Designing for disabilities can be a challenge, but I find one of the most rewarding. There are many solutions for every situation, and you may be amazed at the things a designer can do for you now or in the future. As aging in place becomes more popular it's a good idea to think about the future when looking at a current renovation. This post looks at a bathroom designed for a couple aging in place, where one was rapidly going blind.
The clients (We'll call them Karen and Jim for this article) had a small Toronto bathroom that in and of itself wasn't terrible, but when Jim started going rapidly blind, it became extremely difficult to use. It was dark, and had a claw foot tub that was difficult for him to navigate, a low toilet that was increasingly difficult to use, and low lighting that made everyday tasks for Jim very difficult.
My clients didn't want to have a bathroom that screamed "I'm blind" to anyone, and they were also wanting to capture the French Provincial look with a modern twist. Even though he was loosing his sight Jim had exacting design standards.
We did the standard things for aging in place - a towel bar in the shower was reinforced with plywood in the wall so it would hold the weight of a person; the toilet had a high seat. But we had to go beyond these to a very intimate look into the needs of someone losing their sight. It is not always easy to talk about disabilities, the physical needs at the moment as well as the ones coming down the road. I believe that having a comfortable relationship with a designer is paramount for these types of discussions to happen in a constructive way.
What we did
Jim could see best in saturated light so first we picked a colour palette of black and white. That way we were able to choose a high contrast tile on the floor that clearly delineated both where the walls and the step into the shower started.
Next we chose fixtures that had both the look the couple wanted, and also details that felt good to touch. The top of the toilet tank and the edge of the sink have a decorative edge that is pleasing to run your hand over, and feel less like you're touching a toilet to get your barrings.
The wainscotting on the walls does double duty as well. It captures the French Provincial look while giving my client a guiding edge along the length of the room.
We then amped up the lighting. This was a tiny bathroom but we had three overhead pot lights (one in the shower) and a bright sconce on a dimmer, with easy access to the switch from the sink. This is more lighting than necessary from a sighted perspective, but an easy adaptation that allowed Jim total independence in the room.
We removed the claw foot tub and added a shower that is almost a third of the room. At 4' deep it is both luxurious and practical. It can hold a bench, or a chair for ease of use, and as mentioned, the towel bar can take the weight of an adult. The white tiles continue to the ceiling on all sides for easy maintenance, and to reflect the light. The glass doors are not quite as low maintenance as the tiles as they need to be squeegeed often, but they don't block any light, and help make this tiny room feel bigger.
This bathroom ended up looking great, and functioning well for both clients.