How can you make a bathroom safer and more accessible for disabled and elderly users?

For the elderly and disabled, a bathroom can be a dangerous place. In fact, bathrooms are one of the most common places for injuries and falls among the elderly and disabled. If you, or someone you love, fits into this category, it is important to take action to help prevent accidents. Keep reading to see what modifications can be made to make the bathroom a safer place.

Ceasarae Galvan

Ceasarae Galvan

Ceasarae Galvan, Disability Rights Advocate at A Is For Accessible.

Think of the User(s)

When modifying a bathroom to be accessible, you need to look at who you need to be accessible for. A public restroom will need different features than a bathroom designed for someone’s home. Four main features of a bathroom need to be evaluated.

    ● The first is the toilet. Ensuring that the toilet is at a proper height and includes grab bars is paramount. There are features you can use for customization, such as foam toilet seats for comfort or a bidet for someone who needs assistance getting clean after using the toilet.

    ● The second thing to look at is bathing. Many wheelchair users prefer roll-in showers with handheld showerheads and grab bars. Someone with chronic pain may prefer a walk-in soaking tub that includes the convenience of a flat entry with the comfort of soaking in a bathtub.

    ● The third thing to consider is the sink. You’ll want to determine if you need a roll-up sink for a wheelchair, a motion-activated faucet, or a different height than typical.

    ● Lastly, you’ll need to evaluate the use of space. Someone using a mobility aid will need plenty of space to move around, and someone who can not get high or low will need storage and other features at the correct height for them to access.

Overall, think of all the things you do in your bathroom, and make sure that the person the bathroom belongs to has equal access to do those things.

Install a Walk-in Bathtub

Walk-in bathtubs are designed specifically for elderly and disabled people. There’s a big door that seals tightly and allows the user to easily enter the bathtub and sit comfortably.

You can get a ton of awesome features that make life even better. There’s a variety of handles for stable gripping. There are different seating options. There are jets and whirlpools to relax your muscles and make the experience more pleasurable. There are sprayers that make it easier to rinse. And there are even faster drains!

Jake Romano

Jake Romano

Jake Romano, Project Manager at John The Plumber.

Brenda Scott

Brenda Scott

Brenda Scott is the owner and operator of Tidy My Space.

Consider These Seven Modifications

1. Doorway– When it comes to bathrooms, let’s start at the doorway. It should be wider than the standard door opening, which is 32.” A 36-38″ doorway is preferable. This extra room allows mobility devices easy access to the bathroom.

A pocket door is ideal because the resident doesn’t have to back up to clear the doorway. This can be difficult for those with walkers, wheelchairs, or balance issues. They also take up less space compared to the standard swing door if the area is restricted.

2. Floor– Flooring should be anti-slip and rug free. The high gloss tiled floors may look beautiful, but the finish makes them very slippery. Opt for matte-finished flooring.

Avoid any bath mats that aren’t secured to the floor. Trips and falls in bathrooms are the #1 cause of emergency visits with seniors and the disabled. If you want a mat to step out onto from the shower or tub, select a low pile with rubber backing that can be secured down on all edges with two-sided carpet tape.

3. Vanity– The vanity should allow a wheelchair or seat access to the sink for general hygiene. This can be accomplished by removing the doors typically covering the under-sink area. Also, remove any center bracing for the cabinet and cut out 18″ of the bottom of the cabinet. With these changes, the resident can sit comfortably at the sink.

4. Faucet– Instead of the standard dial type of hot and cold knobs, change them to a lever style. This small change to a lever is much easier to turn if your hands have limitations with grip. Install the faucet to either side of the sink, putting it within easy reach for anyone seated at the sink.

5. Showers– Showers should have handrails, shower seats, and a curbless shower entry. A shower curtain or a sliding door is easier than a swinging shower door. Similar to the bathroom entry door with the width because some residents need to remain on their mobile devices even in the shower.

The curbless shower entry is very important. Because of the curb, transferring from a wheelchair to a shower seat is not always possible or safe unless they have a caregiver assisting. If they do have a caregiver assisting, having a wider-than-standard shower stall with a wide doorway is a game changer.

6. Toilets– Toilets should have handrails on each surrounding wall. A horizontal handrail on the back wall, above the toilet, for men to support themselves while doing their business. Angled handrails on a side wall help to get up off the toilet.

Having a raised toilet seat attachment with side rails, or replacing the standard toilet with a taller model, is a quick modification that everyone can benefit from. Add the side rails when and if needed.

7. High-Tech– For those tech-friendly residents, there are motion sensor mats that alert a caregiver if they experience sudden pressure, which would indicate a person falling and lying on it. There are also sensors that detect the lack of motion. This would alert caregivers if the person fell and knocked themselves out.

The fall alert pendants are shower safe which is another great safety device for alerting others to a fall or medical emergency.

Install These Three Things

There are a few things you can do to make a bathroom more accessible for disabled and elderly users.

    ● Install Grab Bars– You can install grab bars next to the toilet and in the shower. You can [also] get a shower chair or bench to make showering easier.

    ● Install Raised Toilet Seat– You can also install a raised toilet seat and make sure there is plenty of space around the bathroom so wheelchair users can maneuver easily.

    ● Install Signage– Finally, you can add a sign with the international symbol of accessibility to let people know that the bathroom is accessible.

Jed Silverlake

Jed Silverlake

Jed Silverlake, Founder & Editor at

Giovanni Scippo

Giovanni Scippo

Giovanni Scippo, Director at 3D Lines.

Create Better Lighting and a Wider Doorway

[When] remodeling bathrooms for disabled and elderly users, it’s important to incorporate natural lighting as much as possible. Poor lighting can cause tripping and other accidents. Install additional lighting to improve [visibility], and [consider] installing smart lighting options like using voice control.

For bathroom doors, the entryway should be at least 32″ wide to allow [for] wheelchairs and walkers. If the bathroom is located in a tight spot, ensure that the doors can be opened outwards. It would also be helpful to install a lever as a bathroom handle as it’s operable with one hand and doesn’t need to be grasped or rotated like knobs.

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