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According to the Family Resources Survey (FRS) for the financial year 2019 to 2020, approximately 14 million disabled people were living in the UK with 4.4 million of those employed. These significant figures confirm designs must comply with the Document M regulations on accessible washrooms, ensuring people with disabilities have safe and easy access to facilities in public places.
Offices, hotels, schools, theatres, and restaurants, to name a few, all have a legal obligation to comply with these regulations. By following the provisions set out in Doc M, these industries will ultimately provide a safe, convenient, and hygienic environment for patrons, with a special focus on facilities used by persons with disabilities.
Compliance with Doc M fixtures and fittings is straightforward but using a pragmatic approach to design your wheelchair-accessible washroom will be met with many other factors to consider. Perhaps the bare minimum suits your budget, but this does not guarantee durability.
You need to think about long-term sustainability as the initial cost is just that – an initial cost. What about the long-term expenses? Choosing quality accessible washroom accessories can be paired with durable finishes that are excellent value for money in the long run. Budgets can be non-negotiable, but if your client desires a durable and aesthetically pleasing environment, whilst staying fully compliant, then budgets may need to be compromised and renegotiated.
Document M defines provisions concerning accessibility to commercial buildings, and Section 5 of the regulations refers to sanitary accommodation in buildings other than dwellings. In this article, we will explore these provisions with a special focus on wheelchair-accessible washrooms.
What does it mean to have an accessible washroom?
There are very specific directives to implement as set out in the Doc M Regulations. In this article, we will highlight 3 essential factors to consider when developing your accessible washroom for persons with disabilities.
1. Easy and Safe Reach
Within accessible cubicles, a person needs to be able to safely reach the toilet pan with ease during transfer from their wheelchair. See figure 29 of the BSI. 4 main transfer techniques allow for independent or assisted use of washroom facilities.
These techniques include:
- Lateral Transfer with one wheel backed up to rear wall and the wheelchair at an angle to WC.
- Lateral Transfer with both wheels backed up to rear wall and the wheelchair almost parallel to WC.
- Oblique Transfer using grab rails or leaning on WC.
- Frontal Transfer using grab rails to move directly onto WC.
There are specific dimensions in which the space needs to be designed for clear access to all amenities in the cubicle. The British Standards Institution (BSI) specifies the minimum wheelchair turning space at 1 500 x 1 500 mm to accommodate a 180-degree turn. Each measurement for accessible washrooms has been carefully planned to consider the different circumstances users may experience. Therefore, meeting these dimensions are not only serving a specific purpose but also provides safe and easy use which is the main objective.
It is required that sanitary amenities must be placed in positions where a person can wash and dry their hands without difficulty. To accommodate the needs of people who lack the strength or manual dexterity, a soap dispenser, toilet roll or tissue holder, paper towel holder, or automatic hand dryer, must be fitted at certain heights and locations within easy reach of the toilet pan. For example, the hand rinse basin should be set with the rim height at 720mm to 740mm above the floor.
Several other cases need to be considered when using these amenities. Taps may be used to rinse out a container or fill a water bottle, therefore, the tap needs to be situated on the washbasin nearest to the WC pan. Installing a shelf in the WC may be used to place a handbag or coat, allowing the user to be hassle-free of personal items. A soap dispenser needs to be positioned close to the tap for personal hygiene purposes such as washing hands and having a tissue dispenser installed instead of a traditional toilet paper roll holder, makes it easier to grab rather than tear off. It is important to note that each fitting has different standards and dimensions to comply with.
You need to be aware that there are specific requirements defined in the regulations regarding individual sanitary fittings for an accessible washroom. For example, the spatula cistern lever has a particular shape generally designed to be longer with a large flat radius situated at the handle edge. This flush mechanism features a larger surface area to control and proves to be a convenient design allowing users to handle the flush without struggling. The lever can be operated with one hand and accommodates individuals with physical disabilities such as amputees to carry out the basic sanitary need to flush a toilet.
Furthermore, the regulations detail the arrangements and heights of the various fittings, for example, the height of a WC pan from seat to floor is specified at 480mm, and considering the average height of a standard wheelchair is around 485mm, these measurements are deemed to be an ideal height for most people. The idea is to provide an easier experience for the individual to transfer safely from their wheelchair to the WC pan and vice versa.
3. In The Event Of An Emergency
Doc M stipulates that accessible sanitary accommodation in buildings should be available to everyone, including those who do not have a disability. In addition to providing an accessible washroom for wheelchair users, there are other disabilities to be considered which include: visual, hearing, physiological, functional, and/or mobility impairments. If fittings are not installed correctly, they can potentially cause an injury or add a huge inconvenience for users.
The possibility of an emergency taking place in a wheelchair accessible washroom is a potential risk that requires significant attention. Perhaps a person has fallen off their wheelchair or requires urgent assistance whilst seated.
Doc M has made provision for the installation of an emergency assistance pull-cord linked to an alarm system that can clearly be heard by those able to assist. The cord is red making it easily identifiable and located as close to a wall as possible. The cord hangs from the ceiling to the wall-mounted tip-up seat or the floor and has two red 50mm diameter bangles. One bangle can be placed 100mm above the floor and the second between 800mm and 1000mm above the floor. In a situation where a person has collapsed, they would not have to pull themselves up to grab the cord but can still have access to it in their vulnerable position.
Section 5.4 (e.) of the Doc M sanitary accommodation has also made provision for WC compartment doors to have an emergency release mechanism to ensure a person can gain access from the outside in case the user requires emergency assistance.
The position of the door swing is just as important to consider. For example, if a person has fallen in front of a door that opens inwards, this can prevent access to assist them quickly as they may have blocked the door and are unable to move. Installing a door that swings open and outward will allow easy and immediate access to assist in this situation.
In conclusion, the regulations provide extensive detail on the requirements, features, and scenarios to consider. Before planning your washroom layout, familiarise yourself with the provisions and speak to a specialist in the industry who will be able to further elaborate and guide you to achieve a compliant accessible washroom.
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