Are we setting ourselves up to fail with the way we are designing our bathrooms at the moment?
Read time: 5 minutes
I’m happy to be the one to state the obvious.
If we know 40,000 or so adaptations are made via the Disabilities Facilities Grant (DFG)* every year, of which it is adaptations to bathrooms that are the most common thing asked for, doesn’t this raise the question that we might be designing our bathrooms wrong in the first place?
*For those of you who don’t know what the DFG is – don’t worry – you are not alone. Not many people do. Or at least not as many as should do. It is a completely brilliant government and local authority grant that helps people to make changes to their homes to enable them to continue living there independently or with carers – showers, stair lifts, grab rails, all sorts. But sadly not half as well known or used as it should be.
So this is also only the tip of the iceberg. We have no real idea of the numbers of people who need an adaptation but don’t access the DFG because they don’t know they might be eligible, or just choose not to for fear of the stigma. And we have no idea about the numbers of people who would benefit from adaptations or are able to afford their own before they reach crisis point, but just need a little help with advice and expertise. We know it is high though. Very high. Various studies have thrown around figures in the millions.
What we do know is that no matter age or ability, falls are most likely to happen in the bathroom – the slipperiest room in the house – no matter age or ability. As we get older this risk increases substantially and we are certainly all getting older. And good accessibility benefits everyone at any time of life.
Yet despite all of this, standard bathroom design doesn’t seem to have changed since the dawn of the modern bathroom suite – shower over bath tub, sink in a vanity unit and a very bog-standard (sorry I couldn’t help it) toilet.
It baffles me how even the simplest of adaptations, like grab rails, haven’t made it into today’s standard bathroom suite, despite their power to make such a massive difference. We have a million and one choices of toilet brush holder and towel rails, but somehow something handy to hold onto while balancing on a slippery surface in the buff doesn’t seem to be deemed important enough. Madness.
Our bathrooms are probably the place where our independence (or or lack thereof) is most keenly felt. Our ability or inability to keep ourselves clean is not only vital to personal and public health, but also to our dignity and general well-being.
By not thinking with a little more foresight and creativity, we are actually disabling people who don’t need to be disabled. And I’m not just talking people who use wheelchairs or people with long-term conditions here. I’m talking about everyone – you, me, young, old. Someone with a standard high sided bathtub may find their shower (and therefore their means to keep clean and content) completely imprisoned within it after the onset of even mild arthritis. I twisted my ankle recently – a temporary and minor injury – and my bath became an outright hazard. Designing to take into account our different and changing needs throughout our lives benefits us all.
It also costs a load more to continue as we are. And I’m not just talking about the compelling figures that show adaptations can delay entry into (significantly more expensive) care by some years. We’ve all heard the phrase: buy cheap, buy twice. Well, it’s definitely true: buy inaccessible, buy twice. Probably thrice as you’ll probably have to adapt it back again as no one really wants the limited choice of the adaptations on offer at the moment – which sadly more often than not still has a whiff of the vulnerable or clinical about them. And then probably quadruple if someone else needs another adaptation! And so the cycle goes ever on….What a waste of resources and everyone’s time. And a whole load of hardship for people with inappropriate bathrooms and the hassle caused by renovation.
Wouldn’t it have been a whole lot nicer for everyone to just have a bathroom built a little better in the first place? Listening to people’s real needs and experiences and building in the ability for our bathrooms to be adapted easily back and forth should our needs ever change. For example, drainage can be cleverly built in so that even if you love a bath, it can be easily removed at a later date if ever you need a more spacious and level wet room instead. Or the shower can be separate. Then there’s simple things like a hand basin you can get your legs underneath to sit at rather than stand. We can’t all have height adjustable toilets just yet to help us get up and down unless we are particularly flush (I’m so sorry – I can’t stop the toilet puns…), but you can have plates installed so popping in a good-looking grabrail that matches your decor should you ever need one is as easy as changing the toilet roll. Probably easier. I saw these amazing ones the other day by Motionspot working with Housing & Care 21 where it looks like nothing more than a tile. This kind of people-led adaptability is something called inclusive design and it is a term we should all get to know because it is the future.
And don’t get me wrong, I love the DFG. It is a lifesaver for so many people who aren’t able to afford vital adaptations. But what about the many more self-funders out there? And what about thinking a bit longer term? Rather than offering people the bare minimum at the last minute knowing that needs will likely change again in the future, we have to start thinking a bit more preventatively rather than reactively. I guess until there is the watertight research available to show the cost-benefit of this (hopefully this is now underway with various new studies), no one is going to take the plunge though. But those of us who work in this area see the impact of not doing it every single day, and all intuitively know this would be game changing. Life changing in fact.
At the Pretty, Good Project we’re all about getting going now. We talk about the uncomfortable stuff openly and honestly – that all our bodies are different, changing and ageing – and show that making adaptations to our homes throughout our lives is not only helpful down the line, but also right now – for ourselves, our families and our guests. It it needn’t be extra hassle or money, it can easily be incorporated into our routine home improvements that we all do throughout our lives anyway. It’s just about thinking a little bit differently. And more than that, it can actually be fun. Especially our testing ‘cafes’ where people can get inspired and feed their real life experiences into the design of products, layouts and homes to make them more inclusive.
So here’s a little guide to get you thinking about your own shower as and when you come to upgrade. I would love to know what you think.
Thanks for reading. Please share with anyone you think would be interested (especially if they don’t know about the DFG!). I would especially love to hear your thoughts on the guide and what information would help you too.