Accessibility options in the day-to-day lives of people with disabilities are so important that they are actually designated as a human right by the United Nations. Often, the discourse regarding disability accommodations centres around accessibility in the public sphere, such as in school or the workplace. However, the area in which accessibility is most vital is actually in the homes of people who live with disabilities.
Determining What Bathroom Renovations or Accessories are Needed
When it comes to accessibility modifications for seniors and people with disabilities, bathrooms are often one of the household areas that require some basic safety accessories, if not substantial alterations. What accessories or renovations are needed will depend on the person. The necessary safety improvements can often be determined by an assessment of the individual’s disabilities, a discussion with the individual about what things they find difficult, and consultation with a healthcare professional.
However, an aspect of home accessibility modification that often flies under the radar is the consideration of modifications that are not currently needed but may be needed in the future. This is an especially important factor to take into account when dealing with senior citizens and people with disabilities caused by degenerative illness. Insight from a health professional will be helpful on this front as well, especially from a doctor or doctors who are familiar with the health history of the individual.
Shower Aid Accessories
Personal hygiene is important for both an individual’s health and quality of life. However, traditional showering/bathing structures are often difficult to manipulate for senior citizens and people with disabilities. The add-ons listed below can drastically improve the accessibility of showers and bathtubs for those demographics.
Grab bars are installed in and/or around the shower/bathtub so that an individual can stabilize and guide themselves during the bathing process. This is very helpful for anyone who deals with muscle weakness and/or mobility issues. Depending on personal needs and the surface, a shower bar can be installed into the wall itself, or a suction bar can be placed onto the wall. Due to superior stability, the former is usually the best option.
Shower seats are accommodations that allow an individual to shower while seated, and are an excellent option for people with a wide range of mobility limitations. Shower seats themselves can vary widely. They can be made of many materials, including plastic, wood, and porcelain. They can come in many styles, including a wall-mounted structure, a separate structure that can be removed if needed, or a structure that is part of the shower itself. And they can come with additional accessories, such as handlebars.
Handheld showerheads are shower heads that can be extended and manipulated with the hands. This allows the individual or someone caring for them to move the stream of water around them rather than having to move their entire body to shower. A shower head is relatively easy to replace, and handheld showerheads can vary widely in price.
Bath lifts are remote-operated devices that lower the individual into the bathtub and then lift them back out. This is helpful for individuals with a variety of mobility issues. Bath lifts are usually placed into the tub using suction cups.
Toilet Assistance Accessories
The standard height of toilets is about 15 inches. For someone with mobility issues, it can be difficult or even dangerous to lower themselves that far, especially multiple times a day. For that reason, accessibility accessories for the toilet are very common when it comes to upgrading a bathroom for seniors or people with disabilities relating to mobility.
Raised Toilet Seat
A raised toilet seat is a removable accessory (usually plastic) that fits onto most standard toilets and provides a taller surface on which the user can sit. They are very easy to place onto the toilet.
Comfort Height Toilet
An alternative to a raised toilet seat is a comfort height toilet. These are toilets that are built to be about 2-4 inches taller than the average toilet. Installation of a toilet is a relatively difficult process and usually requires the assistance of a plumber.
Handrails are another option that can help a user guide and stabilize themselves while using a toilet. These can be installed in the wall itself, or sometimes may be included as a feature of raised toilet seats. Wall installation is relatively simple for someone who is comfortable performing basic home renovations.
Other Bathroom Accessories
Many other simple accessories can make a big difference for bathroom accessibility as well.
Pull-out shelves (also known as rolling shelves) are a helpful alternative to shelves for people with limited mobility. As the name implies, these are shelves that can pull out — similar to shallow drawers. This allows the user to look for and retrieve items without having to stoop or stretch. Pull-out shelves can be installed into the existing framework of the bathroom, although this may sometimes require the removal of existing shelving first.
Replacing traditional shelving with pull-out shelves is usually not a simple task, and the cost of installation varies widely, depending on factors such as your existing bathroom space, the shelves that you buy, and the rates of handymen in your area.
Offset Door Hinges
Offset (or “swing clear”) hinges are hinges that allow a door to swing open wide enough to completely clear the doorway. This makes doorways easier to navigate for people who use equipment such as wheelchairs and walkers. The installation of new hinges usually requires professional assistance, although the process will not usually be lengthy. It may also be necessary to replace the door as well.
Supplementary lighting such as LED light switches or light panels can make bathrooms much easier to navigate for people with visual disabilities. Such lighting is often easy to add to a bathroom.
Common Bathroom Renovations for Accessibility
In many cases, it will be necessary to do more in-depth renovations to make a bathroom safe for a senior citizen or individual with a disability. Therefore, many such alterations will require the services of a plumbing contractor. The following are some of the most common modifications used to make bathrooms more accessible.
