Handicap Accessible Shower Stalls – The Importance of Good Design

Handicap Showers – the very term makes me cringe, but I suppose there is no sensitive way to describe them. We can dress them up with all sorts of different names – but they are what they are, showers designed for people with some sort of handicap. Or are they? I want to show you how handicap shower stalls can be functional and stylish looking – by being creative with their design.

Over the past twenty years as a builder I have installed many different showers and baths for people with a wide range of disabilities and in that time I quickly learned a few things about handicap shower design and the people who need them.

One thing that nearly every person wanted was a useable shower that didn’t look like it was for a disabled person. Let’s be honest, when you look at some of the disabled showers on the market they can be very clinical and quite depressing. Another thing that has come to concern me is their cost. Specialist handicap showers and their equipment are overly expensive in my opinion. For the same type of expenditure you could install a modern, stylish shower unit with a few modifications to suit the individuals needs and have something all together more appealing. There are a few things to take into account before you get down to choosing a suitable design.


The Level of Disability

Handicap showers and baths are often treated as a one size fits all choice, you need to design based on the needs of the individual. Someone who is visually impaired may need very little in terms of modifications whereas wheelchair access may be necessary for someone else. An elderly person with limited mobility may simply require easy access and a shower seat with grab rails. At the extreme end perhaps the disabled person needs assistance inside the shower and so it needs to be big enough to accommodate a carer as well. Consider the design of the shower or bath based on the persons specific needs.Disabled Positive logo

The Room is Important

Now you have identified the person’s needs, you have to look at the bathroom itself and how it lends itself to the different styles and designs available. The size of the room is obviously the major factor in many cases. Wheel chair access normally presents the biggest space requirement. If you are adapting an existing bathroom do not forget that space can be saved in many ways – you can basically start from scratch with the layout:

•    Toilets and vanities can be moved and replaced with small compact models.
•    Removing the bath can free up enough space to install an accessible shower stall.
•    Replacing the bath with a walk in shower tub combo – great for safety with the elderly or those with limited mobility.
•    Doors can be made to open outwards, not into the bathroom space.
•    Pipe-work, cupboards and even windows can be moved or taken out if necessary to create more space.

Look at all the options and remember that the cost of all this may still be cheaper in the long run compared to fitting a specialized handicap shower unit. Changing a door to open outwards may only cost a few bucks but can free up quite a bit of space – it could be enough to make the room practical.

Get Your Plan Together

Now you have looked at the disabled persons specific needs and you have a few ideas on how to make the most of the space available. Now you need to come up with a design that is functional, meets all their requirements and hopefully looks great.

Don’t think disabled – think what’s on the market and how it can be modified to suit and still look better than those standard handicap showers.

Some people will be more difficult to accommodate than others and you may have trouble with ideas on how to overcome certain obstacles. Take a look at a few ideas I have used to overcome some of the common problems you may face with designing handicap shower stalls and bathrooms.

The room is too small to fit in a shower stall big enough for wheelchair access.

You need to look at some of the large double type shower stalls available today. They are getting bigger all the time – like everything, bigger and better!

easy access shower

Easy Access Shower

Removing the existing bath and changing the whole layout may be necessary to make extra space. It can be a good idea to go and see some of these large walk in shower stalls, try them for size with a wheelchair if necessary. Look for models with low profile shower pans that could be fitted with a ramp – some are only a couple of inches high, or they can be sunk into the floor. Large shower stalls without a door are great, they are usually quite long and don’t need a door to contain splashes – good for easy access.

If you think the room is really too small to go this way,

wet-room suitable for disabled

Wet room - suitable for disabled use

look at a wet room as a solution. I have installed several wet rooms for disabled people and they can

work really well. With a wet room you don’t have a shower stall – the whole room becomes the shower. The whole floor is tiled and tapered down to a drain. Wet rooms used to be very difficult to install, with problems water-proofing the room but nowadays there are kits available which make the process straightforward. They can be an expensive option but very effective and they look great.

Tip for Wheelchair Access – lower everything to suit the user. Shower controls, soap dishes, shelves, light switches, whatever you need should be at a height the wheelchair user can easily reach. Think independence!

You need a bathtub and a shower but haven’t enough space.

In cases where the user has limited mobility and you still need a bath and shower in a small bathroom look at replacing the existing bathtub with a walk in tub shower combo.

handicap showers access

Easy step in (Arweger)

The walk in tub and shower means easy access with a very small step in – great for the elderly. The designs available today are very contemporary looking – if you stay away from the disabled ranges. The best thing is that a modern tub shower combo will still cost less than many of the disabled designs for sale, so you can get something that looks great and is fit for purpose. Remember we are trying to keep things looking as good as possible – without that handicap label.

You want a shower suitable for disabled and able bodied people.

This can be highlighted when an elderly or disabled parent or relative shares a home with the rest of the family. How can you keep the bathroom useable for all? The beauty of this whole approach is that we are taking regular shower easy access for all the familydesigns and adapting them to suit – so that they will not look “disabled”. A wet room can be great for the whole family and any disabled person, likewise the extra large shower stall. Lowering the controls or fitting a small ramp will not impact family use. Fitting a shower bench or a folding seat may be incorporated in the design quite tastefully with a little thought. Handicap shower accessories can be used as needed in subtle ways. This idea of use for the family is only a problem if you install one of the special handicap shower stalls.

I hope I have given you some ideas and a little inspiration. There is no reason in this day and age, with all the technology at our disposal, that disabled people should suffer the indignity of those horrible handicap showers and bathrooms. With a little thought and consideration you can just as easily install something that works and is good to look at.