08Dec

Four ways wheelchair-accessible sinks are designed with users in mind

For wheelchair users, the most basic and essential daily tasks can prove to be extremely challenging, and most often, the reason has little to do with their mental or physical abilities. The obstacles of navigating spaces around objects and furniture, accessing out-of-reach controls (like light switches and sink faucets, for example), and simply entering rooms and buildings can be uncomfortable and overwhelming. It’s easy for wheelchair users to feel like they live in a world that was not built for them, because most of the time, that’s exactly the case.

Awareness of these challenges has grown over the years, as has the variety of technology developed specifically for the non-ambulatory. One of the many products that can make a significant impact on the lives of wheelchair users is an accessible version of an appliance many take for granted: the bathroom sink.

Problems with traditional sink design

While it’s not rocket science, the lack of accessibility in sink designs is something that many people and manufacturers simply don’t think about. Consider this: most bathroom (and kitchen, for that matter) sinks are built with cabinetry underneath. If you’re in a wheelchair, this makes it impossible to pull in close enough for access to the sink and faucet. Even if it happens to be a pedestal sink with space beneath it, the faucet may be too high to reach, or the pedestal at the bottom may be too wide to allow wheelchair access. 

And then there’s the issue of clearance: imagine the sink in question is built specifically to accommodate wheelchair users with everything in reach. If there isn’t adequate space surrounding it, they still won’t be able to access the sink. This is the main problem with many bathrooms, as they are typically small spaces designed only to fit one (walking) person and the necessary appliances.

Accessibility in the bathroom

Thanks to the U.S. Access Board, state and local government buildings and “places of public accommodation and commercial facilities” (shops, restaurants, hotels, schools, etc.) must follow ADA guidelines, which include specific requirements for wheelchair accessibility in public restrooms. 

However, there are companies that have taken bathroom accessibility a step further by creating products, such as wheelchair-accessible sinks, that are specifically tailored to wheelchair users. Used in private residences, hospitals and commercial facilities, these fixtures are intended to make daily life a little easier for people who are non-ambulatory. Here’s how.

4 Ways wheelchair sinks are designed with users in mind

1. They have plenty of room to accommodate a wheelchair beneath them.

As previously mentioned, most traditional sinks are built over cabinetry or simply don’t have adequate space beneath them to fit a wheelchair. As a result, wheelchair users are unable to move close enough to reach the faucet. Wheelchair-accessible sinks are designed to provide ample room for the legs and footrests of a wheelchair, so that users can easily pull up to the sink and wash their hands.

2. Height adjustability makes sinks accessible for all users.

While some wheelchair-accessible sinks are fixed at a height that’s comfortable for most users, some can be made height-adjustable, like Pressalit’s Matrix wash basins. This is not only helpful for wheelchair users who need extra knee room, but for households and facilities accommodating people with a range of abilities. In other words, the sink can be lowered for wheelchair users and small children, and raised for ambulatory adults so they don’t have to bend down.

3. Features like handles and smooth surfaces help wheelchair users support themselves.

Another way designers of wheelchair sinks consider users is by including features that help them support themselves and maneuver around the fixture itself. For instance, Pressalit’s Matrix wash basins have integrated handlebars that wheelchair users can grasp to pull themselves closer to the sink. They also are built with smooth, wide surfaces on either side to allow users to support themselves on the sink if needed.

4. Many are designed to promote good hygiene.

In addition to accessibility, wheelchair sink designs often take hygiene into consideration. On the Matrix wash basins, for example, the grab bars and electrical switch for adjusting the height of the sink are integrated with one smooth material for easy cleaning. The plumbing underneath is encapsulated and can be wiped with a cloth. Even the corners on the inside of the basin are rounded, to prevent the gathering of dirt. These elements not only allow wheelchairs users to clean the sinks themselves, they also prevent the spread of bacteria and infection.