Lately a lot of bathrooms are becoming smaller and smaller. They are more expensive to build than the rest of the house compared to the square metre rate. As a result, bathrooms are becoming very uncomfortable and are unadaptable for the needs of the whole family. The concept of universal design should be adapted into all bathroom features as possible. A bathroom that meets the needs of all the family members becomes very valuable especially when that family member has a special need or even a temporary special need. An effective bathroom can only be designed when we can truly understand how an individual with disabilities uses the bathroom. Does the individual have enough space to move around the bathroom? Are there any trip hazards around the bathroom? Incorporate the following design features into your bathroom and extend the life and usability of the bathroom. Create a bathroom that will be safe and convenient. Consider the following factors into the bathroom design.
  • Layout
  • Size
  • Adaptability
  • Safety
  • Ease of cleaning

Bathroom Layout

Always plan for ease of use and safety of the bathroom, its facilities and contents. For example, placing the towels next to the bath or shower lessens the need to walk around the bathroom when wet. Achieve flexibility in a bathroom through considering design options such as storage options at different heights, adequate space to be able sit in front of the vanity basin. Remember the extra storage space for bath benches or some individuals who have shower wheelchairs. Individuals with cognitive limitations may require a more strategic layout. Sometimes one side of the body maybe more favourable than the other.

Bathroom Size

A larger bathroom allows for easier manoeuvring for individuals as they get older and may need to use a mobility device. They will need to plan for support as they move around the bathroom. Sometimes the balance of an individual could be limited. It is very important to consider additional aspects of safety. For example, the placement of water taps or even the light switches should be within easy reach. Have grab bars on the favourable side of the WC or in the shower. When designing a bathroom for individuals with mobility issues, allow for sufficient manoeuvring space in front of all fixtures and controls. A manoeuvring space of about 1,500mm diameter in the bathroom will allow the individual to approach the bathroom fixtures with ease. For power wheelchairs increase the manoeuvring space to about 1,800mm. Think about the extra space required for the carers who give assistance.

Framed Walls

Most of our construction is brick walls but in case of a framed wall we need to ensure that we have enough framing available to install grab bars. Frame the bathroom walls and ceilings too with 19mm structural plywood. This allows for installing grab bars, hand rails and even ceiling lifts in the future. To design and rebuild this as a renovation would be significantly more expensive.


A design that allows homeowners to adapt their home to meet their changing needs is known as adaptable design. Achieve adaptability in the bathroom by considering the following points
  • Installing a shower head on a vertical slide bar. This allows the showerhead to sit at a variety of different heights
  • Raised sit on the WC, with grab bars on at least one side
  • Have drawers as storage, especially under the sink/ or in the vanity unit
  • If possible preprogramme the temperature for the shower
  • The manoeuvring space around the bathroom for current and future needs


Take utmost consideration when choosing finishes. They should be slip-resistant, yet easy to clean and maintain. Ensure the floor and wall surfaces in the shower are draining fully to prevent mould from growing. Additionally, it is important that your bathroom has adequate ventilation. This is to eliminate moist air and the potential for mould to grow. Try to eliminate difficult to reach areas and materials that need special cleaning products and materials. There should be minimal effort required to clean the bathroom. Keep cleaning products in easy to reach locations like drawers that slide out. For families that have children or individuals who are forgetful considering having locks installed in these drawers.


Consider safety in the bathroom highly. Many accidents and falls happen in the bathroom. Non-slip flooring is extremely important in a shower, especially since it is a wet area. Lighting and ventilation are very important for safety. Integrate grab bars, lighting, ventilation and non-slip flooring into the building plans. Burns are another hazard in the bathroom. This is particular for individuals (even children) who have reduced sensitivity and ability to feel temperature changes. Install temperature valves that limit the temperature of water flow to a maximum of 49 degrees. If there is a hot water tank installed in your property do not lower the tank temperature below 60 degrees to avoid the growth of Legionella bacteria. Always avoid sharp edges and objects to prevent injury in case someone falls. Grab bars can help break falls. There are some towel rails that double as grab bars that can provide support in the bathroom. We can always use grab bars as towel rails too.  Install the grab bars to suit the individual who will use the bathroom. There are many grab bars out there. For example, permanent bars and fold down bars. Choose one that suits the individual’s purpose.

