By Anna Hazard
As one ages, it's pretty typical that a person may require larger bathroom storage including shelving & cabinets in order to accommodate more equipment. This would include the storage of common bathroom ableware or daily living aids for bathing or grooming as well as medical or health related devices (such as toiletry aids, extended reach bath sponges, transfer benches & other adjustable seating etc).
Here are a selection of tips & advice for remodeling, retrofitting, or simply tweaking a bathroom's storage, shelving, and cabinets to better fall within the guidelines of accessibility & universal design for properly aging in place.
Upper Cabinets & Shelving
The upper bathroom cabinets (such as medicine cabinets) may need to be lowered in order to properly accommodate a person in a wheelchair or someone who is otherwise seated (similar to how shower shelves and cubbies also need to remain reachable while the user is sitting down). However, despite their common use, it's not recommended that actual medicine be stored within the bathroom "medicine cabinets" due to the heat & moisture potentially compromising the drugs' potency & integrity.
In general, the upper wall cabinetry will need to be around 3" lower than the conventional installed height of shelves & cabinets within the bathroom. This would lead to a maximum height of around 48" from the floor level to the surface of the uppermost shelf to be used.
Otherwise for upper cabinets, pull-down shelves are another option that would allow the inhabitant to use the full height of the bathroom shelving available while still keeping stored items easily accessible to those in wheelchairs or others who may have trouble reaching upwards.
These would be similar to the pull down cabinetry often found within the kitchen only using more moisture-proof material in order to be more suitable for the humid confines of the bathroom. This style of cabinetry is particularly beneficial for shelves that are too deep for the user to comfortably reach all the way to their back surface. Otherwise higher shelves should be no deeper than 12" and mid-range cabinets should be no deeper than 21" to the middle of the shelf.
Lower Cabinets & Other Storage
Lower cabinets should not occupy the area where someone would sit in front of the sink or vanity as this clear space is required for easy accessibility for those in wheelchairs or others who may be unable to stand for an extended period of time. This may require remodeling the vanity or sink area as many bathroom configurations have storage shelving in this particular area.
Accessible lower shelves and cabinets should remain a minimum of 9" above the floor surface so that the user will not be required to crouch down in order to access them. Other options would include installing pull out or pull up shelving (often also found within the kitchen) in order to give easier access to the bottom-most shelves.
In general, open shelving helps with easier accessibility as long as their organization is not overly cluttered (which may lead to items falling off the shelves and posing as tripping or other injury hazards). Another option would be to use clear-front doors (plastic, acrylic, or glass) on the cabinetry that would allow the user to see the items within while still keeping the storage area contained. This type of barrier would also be helpful in keeping more moisture away from the items stored within.
Otherwise, all closed cabinetry within the bathroom should have easy to manipulate doors or drawers that smoothly operate without having to apply a large amount of pressure. All closed drawers & cabinets should also use D-shaped pulls & handles instead of rounded knobs for easier handling by those with arthritis or other hand dexterity or strength issues.
The bathroom is one place within the household where mirrors are necessary due to the grooming and hygienic activities that take place within it. For proper accessibility, there should be at least one mirror within the bathroom that is placed such that the user's reflection can be seen while both sitting and standing. Generally, a full length mirror gives the greatest range of viewable angles at varying heights. For wall-mounted mirrors, the bottom edge should be placed no more than 40" above the floor to be properly viewed while seated.
Another accessible & practical option would be installing tiltable mirrors in the bathroom. These would most commonly be placed on the vanity, mounted on the walls, or could be free standing if space allows. Such mirrors include a function within their structure that allows the mirror to be tilted up and down (and sometimes side to side) for easier viewing at a variety of angles.
View the Rest of the Series
Part 1 - Introduction
Part 2 - Exterior
Part 3 - Landscaping & Gardens
Part 4 - Patio, Porch, & Deck
Part 5 - Garage & Carports
Part 6 - Entrances, Exits, & Thresholds
Part 7 - Exterior Steps & Ramps
Part 8 - Threshold Lighting & Windows
Part 9 - Interior Doors & Halls
Part 10 - Interior Steps & Staircases
Part 11 - Interior Stairlifts
Part 12 - Interior Elevators
Part 13 - Interior Lighting
Part 14 - General Interior Flooring
Part 15 - Interior Flooring Comparisons
Part 16 - HVAC & Energy Efficiency
Part 17 - Power, Communications, & Other Interior Systems
Part 18 - Living Room
Part 19 - Kitchen Layout, HVAC, & Electrical Systems
Part 20 - Kitchen Lighting, Flooring, and Sink Faucets
Part 21 - Kitchen Countertops & Cabinets
Part 22 - Kitchen Refrigerators, Freezers, and Dishwashers
Part 23 - Kitchen Ovens, Ranges, Stovetops, and Cooktops
Part 24 - Kitchen Microwaves, Blenders, & Food Processors
Part 25 - Miscellaneous Kitchen Items
Part 26 - Dining Room Layout, Tables, & Other Furniture
Part 27 - Dining Room Flooring, Lighting, & Meal Serving Equipment
Part 28 - Bedroom Layout & Closets
Part 29 - Accessible Beds
Part 30 - Bedroom Furniture, Electronics, & Other Accessories
Part 31 - Bedroom Flooring
Part 32 - Bedroom Lighting
Part 33 - Bathroom General Layout
Part 34 - Bathroom General Tips for Showers & Tubs
Part 35 - Bathroom Accessible Tubs
Part 36 - Bathroom Accessible Showers
Part 37 - Bathroom Accessible Toilets
Part 38 - Bathroom Sinks & Vanities
Part 39 - Bathroom Cabinets & Shelving
Part 40 - Bathroom Grab Bars
Part 41 - Bathroom Flooring
Part 42 - Bathroom Lighting
Part 43 - Bathroom Ableware - Toilet Aids & General Accessibility
Part 44 - Bathroom Ableware - Shower, Bathing, & Grooming Aids
Part 45 - Laundry Room Location, Layout, & Spacing
Part 46 - Laundry Room Carts, Rolling Hampers, & Chutes
Part 47 - Laundry Room Dumbwaiters
Part 48 - Laundry Appliances (Washers & Dryers)
Part 49 - Laundry Room Cabinets, Shelving, & Countertops
Part 50 - Laundry Room Storage & Organization
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