‘Future proThe OT serviceofing’ is one of those phrases that seems to get banded about more and more, particularly when it comes to the provision and design of bathroom adaptation. But what do we mean by future proofing, and more to the point how do we achieve it? In this blog we explore what we mean by future proofing and how we can use inclusive design principles to achieve this.

When I first got involved in bathroom adaptations the emphasis was on designing something that solved a particular functional problem for a specific person. Unfortunately, there are three fundamental problems with this approach. Firstly, not surprisingly, people change, and a bathroom adaptation that was designed for a particular issue can soon become unsuitable as the person’s needs change. Secondly, designing for one individual in a household can often lead to excluding other people in the property who also have to use the bathroom. Thirdly, and just as important as the other two issues, is the decision based on aesthetics. In the past the focus on function has been at the cost of creating a design that makes bathing and other activities that go on in the bathroom a pleasurable experience. Unsurprisingly this approach to design often leads to adaptations that needed to be altered retrospectively, or in the worst case scenario replaced entirely, resulting in extra costs, time and stress.

By using inclusive design principles we avoid many of the issues identified with the above approach to design, thus creating a bathroom that provides a sustainable and long-term solution to a person’s functional issues at very little, if any, extra cost. So how does inclusive design achieve this? It does this by getting those of us involved in bathroom adaptations answering the questions to 7 very simple principles, which are:

  • Is the design going to be useful for, and liked by, people with a range of abilities – not just for the person we are focused on?
  • Will the design accommodate the range of ways people prefer to do tasks in the bathroom? For example, can I use the shower if I want to sit or stand?  
  • Will the design of the bathroom space and the products be simple and intuitive to use? For instance, do I need a degree to figure out how to use the washbasin taps.
  • Can products that need to communicate information to the user, for example the temperature control on a shower unit, be understood by people with a range of sensory abilities?
  • Have I designed the bathroom space and chosen products that do not require a lot of physical effort to use? For instance, are the shower doors I’m using easy to pull open?
  • Have I provided enough space so that features in the bathroom, such as the washbasin, can be approached and used no matter what the size of the person is, how they mobilise, or what position they are in when they carry out activities in the bathroom?
  • Will the bathroom design and the products minimise any hazards or reduce the consequences of any accidents or unintended actions by those who use the bathroom? For example, have I used slip resistant flooring to avoid potential hazards if the floor gets wet?

Whilst the above inclusive design principles will act as a useful checklist for achieving a future proofed bathroom adaptation, there is one important element that the inclusive design approach also ensures. That is the involvement of the people who are going to use the bathroom. This is because inclusive design should ensure that people are at the centre of the design process, with the professionals being there to provide advice, information, and options on how people can achieve a desirable bathroom. This is where as OT’s we can really make a difference and be more confident we are specifying a bathroom that really answers the needs of our clients for both the present and the future.

For more information on the Inclusive Design and the Inclusive Design Principles mentioned in this blog please visit http://universaldesign.ie/What-is-Universal-Design/

Further information

The OT Service - Specialist Housing Occupational Therapy company providing expert OT's via a nationwide network to Case Managers and commercial companies.

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