Bathroom Accessibility and Patient Safety: The Missing Link

Bathroom Accessibility and Patient Safety: The Missing Link

So many of us overlook the need for adult-friendly, accessible bathrooms in public spaces. Yet for millions around the world, a general lack of accessible restrooms poses a real challenge on a daily basis. Public, adult-accessible bathrooms can help to alleviate fear and humiliation – and ensure that everyone has the opportunity to explore the world comfortably. From grocery shopping and posting mail to sightseeing, visiting friends and family, and attending scheduled appointments, everything is easier when accessible bathrooms are clean, easy to find, and ubiquitous.

Transforming Lives, One Restroom at a Time

Changing Places, a UK-based organization, has made it its mission to create and advertise more accessible, ergonomic bathrooms for adults with physical disabilities. The pioneering efforts of Changing Places have ensured that accessible bathrooms – complete with adult changing tables – are installed around the United Kingdom and beyond. A database of accessible toilets makes planning an outing so much easier – and momentum is growing, as public awareness expands to accommodate those with special needs.

One Woman’s Story

Kerry, of Milton Keynes, lives with muscular dystrophy. Her husband and full-time caregiver is committed to helping her live the life she wants – but accessibility restrictions have customarily meant that even short outings require lengthy planning. “Taking a simple trip out these days,” Kerry explains, “can be a military operation.” Disabled toilets are often too small to accommodate both her wheelchair and her husband – and often times, “the misplaced sink or changing table” has caused “many a head knock, [and] can make maneuvering tricky or near impossible.” Overlooked ergonomics wreak havoc in Kerry’s everyday life – and often restrict her time away from home.

Kerry explains, “I shouldn’t have to worry about the most basic thing we all need to do.” Even when she has located an accessible toilet, services are often dirty or “filled with mops, buckets, and signs.” The Changing Places campaign inspired Kerry to get involved and spread the word, informing the public with regards to this critical – and oft-overlooked – resource.

The Research is In: Ergonomics Play a Key Role in Accessibility

A 2014 study published in Clinical Nursing Studies revealed that ergonomic design plays a key role in usability, accessibility – and both caregiver and patient safety. Edda Maria Capodaglio, study author, reveals that “inadequately designed bathroom[s] can decelerate patient recovery and adversely affect nurse efficiency and health.” Researchers examined 32 bathrooms in one Italian hospital’s rehabilitation ward – and the ergonomic drawbacks revealed were staggering.

One of the study’s most critical revelations had to do with space. Often, we figure that if it’s bigger, it’s better, but even a spacious bathroom may lack the ergonomics to function properly. “Inappropriate space utilization and furnishings” meant that even large bathrooms faced limited usability – especially those lacking handrails for toilets, shower seats, and hard-to-reach shelves and coat hooks.

Moving from room to room also posed major challenges to patients and their caregivers – and door openings weren’t usually adequately sized. In fact, limited door width prevented patients from reaching the toilet in ten of the 32 bathrooms – and sinks were inaccessible in at least 18. In the end, only three of the 32 bathrooms offered enough space to use the mobile heist to transfer patients from bed to toilet.

Other missteps included dangerous shower seats, which posed a high fall risk due to inaccurate placing. Some weren’t even adequately fixed to the wall. Handrails were inconsistently positioned, and often they closely resembled towel holders – typically not appropriate handrails. Finally, shelving, hooks, and even toilet paper holders were placed out of reach.

Ergonomics Make or Break the Restroom

For the general public, the concept of an adult-accessible bathroom doesn’t even enter the consciousness. Yet even in restrooms supposedly equipped to meet the needs of the physically impaired, the ergonomics are often woefully inadequate. Yet everyone deserves access to functional, accessible restrooms – wherever they are—and smart design plays a pivotal role.

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