08 June 2023
Reading time: 9 minutes
By understanding the reasoning behind the layout, fixtures, and fittings in an accessible washroom, architects can design better toilets for disabled persons, protecting their health, wellbeing, and dignity.
With over 23 years of providing prestigious commercial washroom products, including Doc M packs, we have observed a multitude of Doc M WC rooms in commercial buildings. To ensure our clients are providing thoughtfully laid out and inclusive accessible toilets for disabled persons that promote equal access for all, we have helped architects and contractors to understand why the aspects of the space, including its design, layout, fixtures, and fittings, are intentionally planned to accommodate the needs of people with disabilities.
Our article answers frequently asked questions about accessible toilets for disabled persons and provides practical explanations for the layouts and dimensions they entail. It covers topics such as the preferred transfer space location, the significance of washroom size and layout, and various other relevant aspects.
FAQ: What makes a toilet accessible?
In the United Kingdom, suitable accessible toilets for disabled persons should meet the Approved Document M minimum requirements and British Standards, which outline features that ensure adequate access and usability.
To understand the reasoning behind an accessible washroom layout, fixtures, and fittings, here are some answers to commonly asked questions as to why toilets for disabled users are intentionally planned to help accommodate the needs of people with disabilities.
Quickly find the answer by clicking on the question.
- Why should a unisex accessible washroom be preferably designed for right-hand transfer?
- Why does the accessible washroom size matter?
- Why does the accessible washroom layout matter?
- Why is a standard height toilet pan not suitable?
- Why should the washbasin and tap be nearer to the accessible WC pan?
- Why should the flush handle be on the same side as the transfer space?
- Why is a toilet tissue dispenser more ideal than a toilet roll dispenser?
- Why should grab rails have a good or acceptable light reflectance value?
- Why should the door open outwards?
- Why should the alarm pull cord have two red bangles?
- Why should there be a long Doc M mirror in an accessible washroom?
- Why should there be a colostomy bag changing shelf?
Q: Why should a unisex accessible washroom be preferably designed for right-hand transfer?
A: Designing the accessible washroom for a right-hand transfer promotes consistency across different accessible facilities. By aligning with this standard in BS8300, it ensures that individuals with disabilities can expect a consistent layout and functionality in various accessible washrooms, reducing confusion and improving usability.
In cases where only one toilet for disabled persons can be provided, it should be a unisex facility, preferably designed for right-hand transfer. However, if multiple unisex facilities can be accommodated, it is recommended to offer a choice of layouts for both right and left-hand transfers.
Learn more about right and left-hand transfer techniques
Q: Why does the accessible washroom size matter?
A: Spacious toilets for disabled persons allows for safe and comfortable transfers, such as from a wheelchair to the WC pan, and provides enough room for the wheelchair turning space around fixtures and transfer areas. This helps reduce accidents and injuries and makes it easier for support and assistance to be provided to the wheelchair user.
If accessible washrooms are smaller than the minimum requirements outlined in Document M and BS8300, individuals with disabilities may experience several inconveniences. Limited space in toilets for disabled persons restricts their ability to manoeuvre comfortably and squeezing through tight spaces becomes challenging, impeding their independence and potentially resulting in accidents or difficulties when using the facilities.
Learn more about accessible washroom dimensions for unisex toilets
Q: Why does the accessible washroom layout matter?
A: The layout of toilets for disabled persons greatly affects the overall user experience. A thoughtfully designed accessible washroom layout can enhance comfort, convenience, and independence, making it easier for users to perform personal care tasks and access the washroom fittings.
It should consider the ergonomics, reach ranges, and spatial requirements of different users which will also help them navigate the washroom quickly.
The appropriate layout of toilets for disabled persons prioritises the user’s safety, dignity, and privacy, and ensures that individuals with disabilities can use the facilities independently and without harm.
Q: Why is a standard height toilet pan not suitable?
A: The height of a standard WC pan in toilets for disabled persons is typically too low for a wheelchair user to transfer onto and off the pan comfortably. The low height of a standard toilet can make the transfer process challenging, potentially leading to discomfort, strain, or even accidents.
The dimensions of a unisex wheelchair-accessible toilet should conform to 750mm extended projection from the back wall to the front, and 480mm from the floor to the toilet seat, whether the toilet is wall hung, floor mounted, or close coupled.
Q: Why should the washbasin and tap be nearer to the accessible WC pan?
A: To provide closer access for wheelchair users, it is recommended to install a wall mounted hand rinse basin with the tap positioned nearest to the WC pan because the arrangement minimises the effort required to access the handwashing area while the user is seated on the WC pan.
Toilets for disabled persons should be designed to reduce the need for unnecessary movement or transfers to reach the handwashing area because it minimises the risk of slips, falls, or accidents during these transitions.
If the user needs to wash their hands or fill up a water bottle before transferring back to the wheelchair from the WC pan, this setup allows them to do so conveniently.
