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Accessible bathroom design: This article describes recommended design details and clearance or space specifications for wheelchair accessible bathrooms.
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This article series discusses current best design practices for kitchens and bathrooms, including layout, clearances, work space, and accessible kitchen and bathroom layout, clearances, turning space, grab bars, controls, etc. We include advice on choosing and installing kitchen countertops, cabinets, and kitchen or bathroom flooring, sinks, and other plumbing fixtures and fixture controls such as faucets.
A list of kitchen and bath product manufactures and sources is included. This article includes excerpts or adaptations from Best Practices Guide to Residential Construction, by Steven Bliss, courtesy of Wiley & Sons. If your access requirements include wheelchair ramps to building entrances, also see Ramps, access.
Our photo (left) illustrates how additional wheelchair turn space might be gained by suspending the lav sink.
To make a bathroom fully functional for wheelchair users and other seated occupants requires commonsense changes, such as using universal controls and placing them within reach, as well as some significant changes, such as lowering sinks and providing knee space below.
In some cases, the room will need to be enlarged to accommodate a roll-in shower or to allow room for wheelchair users to reverse direction. The minimum guidelines below, based on ANSI Standard A117.1, are a good starting point in design, but they should be tailored to the size, reach, and specific capabilities of the occupants.
Clear space at doorways and passageways should be at least 32 inches wide and no more than 24 inches long in the direction of travel. Walkways between vertical objects (walls, cabinets, fixtures) greater than 24 inches long in the direction of travel should be at least 36 inches wide.
Pocket doors or doors that swing outward are preferred, since they do not encroach on bathroom space and will not get blocked in an emergency. Eliminate any thresholds at doorways.
Clear floor spaces in front of fixtures may overlap and may include up to 12 inches deep of knee space below the sink.
These should be installed in the bathtub or shower and toilet areas for full accessibility.
Locate storage for toiletries, linens, and bathroom supplies within 15 to 48 inches from the floor.
Locate towel racks, soap dishes, and other personal hygiene items within the same height range.
Controls, dispensers, and outlets should be located from 15 to 48 inches high, and all devices should be operable with a closed fist.
Offset controls in showers and tubs toward the room side, as shown in Figure 6-27 (above).
This makes fixture controls, dispensers, etc. easier to reach for all users.
-- Adapted with permission from Best Practices Guide to Residential Construction.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about about accessible kitchens & bathrooms & about ADA compliance
Question: Can wheelchair turning space include space under the toilet bowl or below the lav/sink?
I am a home owner with a bathroom accessibility design issue. The diagram (Best Practices Figure 6-26) clearly shows a small part of the wheel chair turning circle can be under the toilet bowl.
Yours is the only publication I can find that allows this. It makes sense to me, but is it really approved? Clearly it will depend on the toilet design. Mine has a 6 inch deep by 9 inch high recess under the bowl front which would accomodate part of the foot rest of a turning wheelchair.
It is a big deal in my 86 inch wide space, into which the 28.5 inch long toilet (American Standard Cadet 3, 2 piece Compact) will protrude. I need 2.5 inches under that toilet front! Can you confirm I have it? Thanks so much! - C.T., Canada.
Reply: Perhaps Yes; Complying with the intent and spirit of the ADA is subject to legal and other interpretations
It may very well be that there is no definitive answer as these recommendations are based on the ADA Standards, which are laws, which are subject to legal interpretation.
The specific ADA language for "clear space in toilet rooms" is reprinted below the larger version of the illustration about which you inquire (click on any of our illustrations to see an enlarged version with more detail).
Perhaps the key ADA phrase is "unobstructed turning space." If the bottom of the toilet does not obstruct the bottom of the wheelchair, and/or or the space below a lavatory (sink) permits the user's toes and knees to pass below, in our opinion, the writer has satisfied the spirit of the law in this case.
More to the point, the ADA is a binding law on public buildings and certain commercial buildings, but not in private homes, where it serves simply as a set of recommendations.
Some accessible bathroom design experts have their own preferences, interpretations, and design ideas that may and may not strictly comply with ADA - or may exceed it as ADA is a set of minimum standards. If the writer can maneuver successfully in the space described, then whether or not it complies with the finer points of ADA is moot.
Questions & answers or comments about accessible kitchens & bathrooms and Questions & Answers about ADA compliance for kitchens and baths.
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