How to make your bathroom accessible without a complete re-fit

When you think of a disabled bathroom you might think of plastic chairs that fold down from the wall, large grab rails, a wet room set up (although trust me we’ve been in ‘disabled bathrooms’ in hotel rooms that have a single grab rail over a bath!) and generally a utilitarian style of decor.

I’m hoping to try and avoid this in my own home.  We moved into our 50’s bungalow in Dec ’14 (the week before Christmas, that’s a story for another blog post) and the bathroom is typical tiny British bathroom, about 1.9m wide by 2.5m long (6ft x 8ft).  Added into that floor space is the airing cupboard (without water tank but with boiler and storage below) and you can see we don’t have much space to play with.  To extend the room would mean stealing space from the living room or the kitchen, neither of which is an option.  So we have to make the best of the space we have.

The previous owners had completely replaced the bathroom in the year before we bought the house, and it was done pretty nicely, in monochrome tones and with a smart rectangular P shaped bath, rectangular sink and square loo (looks great but a pain to keep clean by the way!) and a useful vanity cupboard under the sink.  The fittings are chrome and modern.

The main problem with the bathroom was the very narrow door opening (only 60cm or 2ft).  On our second viewing to the house we took the wheelchair with us, and my builder brother-in-law to take a look at the door.  The wheelchair wouldn’t fit through it, so we needed his expert eye over it to see if the door could be widened.  Luckily for us, there was enough wall space to widen it to a standard door.

I didn’t want to make any immediate changes to the bathroom as that’s a costly business so we reviewed the options.  The husband is reasonably mobile on crutches when inside the house (until the temperature rises in summer – MS doesn’t like the heat!) and it’s his left leg that doesn’t move very well.  So we decided to leave the bath as it is and look for a board for him to sit on.

I’ve spent a lot of time surfing and researching bath boards to find one that doesn’t look like a piece of ugly plastic.  I’ve found a couple of nice teak ones, but the vanity unit is a walnut colour and that would clash.  In the end we decided on white plastic for now, as that matches the white tile and white bath.  It’s not my favourite piece of kit in the house but it functions very well and I’m still looking for something a bit sexier, but in the meantime this will do.

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The husband uses the benches to sit on to shave and clean teeth, and to sit on and pull his legs into bath.  We’ve bought two of the benches, one smaller and one wider to make sure he has enough room without possibility of falling off and we’ve directed the shower head so he can sit down to shower, or we’ve got a couple of grab rails if he wants to be brave and stand up to shower.

What this means for me, or for guests is that to shower, we have to climb into the bath at tap end, and we fold the shower curtain onto the bench so the floor doesn’t get soaked.  It’s better for us to have the shower curtain than a glass screen, as he needs a fair amount of space to move his legs into the bath and a shower screen would be in the way.

The grab rails were picked by the husband and are a wavy chrome design, I would have preferred straight rails to match the other straight edges in the bathroom but the curved ones give a little bit of contrast to the right angles.  We have two of them, one near the bench and one next to the shower buttons.

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Once we get the bathroom re-done, if we get to the point of him needing a wet room set up, I’ll investigate the shower risers that also double up as grab rails.  They don’t look like grab rails so the ‘help’ he needs is hidden.  Similar to the loo roll holder we found, (read more about that here Loo Rolls & Grab Rails ) it allows the support he needs without being obvious to the world that it’s a grab rail.  That’s definitely on my list for the next shower that we buy.

We got the door widened a year ago and I didn’t realise the work that needed to go into it.  Silly me thought it’s just a case of widening the opening, a bit of new trim and job’s a good’un.  I didn’t realise we would need new flooring, new lintels, replastering and new woodwork.  Luckily for us the previous owners had left spare bathroom floor tiles in the garage, but there was no spare laminate boards to put into the wider door opening in the hallway, so I went to the local carpet shop, explained the situation and the salesman let me have a free board from the open boxes in store.  Win!  It doesn’t quite match from a colour point of view, but it’s good enough for now until we can get all of the laminate replaced in the hallway and kitchen/diner.

The grab rails and boards were all bought from a specialist disability shop ( Welcome Mobility ) and if you have a permanent disability you can get them VAT-free from this and similar mobility sites.  However you can also purchase chrome grab rails from places such as Argos or John Lewis.  (* Disclaimer, please make sure you review the instructions for fitting and have a professional put them on the wall for you).

If I fancy a long bubble filled soak in the tub, the boards come off easily, the matter of a few turns of the knob underneath and hey presto.  If we have nieces and nephews staying they love a bath with the boards on, it’s somewhere for them to hide under!

I expect at some point we’ll need to convert to a wet room if the husband’s MS progresses to the point he can’t get his legs over into the bath but for now the square bath (which has a nice flat floor and edges) works really nicely for us.  I know this won’t work for everyone but again it’s useful to think of different things to help with a disability around the house.

We’ve added a few fun touches to the bathroom too, with the plants (both real and faux) my favourite starfish and some fabulous vintage travel cards which tie in with our love of travel.

Next step is for us to re-paint the walls as the crutches get leaned against the wall, and fall over a lot so we have a lot of scuff marks from the rubber of the handles and feet of the crutches.  Next stop, darker paint or wallpaper…

6 thoughts on “How to make your bathroom accessible without a complete re-fit

  1. All brilliant ideas, my mother in law has MS and has a similar set up, she could afford a wet room but is too tight to spend the money, it would give her a better quality of life I think rather than have to rely on her 80 year old partner to lift her, she can’t walk at all & is quite a weight!

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    1. Thanks for the comments. I think we will move to a wet room with an integrated and tiled bench at some point if things become more difficult but the benches are simple and inexpensive and are an easy fix for now. I also will miss a nice soak in the tub if we have to get rid of it!

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  2. Thanks for this, I currently have a shower stool to help me but we are due for a bathroom update (on the cheap!) so it has been nice to see what others use. We’d love a wet room (as it would give us the chance to have a downstairs toilet – needed with 2 kids) but currently having to save for that.

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    1. Thanks for the comments. Wet rooms are expensive, so we’re holding off as long as possible before we go to that, hence the boards we use. We found the shower stool a bit wobbly for our liking!

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