Q: Why should the flush handle be on the same side as the transfer space?
A: Having the flush handle on the same side as the transfer space eliminates the need to reach across the toilet or assume awkward positions to access it after the user has transferred back to the wheelchair. This arrangement effectively reduces the risk of falls, accidents, or discomfort.
Placing the spatula type lever on the same side as the transfer space is beneficial as it minimises the need for individuals to move or transfer in order to reach the flush control. This not only reduces physical effort but also promotes a seamless and efficient use of the toilets for disabled users.
Alternatively, electronic flush plates may be a better option as they are easier to use for both amputees and wheelchair users who have full use of their hands.
Q: Why is a toilet tissue dispenser more ideal than a toilet roll dispenser?
A: A toilet tissue dispenser allows individuals to retrieve toilet paper without excessive straining. It provides better control over the amount of paper dispensed and offers easier access to grab onto the paper, which can be challenging for individuals with amputations or limited dexterity when trying to tear it off a toilet roll.
Q: Why should grab rails have a good or acceptable light reflectance value?
A: Light Reflectance Values (LRV) indicate the amount of light reflected by a surface. By having grab rails with good or acceptable LRV in toilets for disabled users, there is a higher contrast between the grab rails and the surrounding wall, making them more visible and easier to identify. This contrast helps individuals with visual impairments or low vision to locate and use the grab rails with greater ease and confidence. This is particularly important in emergency situations or when individuals require assistance or balance support within the accessible washroom.
The contrasting colours between the grab rails and the surrounding surfaces serve as visual cues, helping individuals navigate and orient themselves within the space. This promotes independence and reduces the risk of accidents or confusion.
As per BS8300, visual contrast in terms of LRV in toilets for disabled persons can be categorised as good, acceptable, or poor. It is generally recommended to have a difference in LRV of 30 points or more (in the good zone) to ensure sufficient contrast. However, there is evidence suggesting that a difference of approximately 20 points may still be acceptable if the illuminance on the surfaces is 200 lux or higher. Anything less than about 20 points might not provide adequate contrast, even with an illuminance of 200 lux on the surfaces in the toilets for disabled users.
Q: Why should the door open outwards?
A: The door to toilets for disabled users should open outward to maximise space within the facility and maintain a clear and unobstructed pathway. In case of an emergency, an outward-opening door enables quicker and easier evacuation.
If someone inside the wheelchair washroom requires assistance or the occupant becomes incapacitated, toilet access with an outward-opening door allows rescue personnel to access the area more swiftly, ensuring a timely response and potentially saving lives.
Q: Why should the alarm pull cord have two red bangles?
A: In a scenario where a person has fallen and needs to activate the emergency alarm, the bangle placed at the bottom of the cord can be more accessible. This lower bangle allows the person to reach and grasp it while in a seated or lying position, easing their ability to pull the cord and activate the alarm for assistance.
If a person is seated on the WC pan and requires assistance, the bangle positioned at the seated height would be easier for them to grab. This placement ensures that individuals seated on the toilet or in a wheelchair can conveniently access the alarm pull cord and initiate the alarm if needed.
Q: Why should there be a long Doc M mirror in an accessible washroom?
A: A long mirror in toilets for disabled persons allows individuals to have a clear and unobstructed view of their entire body. It enables them to see themselves from head to toe, which is particularly important for individuals using mobility aids, such as wheelchairs or walkers.
The extended length of the mirror ensures that individuals can easily assess their appearance and make any necessary adjustments or preparations when entering or before leaving the washroom.
Q: Why should there be a colostomy bag changing shelf?
A: A colostomy bag changing shelf offers a dedicated and hygienic surface for individuals to change or empty their colostomy bags, use the shelf for general purposes, or have a place to keep their personal or medical items within reach.
Placing the shelf at an appropriate height ensures that individuals can comfortably reach and use it while standing or sitting, depending on their needs. Providing a shelf also eliminates the need for a user to search for alternative surfaces or locations in the washroom to perform the bag change or to store their personal items in a safe place.
Close coupled cisterns in toilets for disabled users can also serve the same purpose as a colostomy bag changing shelf as long as the top surface of the cistern is flat.
Practical considerations for accessible toilets
Creating suitable and truly accessible toilets for disabled persons needs a comprehensive understanding of the reasoning behind the design, layout, fixtures, and fittings. This helps designers meticulously plan their accessible washrooms, and their thoughtful consideration will be evident in the experience of individuals with disabilities when using the facilities.
By designing the accessible washroom for right-hand transfer, ensuring adequate space and layout, utilising appropriate fixtures and fittings, and considering the unique needs of individuals with disabilities, architects can create toilets for disabled users that promote equal access and protect the health and wellbeing of individuals with disabilities.
Through a thoughtful approach to accessible toilet design, we can empower individuals with disabilities to navigate washroom facilities independently, maintain their privacy and dignity, and enjoy the same level of convenience and comfort. This all contributes to a more inclusive and equitable society.