Walk-In Showers and Bathtubs
A walk-in shower or tub is a bathing area that does not involve stepping up into the bathing area. In the case of a tub, this may involve the inclusion of a watertight door. This is helpful for individuals with limited mobility. Such renovations are usually a lengthy process that can only be handled by certified professionals or someone with extensive knowledge of plumbing and the other structures involved.
Because there are many ways to make a shower or bathtub accessible in this way, the investment of price and time necessary will vary greatly.
Roll-In Showers and Bathtubs
Roll-in showers and bathtubs are very similar to walk-in options, but with additional space both at the entryway and within the structure. They also usually have many more assistive features such as grab bars and seating arrangements. Also, like walk-in showers and tubs, roll-in showers and bathtubs will usually take a long time to install, require a professional, and be relatively expensive. If anything, the additional space and features mean that roll-in varieties will be even more expensive and time-consuming to install.
Widened doorways are a helpful feature for people who utilize wheelchairs or walkers. Widening a doorway can be a relatively difficult process that should be approached carefully, especially if the surrounding wall is load-bearing.
Automatic doors are doors that utilize a sensor to recognize when a person is close by and open accordingly. In many cases, automatic doors installed to accommodate senior citizens or people with disabilities are sliding doors. Doors that swing in or out can cause an obstruction.
Automatic doors are very difficult to install and require not just basic construction knowledge, but also electrical competency.
Pocket doors are a type of sliding door that slides back into a compartment inside a wall when they are opened. This prevents the user from having to stretch significantly when reaching for or pulling the door, or from having to manoeuvre themselves around the door. Therefore, this is helpful for people who deal with a range of mobility limitations. Pocket doors are usually relatively difficult to install due to necessary alterations to the surrounding walls.
For people with mobility limitations, it is important that bathroom flooring is made of a non-slip material. Furthermore, if the person utilizes a wheelchair, the flooring material should not cause a hindrance to their movement. Therefore, the flooring should either be uncarpeted or use thin carpeting.
Changing the flooring is often a relatively simple project for people familiar with the process, although that does also depend on the space and exactly what material is going to be installed. Costs will depend heavily on the space, the materials, and the contractor.
Brighter and more extensive lighting is often very helpful for seniors and people with visual disabilities. This is especially helpful near potential obstacles, apparatuses they need to use, and recessed areas where they may need to look for things. In the case of seniors, it is also helpful to utilize “cool” lighting as much as possible.
How difficult it will be to update lighting will depend entirely on how you decide to do it, as well as the existing lighting situation in the bathroom. For this same reason, the cost of updating lighting can also vary significantly. However, some simple, inexpensive changes and additions can certainly go a long way.
Motion sensors can be utilized for many functions in a bathroom in order to assist senior citizens and people with disabilities, such as opening doors, switching on lights and turning on sinks. These functions allow the user to avoid the need to stretch or manipulate apparatuses in order to use items in their bathroom. This can be very helpful for people with limited mobility and/or strength.
Motion sensors are often relatively difficult to install due to the electrical work involved, but the amount of work and investment involved depends on the intended use of the motion sensor and the associated structures.
Voice Command Technology
Voice command technology serves a similar function as motion sensors, allowing people to navigate the bathroom without having to rely as much on their range of motion. However, in this case, things such as lighting are activated by voice commands rather than the approach of the user. Like motion sensor technology, such devices are often difficult to install, unless the home is already set up for smart technology, and the labour and cost necessary can vary widely depending on the unique factors of the remodel.
There are many options for making devices in a bathroom easier to manipulate for senior citizens and people with disabilities. Common examples of these options include, but are not limited to:
- Levers for faucets;
- Light panels;
- Press lever handles for doors;
- Push/pull bars for doors;
- One-handed toilet paper dispensers.
The labour and costs necessary to install these options can vary widely.
Wall reinforcements are helpful to supplement other renovations. For example, wall reinforcements are often added before grab bars are installed to ensure that the grab bar can support a lot of weight and that the structural integrity of the wall will not be compromised by the installation. Wall reinforcements are usually relatively simple to add. The cost will depend upon the extent of the reinforcement, among other factors.
People who utilize wheelchairs or walkers will need a lot of space in their bathrooms. This includes not only general floor space but also space to move around the toilet and within the bathing area. It is very important that the individual not only has space to easily enter and exit the bathroom but also to make turns. In some cases, this may just be a matter of removing or adjusting structures in the bathroom, but in others, it may be necessary to actually take down a wall and make the room itself bigger.
Expanding a bathroom will often be a lengthy and complex process that may temporarily make the bathroom difficult to use or unusable. The cost can vary greatly.
In the case of wheelchair users, it is often helpful to adjust sinks and associated counter space so that they are lower and within reach. Another possible modification is the clearance of space under the counter so that there is leg space while they use the sink or counter space.
This can be a difficult renovation. In some cases, it may be necessary to just replace the sink and counter entirely.
Transfer poles can be installed in a bathroom to make it easier to move around the room, as well as to stand up and sit down. They are often relatively easy to install.