Design Elements

Consider the following elements when designing the bathroom
  • WC’s
  • Showers
  • Shower hobs
  • Grab rails
  • Doors
  • Bath tubs
  • Vanities
  • Doors
  • Lights
  • Controls
  • Interior finishes
  • Environment


Design a universal shower with the following in mind.
  • Hob-less – to avoid tripping over the low hob
  • Wide enough to be able to wheel in a wheelchair and be able to transfer yourself onto a seat
  • Drainage – a linear trench drain is better than a small circular drain. The floor would also slope evenly into a linear drain
  • Taps to be at a maximum height of 1,100mm
  • Handheld shower hose – At least 1.5m long
  • Showerhead on a vertical slider
  • Portable shower seat or a fold down bench in a non-slip material
  • Install shower curtains to prevent water from splashing out into the bathroom

Bath tubs

Choose a bath tub with the individuals needs in mind. Some may need to relax in there. Others wish to relieve muscle pain. Consider the following
  • Flat bottomed bathtub
  • Grab bars – check whether the prefabricated hand grips on the grab bars can support a person’s weight in case of a slip and fall
  • Non-slip surfaces


There are lots of WC’s out there in the market. Choose one that will meet your needs. Consider the following in your design
  • Low water volume and dual flush WC’s
  • Manoeuvring space
  • A generous transfer space
  • Adequate carer space if needed
  • Lower height WC for individuals in a wheelchair and children
  • Or higher WC for older individuals
  • Grab rails
  • Centreline of toilet seat should be about 460mm to 480mm away from wall
  • Add a remote-controlled bidet seat to the WC – this allows an individual with limited hand mobility to use independently. It sprays water and hot air for drying

Vanities, drawers and Storage

We need the counter top to be low enough for individuals in a wheelchair to be able to reach into the sink, whilst it should also be high enough for the same individuals to be able to reach inside the cabinet under the benchtop. The front edge of the benchtop can also be in a contrasting colour to assist individuals with limited vision. Fix a grab rail to the front of the cabinet unit for individuals with balance issues. If the bathroom design has 2 vanities think about installing them at different heights depending on the individual’s needs. For example, a vanity at 850mm height is more convenient for a child or a short person, whilst tall person would appreciate a vanity at a height of 915mm. If within your budget we can also achieve adaptability by installing an electrically adjustable height benchtop. Mixer taps or a motion detector taps are very convenient; they provide ease of use and flexibility for everyone using the vanity. Pull out spouts help in cleaning the basins. Install taps and spouts on the side of the sinks for ease of access for individuals with limited mobility. Where possible sinks should be built into cabinets, because it is important prevent potential burns to legs. To keep the user’s legs from coming into contact with exposed hot pipes. Cabinets also increase extra storage in the bathrooms. Knee space should be minimum 800mm wide by 600mm deep at a height of 860mm. We can also loose storage space underneath the sinks for wheelchair access. We can make this up by adding a full height linen cabinet in the bathroom. Medicine cabinets should be high enough (away from little hands) and low enough for an individual in a wheelchair to be able reach easily. The shelf height should be at a maximum height of 1,200mm and 500mm deep. We would recommend installing a locking device on the cabinet Store related items together and in the same place. This is very important for individuals with memory loss and visual impairments. Install storage next to WC’s and sinks. This helps individuals with incontinence problems. Also storing items in cupboards helps reduce clutter. This is better for individuals with cognitive limitations. Install pull-out shelves or drawers so they can be easily accessible and their contents are easily retrieved. Drawers and cupboards should have ‘D’ handles attached that are contrasting in colour to the doors. A contrasting colour for the interior of the cabinets will increase accessibility for individuals with limited vision. Bathroom mirrors should come all the way down to the top of the benchtop. This allows for everyone in the household to be able to use the mirrors. A magnifying mirror installed in the bathroom can help individuals with limited vision. A full-length mirror helps everyone see their full body.

