Accessibility in the Bathroom – Episode 18

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Last updated on February 27, 2023

On our latest podcast episode, Kelly Summers, CKBR a designer here at Schloegel discusses bathroom renovations designed with accessibility in mind. She also shares her work with the Big Splash Bathroom Giveaway.


What technically is an accessible bathroom?

Several things make a bathroom accessible. A curb-less shower, meaning no curb. You just walk straight in without a step up. The drain placement, for those zero-entry showers, is critical because you don’t want drains that are going to impede, especially someone that is.

In a wheelchair having things that are transitional height differences is a big deal. I was talking about grab bars and, guardrails around toilets, and clearances for toilet areas. Sinks Heights of vanities is a big deal and whether or not that person is, or they know will be in a wheelchair having knee space and foot space at a vanity. You can’t have a regular vanity get up to it, to brush your teeth if you have drawers and doors in your way where your feet would be.

It’s just thinking of those things. Even mirrors, need to tilt because if you’re in a wheelchair you can’t have a flat mirror on a flat wall. They will not be able to see themselves because it’s likely going to be too high.

Those are probably the big things and then everything else is more individualized based on the person’s needs. What do they need help with? Hand showers have a hand shower on a slide bar so that they can set it at different heights or take it off. If someone needs help bathing a hand shower is crucial.

Grab Bars

Generally, as homeowners age in place, they’ll need shower grab bars in different locations. To accommodate this, we will do quarter-inch blocking on all the walls. That way they don’t have to think about it ahead of time. Where exactly do I want those to go? Then we can add those after the tile has gone in, in any location and they’re structurally sound and secure.

So grab bars, do those look like they used to look like just a big silver metal bar that you put in your bathroom?

No. Thank goodness. No, no, it does not have to look like a hospital. They are not little round chrome and look like a guardrail at a pool. They don’t look like that anymore. They’ve come so far. I mean, you can get them to match your fixtures. You can get them as a toilet paper holder.

At one of our aging-in-place client’s homes, we did two different grab bars that were angled. One of the angled ones was smaller it was actually a soap tray.  They were all coordinated with the plumbing fixtures that we had picked. And was rated for ADA. That was her request out of the gate, she needed the bathroom to function for her husband but DID NOT want it to look like a hospital.

Can you share a little bit more about the slide bar shower?

It’s in essence kind of three or four pieces put together in an assembly in any shower, doesn’t have to be in an accessible shower. Most of our master bathrooms are using, a handheld on a slide bar nowadays. As well, if nothing else, it is just for ease of cleaning the shower, shower, glass, the tile. It’s just nice to have to use the plastic cup up and try to throw it on the wall.

There is a long slide bar, 24” long, it kind of looks like a towel bar. Generally, most of the plumbing collections have slide bars that coordinate with those plumbing fixtures. So they will match your trim for your shower or your faucets. Then it has an attachment that slides. You generally push a button on it, and then you slide that handheld in the cradle up and down that bar. Which the hand handheld headrests in. You could set that handheld as a secondary shower, head up high in the middle, down low, it has a hose. And then it has an elbow that connects to the wall, which is where the water comes into the hose and feeds the handheld. If you are bathing someone else it gives you the ability to assist someone bathing without getting drenched from a regular shower head.

With a curb-less shower is there a fear of water coming into the bathroom or how does that drain?

That’s always a client’s fear until they understand and look at some examples. When a shower pan is constructed for zero entry, it has to be pitched to the drain a quarter of an inch per foot. So, if you assume it’s truly designed for a wheelchair, that shower space is going to have to be five feet by five feet because that’s the radius to be able to spin a chair.

And in those applications, you’re going to need, especially with a five-foot shower, you’re going to need more than the standard single drain. The shower drain needs to be much longer and a linear drain at the back of the shower. The linear drain needs to have multiple ports under it so that more water can go in. The shower pitches from the flat part of the bathroom and the entry point of the shower towards the back wall going down. So, there aren’t edges or ledges and the water is always going then to the back.

What about seating for someone who doesn’t need to use a wheelchair, but can’t stand in a shower? What type of seating options have you seen or used, in a shower for accessibility?

We’ve used the standard bench where you’ve got tiled edges, and maybe a quartz top with adjacent grab bars. We’ve also used flip-up benches. So, if you have different needs in your home the chair can flip up when not needed. These are teak benches that, are manufactured and can be mounted directly into the studs of the wall. And then flip up, flip down as you want to use them.

What do you do for doors on a zero-entry shower?

Well, most do not want a door because it is one more barrier to entry especially if you are transferring someone. let’s use our big splash recipients. So, a lot of times they will not have doors but will do a curtain. A few years ago, we did a ceiling shower curtain. The track is in the ceiling, it’s very similar to a regular shower curtain. But instead of having that curtain rod, it’s a track that actually mounts flat to the ceiling and you have chains then that come down from that, the curtain then attaches to that.

I’ve used these on all of our big splash projects and they are absolutely fabulous. And that was a wonderful Google search many years ago.

Do you want to talk to us about Big Splash, what it is and how you design it?

I’ve had the honor and privilege of working on several and they’re all great, they’re all fun. Schloegel gives back to our community each year by giving away an accessible bathroom to a child with special needs. They submit an application and we have a committee that then goes through those applications.

It’s very difficult to process to select as every applicant deserves and needs a bathroom. But we look at what’s the family struggles, what is the child’s struggles, and who by doing this work is going to benefit the most. We donate our, labor, our expertise, our time, and with the help of our absolutely outstanding vendors and subs make these bathrooms happen for people that otherwise couldn’t. I mean, it’s a game-changer for them it warms my heart every year.

Can you talk to us a little bit about this year’s bathroom and what you’re doing for this year’s recipient?

Yes, this year like many others in the past, I went to our ownership and said, I know we are going to do a bathroom, but here’s what I’m thinking, what I have lined up. In order to do the bathroom that we really needed to do for the main level, that meant the upstairs bathroom needed to be fully functional. And that bath wasn’t in great shape and it half functioned. In order to have seven people, use a bathroom during construction time, we needed to do two bathrooms. First, we did the upstairs bathroom and it’s now done. Now everybody in the family can use it while we do the downstairs bathroom and other work.

Talk to us about the impact of an accessible bathroom for these families.

It is huge. We see in the applications, I think every year that there is consistently a complaint from the parents or the caregivers of their backs and the amount of back pain, shoulder pain, and things that they experience carrying these children as they’re growing and getting bigger and unable to move themselves and transporting them. In many cases, that’s the only way that they can get them from the bedroom to the bathroom because of the door, widths, sizes, and things. Not many houses are ADA accessible and wheelchairs aren’t easily maneuverable around them.

And these kids it gives them, depending on what their disabilities are, the ability to bathe themselves or go to the bathroom by themselves. And they just are so unbelievably proud of themselves, you can see it on their face. It really gives them the independence they deserve. It also gives the parents 20 or 30 minutes of peace. They get a little bit of a break too.

We take it for granted that we can walk through any doorway. We don’t have to stop and figure out how to get into the next room. We take for granted that we can go to the bathroom by ourselves and never have to worry about getting in there or getting out off of a chair on a toilet.