As people age, their movement can become less fluid and they may need day-to-day assistance or ongoing health care. The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 ensures there are public accommodations available for those who need it. However, commercial spaces are not the only place to find ADA-compliant rooms; many residential homes are remodeling to include fixtures and appliances to accommodate those with disabilities, injuries or other health issues that may make it difficult for them to move around or grip objects.
Research by the American Association of Retired Persons shows that nearly 90% of seniors want to stay in their own homes as they age, often referred to as “aging in place.” With falls as the leading cause of injury-related visits to the emergency room in the United States and the primary cause of accidental deaths (75%) in people over 65, reports MetLife Mature Marketing Institute, it is important that safety is highlighted in the aging-in-place movement.
This movement has affected many areas of the home. The Centers for Disease Control says bathrooms are commonly believed to be a particularly hazardous location. An ADA-compliant shower system allows for a safer showering experience. The technology used with ADA showers is not only geared toward safety but ease-of-use and accessibility as well.
“For showers, it’s preferable to have a zero threshold/walk-in shower area, with height-adjustable hand-held products or multiple showerheads,” says Darnell Wesson, product manager, Bradley Corp. “Activation devices and handles that are easy to see and use also are important. All activations must offer the ability to be turned on with less than five pounds of pressure as required by the ADA. To help prevent slips and falls, grab bars and built-in seats/benches are also key, as well as slip-resistant flooring.”
The design of these ADA-compliant shower systems used to be industrial-looking. However, as these systems move toward residential housing, many manufacturers have started universal design lines, which are age-friendly and blend well with any interior design plan.
Universal design elements
Several products speak to universal design — catering to users on both sides of the fence. “These universal lines are not only for those with disabilities that the ADA regulations accommodate but also for those who are aging-in-place and may have arthritis, for example,” says Jason McNeely, sales training manager with Hansgrohe North America. “We try to be adaptive to everyone and everything is labeled for intuitive use.”
For Wesson, the ultimate design goal starts with an emphasis on user-friendly products with a great aesthetic and are easy to maintain.
“Products must be easy to grip or grasp, easy to understand and operate and, when possible, they should include fail-safe features,” he says. “Subtle integration of safety and support are also critical. The United States is on track to have more than 80 million Americans over the age of 65 by 2050, so manufacturers need to provide innovative, accessible and high-quality products to meet the requirements of the marketplace going forward.”
Another universal design concept is temperature-control technology. “An integrated digital temperature display with LED color indicators signals different water temperature ranges, providing users peace of mind before getting in the shower or bath,” says Sarah Reep, director of designer relations and education at Masco Cabinetry, parent company of Delta Faucet Co., and a National Association of Home Builders’ certified aging-in-place specialist.
“The technology is available on a variety of hand showers and showerheads to suit various décor styles.”
The trend is to improve the function of bathroom products yet allow consumers to use them with less effort, she adds, such as hand showers with rubberized grips or the implementation of push-button technology. “Regardless of the consumers’ ability, accessible shower systems with advanced technology can help all comfortably interact with water,” Reep says.
McNeely agrees: “Push-button technology is an evolutionary change. We saw the change from the rotary phone to the push-button model; even cars are changing to push-button engine starts. Society is demanding the making of easier and more functional products.”
Touchless technology — which solves flexibility issues for people who have hand injuries or arthritis — also is an ongoing trend.
“Touchless fittings controlled by infrared electronics combine ease-of-use with reliable operation,” says Cheryl Dixon, head of brand and trade marketing for Grohe America. “Showers need to be convenient and electronic functionality makes operation effortless and exact. Functions that control temperature, as well as configurations that make showering while seated possible and comfortable, also are popular. Technology that controls water flow, water source and especially temperature are very important now and will continue to be in the future.”
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder signed final regulations in July 2010 revising the Department of Justice’s ADA regulations, including its ADA Standards for Accessible Design. Shower system regulations are covered in sections 607 through 610 here: http://tinyurl.com/ADA-regs-2010.
“Building codes can vary regionally and locally; however, design and planning keys for bathroom accessibility are consistent across North America,” Reep notes. “Dimensional relationships and access are two critical pieces. One such example might be accommodating a 5-ft. open radius within the bath space so a wheelchair can turn fully in the room. If room size limitations hamper this, layout options exist to make the space flexible for added functionality.”
Height is another area to watch for ease-of-reach issues so that people can easily access lavatory sinks, countertop surfaces, grab bars, seating and shower entry thresholds.
Specifications to keep in mind when remodeling bathrooms for accessibility include:
- The faucet controls and shower diverter can be turned on and off easily, and are operable and usable with one hand — without tight grasping, pinching or twisting of the wrist;
- An adjustable-height, hand-held wand with at least a 60-in. long hose provided so persons who bathe from a seated position may wash and rinse with the directional spray;
- Roll-in showers should have a securely fastened folding seat at 17-in. to 19-in. above the floor to make it easy for people who use wheelchairs to transfer into the shower space;
- The faucet controls and wand are positioned on the wall along the side of the seat so they are operable from the folding seat or from the wheelchair;
- A horizontal grab bar on the wall alongside and/or opposite the shower seat (but not behind the seat) for stabilization and aid in transfer from a wheelchair to the folding seat; and
- The gap between the wall and the inside face of each grab bar should be 1 1/2-in. to accommodate persons with disabilities who rest their forearms on the bars for stabilization. This ensures the arm does not accidentally pass between the grab bar and wall, especially if a fall occurs.
For manufacturers, product testing is a very important process in ensuring the longevity of their products and the safety of their customers. “At our life-testing laboratories, our products are put through their paces and shown no mercy,” Dixon says. “Here, our faucets, showers, thermostats and all the components that go with them have to endure the simulated effects of 20 years’ daily use — with especially hard water. People who find conventional fittings hard to handle expect good design to make operation easier.”
However, it all comes down to the shower experience, so performance testing is critical for these shower systems. “We want to make sure people are still having a great shower experience,” McNeely notes. “Not only are these systems becoming more popular, but they are becoming more of a standard — not so much asked for as much as expected as second nature. It is becoming more of a normalized design.”
Reep agrees that universal design is gaining industry momentum, commercially and in private residences. “Many new construction projects are working to create spaces that are as inclusive as possible, thus making the need for accessible bathroom and shower products even greater than before,” she says.