The lack of bathrooms designed to accommodate accessibility, not just in retirement villages, can largely be attributed to the assumption that accessible bathrooms must be tasteless to be functional.
Between January 2015 and December 2018, ACC reported an average of 28,297 accidents in the bathroom resulting in injury. This was an average increase of 13 percent from 2015 to 2018. These accidents that go through ACC cost the taxpayer an average of $35,498,751.
SA Plumbing Supply director Sean Paterson compared the addition of safety railings in bathrooms to car seat belts.
“They save lives and reduce serious injury,” he said.
In 2018, there were 4363 hospitalisations for traffic-related injuries. This is 6.5 times the amount of vehicle-related accidents. Still, the number of falls in the shower space alone, per annum, is over 10 thousand, six thousand in the toilet area, five thousand in the bath area, and 7.5 thousand in the bathroom area.
By simply incorporating rails or reinforcing walls for future installation, developers can minimise the risk of injury to residents and save money.
“Adding $20-$30 worth of extra timber to reinforce walls so rails can be installed later on can save up to $20,000 in refitments,” said Paterson. Adding rails in the bathroom also adds value to the home. 30 percent of the population has a disability of some sort, yet only two percent of homes are built to Universal Design principles. This is a massive lack of supply.
Paterson also thinks rails should be a mandatory instalment in all bathrooms, and luxury retirement village developer Northlit’s managing director Matthew Laity agrees.
For all Northlit homes, rails are pre-installed in both the shower and toilet areas. They are not optional.
“It’s one of those things you should just have,” said Laity.
Accessible bathrooms can and should be beautiful spaces that don’t make it obvious they are designed to accommodate someone with a disability. With advancements in design, there are other options beyond the stainless-steel hospital rail.
“Village bathrooms, some look like your typical bathroom, then you see others, and they have attempted to create an accessible bathroom, but it looks like a hospital bathroom,” said Laity.
This is why Laity chose SA Plumbing’s Hewi rail system, “because they don’t look like a hospital rail.”
“The rails are sleek and come in an assortment of colours to suit any colour scheme,” Laity continued. “We generally go with the white or grey finish, but they’re not just clunky stainless steel.”
The Hewi system also incorporates accessibility into functionality.
“We use the T-shower rail, so it doubles as a showerhead holder and a grab rail. The same goes for the toilet roll holder, which is also a grab rail.”
That is the most challenging part of making a house, said Laity. “Making a bathroom accessible and functional for the older community, but not making it look like it’s out of a hospital bathroom.
“The Hewi rails look tidy and not out of place.”
Paterson argued that the cost of providing fine, accessible equipment is more than outweighed by the financial and practical advantages it provides developers and the greatly enhanced experience for future resident’s that can be offered in every bathroom.
“Life is about experiences, and the goal should be equally positive for able-bodied people and disabled people.”