A wet room is a bathroom that is completely waterproof. In many cases, the base of the shower is part of the larger floor plan rather than being its own area. Therefore, in the case of people who have limited mobility, they would not have to get over a lip or similar barrier in order to bathe. They also would have less upkeep necessary in order to keep their bathroom dry and clean. Making a bathroom a wet room is a lengthy and complex process.
Financial Assistance for Bathroom Modifications
Very few people have infinite resources for much-needed home renovations, even in Canada, where citizens enjoy universal healthcare. Luckily, there are many further financial assistance options for bathroom remodels intended to increase safety and accessibility for senior citizens and people with disabilities.
Government Grants for Accessibility Renovations
In addition to the federal grant options listed below, there are many other grants for housing updates to accommodate seniors and people with disabilities on a provincial level.
- GST/HST New Housing Rebate: This is a rebate option for people who have done substantial construction on their home, or have bought a significantly renovated home.
- Home Accessibility Tax Credit (HATC): People who have made accessibility renovations to a home may qualify for this tax credit.
- Residential Rehabilitation Assistance Program (RRAP): This is an assistance program for people with low-income and/or disabilities who need to make renovations for accessibility to an on-reserve home.
- Home Adaptations for Seniors' Independence Program (HASI): This is a financial assistance program for senior citizens (or their landlords) who need to make renovations for accessibility to their on-reserve home.
Other Financial Options for Home Modifications
Barring financial assistance, there are many avenues you can take to pay for home renovations, including:
- Home Equity Line of Credit (HELOC): A home equity line of credit is a line of credit for large expenses that uses your house as collateral.
- Home Equity Loan: A home equity loan is a loan taken out as a lump sum that uses your house as collateral.
- Personal Loan: A personal loan is a loan which usually does not utilize any sort of collateral.
- Cash-Out Refinancing: Cash-out refinancing converts home equity into cash through refinancing.
- Credit Cards: Credit cards offer you a personal line of credit.
Accessibility Resources for Seniors
There are many resources which can offer assistance to seniors ageing in place, including:
- Alberta Council on Aging: an informational resource about an aging society;
- Angel Alert Non-Profit Program: helps low-income senior citizens acquire personal emergency alerting devices;
- ASK Friendship Society: an aging-in-place assistance program for Vancouver residents;
- A&O Support Services for Older Adults: an informational and counseling resource for seniors in the Manitoba area;
- Calgary Seniors’ Resource Society: a network of local services and programs to support senior citizens;
- Canadian Red Cross: offers a network of senior assistive services;
- CARP: A national resource for senior citizens;
- Edmonton Meals on Wheels: provides meals to seniors who find it difficult or impossible to cook for themselves, but wish to live at home;
- Greater Vancouver Community Services Society: a generalized assistive resource for senior citizens in the Vancouver area;
- Guaranteed Income Supplement (GIS): a federal financial supplement for low-income senior citizens;
- HelpAge Canada: an assistive program for impoverished senior citizens in Canada;
- Links2Care: provides general assistive services to seniors in the Ontario area.
- Neighbourhood Link Supportive Services: an information resource which promotes the independence of senior citizens;
- PEI Senior Citizens’ Federation Inc.: an advocacy resource for senior citizens in the Prince Edward Island area;
- Seniors Services Society: provides housing and community educational resources in British Columbia;
- Seniors United Now (SUN): an advocacy resource for senior citizens in Alberta;
- Voice Print Canada: provides access to news and other information to senior citizens who would otherwise have limited access to such resources.
Accessibility Resources for People With Disabilities
There are also many resources which can offer assistance to people with disabilities who need accessibility options:
- Alberta Association for Community Living (AACL): an advocacy resource for people with disabilities;
- Bob Rumball Centre for the Deaf: provides a range of resources for the deaf community;
- Canadian Abilities Foundation: provides generalized resources;
- Canadian Deafblind Association: offers a range of resources for people with visual and hearing disabilities;
- Canadian Disability Resources Society: an equipment resource;
- Canadian Disabled Individuals Association (CDIA): an advocacy and informational resource;
- Cheshire London: a regional housing resource;
- Community Outreach: an equality resource in the Ontario area;
- Council of Canadians With Disabilities: a national organization which promotes accessibility for people with disabilities;
- Disability Alliance BC: promotes independence and acts as an advocacy resource;
- Diversability Development Organization (DDO): a generalized resource;
- Family Support Institute: a generalized resource for families that include a member with a disability in the British Columbia area;
- Federal Disability Benefits: a federal disability resource;
- LOFT: provides housing services for people with disabilities in the Ontario area;
- One Care Home and Community Support Services: offers a variety of assistive resources to promote independence;
- Ontarians with Disabilities Act (ODA) Committee: an advocacy resource;
- Reach Canada: an advocacy and informational resource;
- Strive Living Society: offers a range of resources in the British Columbia area;
- 10-4 Teddy Bear Wheelchair Foundation: helps acquire wheelchairs for children in need throughout Canada.