 3 options that can be considered. Know that you will need to decide on one method of elevating the toilet. This is a must.

Step 3: A Handicap Shower Needs a Shower Bench

When a person is not able to move normally or is weak, the task of getting into and out of the bathtub can be a challenge. Also, the need to sit upright during the bath may be necessary to avoid fatigue, dizziness, or falls. There are many different styles of shower benches on the market and just as many prices. While smaller "in the tub" seats are available, many do not have backrests and have a small seat. This can make them prone to tipping or shifting with weight. This is not a good thing when trying to avoid slips and falls.

I recommend a wide shower bench that allows for sitting on the edge of the tub and then scooting into the tub from the sitting position. These benches have a back rest, a wide seat, and a built in grab bar on one side. While you might think the size is cumbersome, it is exactly the size and width of the bench that give it the added stability. These benches can be easily removed from the bathtub for normal bathing as well. You should expect to pay about $60 for this type of shower bench.

Step 4: A Handheld Shower Makes Showering Easy

So, now the task at hand is to figure out how to direct the flow of the shower over your loved one on the shower bench. Unless you have a little known secret, the answer is going to be to purchase and install a handheld shower. These devices are lifesavers and attach to the shower head or faucet of the tub. They are quick and easy to install and cost approximately $30.

As you can imagine, if your loved one needs help to get into the shower he may also need help with showering. The handheld shower allows you to control the flow and direction of water to wash and rinse certain areas, avoid the face, and so forth. Your loved one may also hold the shower head while you wash the back and legs. This keeps the flow of the water in the bathtub even when shower doors or curtains are open; and - usually - it keeps you from getting showered as well!

Step 5: Where to Place Bathroom Safety Grab Bars

No handicap accessible bathroom would be complete without the addition of safety grab bars. There are 2 places in the bathroom that require them - the toilet and the shower. Let's look at the toilet grab bars first.

Toilet grab bars can be mounted on the wall or attached to the toilet itself. My personal preference is to use the grab bars that mount to the toilet. These bars attach at the rear of the toilet seat where the toilet seat is mounted. One bar extends to the left and right of the toilet, and the bars extend all the way to the floor. The installation provides excellent support and stability without requiring permanent changes to your home. When the grab bars are no longer needed, they can be easily removed and stored. This style of toilet safety grab bars costs approximately $30.

Shower grab bars are also essential for your handicap accessible bathroom. Again, there are various styles, and some are permanent and some are temporary. My personal preference is the temporary safety grab bars that are quickly and easily installed and removed with suction. A set of 2 of this type of grab bars costs about $30.

At least 2 grab bars are recommended in the shower for safety. The first should be placed at the front of the shower on the wall closest to the shower entry. This bar should be positioned at a height midway between the faucet and the shower head. The second grab bar should be positioned horizontally or at a 45 degree angle on the interior wall of the bathtub. This bar should point toward the shower head.


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