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What You Need To Know About the Bathroom

Updated October 07, 2021
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Leacey Brown

SDSU Extension Gerontology Field Specialist

Modern, adaptable bathroom design. A wheelchair user has access to all key functions in the bathroom including the shower, commode and sink.

Written collaboratively by Leacey Brown and Gene Fennell, Fennell Design Inc.

The bathroom is arguably the most-important room in a residential setting when it comes to occupants or visitors who have disabilities. A person with a disability must be able to access the commode and bathing facilities. In an ideal world, all units would have one accessible bathroom that includes a roll-in shower, grab bars, turn space and space to transfer from a wheelchair to the commode. This is not practical for all residential units, and many home occupants want access to a bathtub. Three bathroom design elements are critical for people with disabilities and older adults.

Three Key Design Elements

Circular turning space diagram featuring a hashed circle measuring 60 inches in diameter. For an in-depth description of this graphic, call SDSU Extension at 605-688-6729.
Figure 1. Circular turning space.

Element 1: Clear Space

Clear Space refers to the space available for someone who uses a wheelchair to maneuver themselves from their chair to the commode or shower.

Options to achieve clear space:

  • Option 1: Circular clearance space (Figure 1).
    • A bathroom with this configuration has a space of a minimum of 60 inches in diameter. Clearance space for knee and toe clearance should be available on the bathroom vanity.
    • Figures 3, 4 and 5 show examples of an accessible bathroom and shower design. The figures show how a wheelchair user can move their chair next to the commode to facilitate transfer.
Diagram of a T-shaped space. The space is 60 inches wide at the top with two 36-inch arms, and a base that is 24 inches-long on each side with a 36-inch base. For an in-depth description of this graphic, call SDSU Extension at 605-688-6729.
Figure 2. T-shaped space.
  • Option 2: T-shaped clear space (Figure 2).
    • A bathroom with this configuration uses a 60-inch square as its foundation. Within this square, there is a “T” shape. The height of the arm of the “T” is a minimum of 36 inches, and the base height is at least 24 inches. The width of the base of the “T” is a minimum of 36 inches. Clearance space for knee and toe clearance should be available on the bathroom vanity.
    • Figures 3, 4 and 5 show examples of T-shaped clear space. The figures provide detailed information on how to configure a bathroom with T-shaped clear space.
Adaptable bathroom diagram with a shower and toilet that have acceptable transfer space design for wheel chairs. The space is marked by a hashed circle allowing about 66 inches of rotation for the chair.For an in-depth description of this graphic, call SDSU Extension at 605-688-6729.
Figure 3. Adaptable bathroom with an accessible shower. Acceptable design.

Element 2: Grab Bar Blocking

Blocking refers to the installation of additional lumber in key areas of a bathroom (e.g. commode and shower/tub), so that grabs can be added when the occupants need them.

  • Figure 7 shows a blocking plan for adaptability and offers an example of a blocking plan for a commode. In the diagram, the placement of blocking for three different grab bars is shown. As you can see, it is important to have strong supports in key locations to secure the grab bars to the wall.
Adaptable bathroom diagram with a shower and toilet that have a preferred transfer space design for wheel chairs. The space is marked by a hashed circle between a toilet and shower with ample space to rotate. For an in-depth description of this graphic, call SDSU Extension at 605-688-6729.
Figure 4. Adaptable bathroom with an accessible shower. Preferred design.

Element 3: Shower and Tub Layout

Shower and tub layout is a critical part of ensuring that a bathroom is both accessible now and adaptable to increased accessibility later. By accounting for the transfer space required for wheelchair users, you are ensuring that the needs of all occupants are met.

  • A wheelchair user needs a minimum of 48 by 36 inches to transfer to a shower. An example of how you might implement this into your design is to ensure that there is 36 inches between the shower and commode. You must also ensure there is approach space to access the space between the commode and shower.
  • Figures 3, 4, 5 and 6 show transfer-type shower size and clearance, illustrating the space a wheelchair user needs to transfer themselves from their chair into a shower stall.
Adaptable bathroom diagram with a an accesible shower and toilet that have acceptable transfer space design for wheel chairs. The space is marked by a hashed circle allowing about 66 inches of rotation for the chair. The tub has been removed and adapted into a shower with easy access. For an in-depth description of this graphic, call SDSU Extension at 605-688-6729.
Figure 5. Adaptable bath with an accessible shower. Tub removed.

Design Examples

Accessible Bathroom Plan

An accessible bathroom plan should include the following key features:

  • 5' 6” deep x 7’ wide
  • 36” door
  • Blocking in place for grab bars and shower seat.
  • Minimum 36” x 36” shower with a maximum ½-inch rise beveled threshold.
Transfer-type shower diagram showing appropriate size and clearance. The space features a 36-inch door, with a hashed-box that's 48 inches-long by 36 inches-high, along with a transfer bench in the shower with grip bars on the walls. For an in-depth description of this graphic, call SDSU Extension at 605-688-6729.
Figure 6. Transfer-type shower size and clearance.

Accessible Bathroom and Shower

Figures 3, 4, 5 and 6 show accessible bathroom and shower designs. A wheelchair user has access to all key functions in the bathroom, including the shower, commode and sink.

Adaptable Bathroom Example

The typical bathroom may have a tub/shower unit, vanity cabinet and commode. Figure 5 gives an example of removing the tub and installing a shower with a seat. Typically, the vanity cabinet would be removed and vanity top/sink supports would be installed to allow knee/toe clearance under the lavatory.

Accessible water closet diagram. The space has a grab bar by the toilet that's 33 to 36 inches high and is 42 inches in length. There's a vertical bar above the side bar that's 18 inches long at a height of 39 to 41 inches. For an in-depth description of this graphic, call SDSU Extension at 605-688-6729.
Figure 7. Side wall grab bar at w.c. and blocking plan.

In Conclusion

Many of the existing bathrooms in residential units are inaccessible. It is important to consult a trained building professional about any accessibility modifications you would like to do to your home. Each bathroom is unique in its capacity to be modified to meet the needs of people with disabilities and older adults.

The Adaptable Home Certification series was developed collaboratively by South Dakota State University Extension and Fennel Design, Inc.

Logos: South Dakota State University Extension and Fennell Design, Inc.

Related Topics

Aging in Place