Providing safe bathrooms for people with special needs requires knowledgeable planning in the field of what’s called universal design. When implementing your plan, remember that such bathrooms need not look institutional. Begin the planning process with an inventory of the intended user’s skills, focusing not on disabilities, but capabilities, likes and tastes. What can the person do? What does he or she like to do?

Bathrooms for disabled should be larger than normal

The first priority in bathrooms intended for people who use wheelchairs is plenty of room for access and maneuvering. Barrier-free bathrooms are usually larger than average. Provide for an open area within the bathroom that’s at least 5 feet in diameter to allow for easy turning. Also provide 4 feet of clear space in front of each fixture, as well as between the sink and the toilet, if both fixtures share the same wall. These spaces also will allow room for a caregiver, if needed.


Make doorways 3 feet wide to enable a wheelchair to pass through. The bathroom door must swing outward rather than inward and should be fitted with a lever-type handle, not a knob.

Specify a vanity designed for use from a wheelchair. Plan for a sit-down dressing table with a 31-inch-high countertop and at least 30 inches of clear knee space underneath so a chair can pull in close.

The shower stall should have no threshold that would impede the entrance and exit of a wheelchair. The stall should measure at least 4 feet square, and its opening should be at least 36 inches wide. Install the control valves and showerheads at two different heights, or include a hand-held nozzle that can be used from a seated position. A built-in seat in the shower, along with a sturdy grab bar, can provide extra comfort and utility.


The National Kitchen & Bath Association provides a list of access standards to NKBA designers to make bathrooms more easily usable by the physically disabled:

First, consider access. Typically, bathroom doors are 2 to 2 1/2 feet wide and are hinged to open into the room. But such a door is too narrow for a wheelchair, and its inward swing makes it difficult for a wheel-chair user to maneuver inside the room. A 3-foot-wide replacement door that is designed to swing outward will ease access and keep the bathroom’s floor area clear.

Second, the floor surface should be of a slip-resistant material. There are many ceramic floor tiles available with roughened finishes that will provide sure footing for those on crutches without impeding wheel-chairs. The strips or moldings, called thresholds, that cover transitions between different floor materials should be kept as low and seamless as possible so wheelchairs have a smooth, level path into the room.


Finally, grab bars should be installed on the side of the tub and toilet. Since the bars may have to support a person’s full weight, they must be securely screwed.

This article is courtesy of the National Kitchen & Bath Association and Home Improvement News and Information Center.