When trying to make an accessible bathroom, what is the Skinny Part of the bathroom where a wheelchair or walker will have the most trouble?
Almost 80% of bathroom are the same size with a similar layout. 8 feet long by 5 feet wide with the shower or tub in back. See drawing. Most people would say the tightest spot in the bathroom is the bathroom door and they would be right and wrong at the same time. Most bathroom doors are 24 inches with a clear space of 23 inches and have to be widened for wheelchair or walker use. A Standard walker is 23.5 inches and a standard wheelchair is 27-28 inches.
There is another skinny spot that most people forget about. In the picture below, a well meaning contractor remodels this bathroom for a wheelchair user and removed the tub. The shower you see is a barrier free shower that was the exact size of the tub. Unfortunately, the contractor didn’t test this bathroom before he left the house. The client NEVER got to use this shower because her shower chair has big wheels on it and is 27 inches wide
We were asked to do an evaluation after a year of not using the shower and we recommend a specialty shower chair. Some shower chairs only have the smaller wheels and all 4 wheels swivel. This makes the shower chair very skinny at 23 inches and still has the same sized seat. When all 4 wheels swivel, the chair can turn in very small spaces and inside the shower. The only disadvantage is that you cannot self propel with this shower chair, you do need someone to push you into the bathroom. In this situation, a caregiver was doing that anyway and this was a perfect fit.
One little side benefit was that this shower chair can roll OVER the toilet and eliminate having to transfer from the chair to the toilet and back again. See the picture below for more details.
There is one other way to help the bathroom in this skinny spot and the contractor could have helped here. The elongated toilet eats up 1.5 inches, and a round toilet would have given much more room. Also, the toilet paper could have been relocated for 3 more inches. And one last item, see the heating vent on the floor? This type vent is very common but creates a barrier in the bathroom. We recommend changing to a wall vent to eliminate the barrier on the floor.
Hopefully, with these tips, your bathroom will not be a maze or a skinny bathroom, but a open and accessible place that demonstrates good universal design.