Grab bars

Grab bars assist individuals to transfer off and onto the WC and shower bench. Use them around the bathroom. For example, in front of counter tops, around the bathtub and walls. They are very useful for individuals with limited mobility and balance issues. Grab bars should be about 30mm to 40mm in diameter and should be made of a non-slip surface. Install them into a wall that has sufficient support to carry an individual’s weight. A minimum clearance of 35mm should be left between the grab bar and the wall to be able to hold onto without grazing the fingers.

Grab bars in WC

Fold down grab bars are great around the WC’s. They are great and out of the way for family members who don’t need them and are useful when there is limited space around the WC. Install them at a height of 305mm above the WC seat. Extend them for about 50mm in front of the toilet seat to allow for the users to grasp while transferring from a wheelchair. Extend it behind the front of the toilet seat by about 600mm.

Grab bars in Shower

Mount a vertical grab bar in the shower. It should be at least 120mm outside edge of the shower to about 1,000mm inside the shower enclosure. Its height should be about 650mm above the floor.

Grab bars next to the bath tub

Bathtubs are a big hazard for everyone. It can be an even bigger challenge for individuals with balance limitations. Install the grab bars to the particular of the user. Have 2 grab bars, one horizontal and one vertical to assist in getting in and out of the bath tub. Install the horizontal grab bar at a height between 180mm to 280mm above the lip of the bathtub. Install a vertical grab bar of a minimum length of 1,200mm beside the bathtub and immediately inside the bath tub enclosure.


Always ensure that there is enough manoeuvring space around the doors. Adequate space should be designed for inside the bathroom and WC to allow for the door to be closed from inside. For doors that swing outside, install a lever or a ‘D’ handle to the door to be able to pull the door close. All Doors should be a minimum width of 870mm and should be designed to maximise wheelchair manoeuvring space. If the bathroom is tight install a pocket door. Ensure the pocket door has a good handle that an individual with limited movement. Door handles should be operable with one hand and should not require fine finger control.

Switches and Controls

Locate all switches and controls within easy reach and ensure they are easy to operate. Strategically locate the electrical outlets so that both someone seated or standing can easily reach them. Other switches and controls (including the exhaust fan) should be no higher than 1,200mm from the finished floor level. Locate the light switch outside of the bathroom so it can benefit individuals who are hard of hearing. Use the switch when a knock on the door is not enough.


The three basic issues to address for lighting include the need to
  • increase intensity for aging eyes
  • controlled glare
  • uniform, balanced lighting
Position fixtures and lighting to avoid the islands of brightness with dark shadows. Install a light that gradually increases the rate of illumination in the bathroom. Especially in areas like the shower and vanity. Balanced and uniform light is very important because it is hard for aging eyes to adjust to changing light conditions quickly. Try to balance lighting around the room and compensate for extra bright areas. Eliminate dark corners in the process. Install a night light in the bathroom for increasing safety. Take advantage of opportunities to maximise natural lighting. Be careful to avoid glare by using glare-free surface treatments. Use soft matte paints, this are useful for individuals with limited vision and dementia. These finishes also reduce glare and balance illumination levels. They create a relaxing environment. Control glare through the right selection of fixtures and the location of light sources. Provide ambient lighting to maintain an even level of illumination of indirect lighting (over wall cabinets or at kickboards) throughout the bathroom.

Interior Finishes

Floor finishes should be level, non-slip, non-glare, non-patterned and durable. Have a colour contrast border on the floor and walls to understand the boundaries of the room. Colour contrast improves accessibility for individuals with limited vision. Use colour contrast around accessories like toilet paper, light switches and towel racks. Ease of cleaning, durability and a non-slip surface are the main considerations when selecting bathroom flooring. Assess the slip-resistant flooring when wet and dry. Whichever type of flooring material is chosen, ensure that it is installed so that it is level with all the adjacent flooring to avoid having a trip hazard where the different flooring materials meet.
Individuals with disabilities usually take more time in attending to themselves in a larger bathroom. Create a comfortable space for them. When designing the bathroom think about individuals who
  • are hard of hearing or deaf. How can they be alerted to smoke alarms or timers? Limit noise sources within the bathroom for individuals with limited hearing.
  • Have limited vision. How are they going to differentiate the different accessories in the bathroom? Lighting?
  • Have limited mobility. Manoeuvring space is a big issue in most bathrooms. Ensure transfer from different elements in the bathroom has support accessories.

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