Accessible design: bathroom improvements for seniors

Posted by Woodrow Aames ~ July 6, 2011

Nearly 80 million so-called Baby Boomers are 65 years or older. Rather than spend upwards of $60,000 a year to live in a nursing facility, many prefer to modify their homes and "age in place." That may mean spending from $9,000 to as much as $80,000 to modify their entries, kitchens and, especially, home bathrooms.

Elizabeth Pope of The New York Times reports that 80 percent of Americans prefer to grow old in their own homes. Hence, Baby Boomers are converting their bathrooms before they get too old to tolerate the intrusions of remodeling. Even AARP is selling seniors a guide to revitalizing their homes.

One of the challenges in modifying your home lies in knowing what makes a bathroom design American Disabilities Act (ADA) compliant. The first requirement is to provide easy access. Bathroom doors should be at least 36 inches wide to provide room for wheelchairs or walkers.

Home improvements for aging Americans

People with disabilities need to be able to reach bathroom fixtures. The vanity and sinks should be lowered from most standard lengths to provide easy use, and you may also need to lower the mirrors. But at the same time, a lowered sink must still provide room for a wheelchair and lap to fit underneath. While those features are lowered, your toilet actually needs to be raised. The ADA requirements call for a longer seat, raised 3.5 inches higher than standard heights to allow disabled people the ease of getting from their wheelchairs to the seat. You should consider adding grab bars, both here and at the shower.

With bathing, you have plenty of options, ranging from a walk-in shower or tub to an ADA-complaint shower stall. ADA shower stalls have no curbs or none taller than half an inch. The entry should also be a minimum of 36 inches wide to allow wheelchair access. Fixtures must be in reach of anyone in a sitting position using on-off levers (not round handles).

Home remodeling contractors and the ADA

You can find plenty of building contractors with specific ADA specialties, as well as interior designers with the expertise to upgrade your home. The ADA website has the information most consumers and contractors need to find precise requirements. There are online business courses for businesses serving disabled consumers, guidelines for modifying homes to support service animals and standards for accessible design.

Accessible design is becoming more mainstream all the time. It's not just confined to aging consumers - there are components that simply improve access for everyone.

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