When designing or fitting out a washroom, it is vitally important to consider the specific and varied needs of those who will eventually come to use it.
Particularly if your washroom is in a public location, it is highly likely that your washroom will be used by people who may be physically disabled and/or visually impaired; companies are required by UK and European legislation to ensure that all of their products and services are as accessible for a broad range of users as possible, and that includes your washroom facilities.
In a fascinating article published in the Tomorrow’s Cleaning Yearbook 2016/2017, Mark Dewick, Managing Director for Metsa Tissue UK, explained the motivations behind the creation of their new range of Katrin Inclusive Dispensers.
— Metsä Group (@MetsaGroup) March 18, 2016
They were supported at a recent event ran by Metsa Tissue, where a blind architect explained several difficulties that he often encounters when using a washroom.
- Struggles with using washrooms where the soap dispensers and other handwashing facilities are located on centrally placed islands, as he uses the wall and ‘touching’ to find his way to the washroom facility that he needs.
- Unpleasant experiences with finding toilet roll in cubicles when it is lodged on top of something or placed on the back of the cistern. Often he will knock it onto the floor when feeling around for the toilet roll – a solid, wall-mounted toilet paper dispenser is far more preferable and convenient.
- Confusion with dispensers that are in some way complicated to use, for example paper towel dispensers with wheels that must be turned to dispense the product, or fussy openings, as he has no context as to the correct way in which to use them.
- A dislike for piles of hand towels left on the sides of sinks or other washroom surfaces, as he will often drip water all over them when trying to find them. Once again, a solid, wall-mounted paper hand towel dispenser is preferred as it is more obvious as to where to find the paper and how to use the dispenser itself.
- An aversion to hot air hand dryers because it is often not clear from feeling the devices as to how they work – for example, whether they are activated by motion, or by a button. He also finds the noise to be a source of stress.
Metsa Katrin’s simple solutions for washroom accessibility
The Katrin Inclusive Dispensers have been specially designed to address and resolve some of the problems with washroom accessibility that have been outlined above. As we saw for ourselves at the 2016 Bunzl CHS Conference, these dispensers have been designed to be ergonomic, functional and visible for as broad a range of washroom users as possible.
Each one of the dispensers is designed with strong, contrasting black and white colours to make them easier to see; often it is the case that white dispensers are mounted on white walls, which presents obvious challenges for washroom users with reduced eyesight.
They also have simple ‘push faces’, rather than wheels or other complicated mechanisms to dispense the paper which may be difficult for some users, and graphic instructions as well as braille text on the push faces to explain their functionality to all types of users. The paper is also very easy to remove, even with just one hand.
The fitting, filling and maintenance of the dispensers has also been considered. As well as being solidly wall-mounted, the dispensers open upwards for ease of re-filling by users of all heights, and clear fitting guidance includes recommended heights for the mounting of the dispensers to ensure they are accessible for wheelchair users.
Other considerations for accessible washrooms
Of course, there are many more aspects of your washrooms to consider with regards to maximising their accessibility. Part M of England’s Building Regulations, and the Equality Act 2010, set out clear legislation and guidance around washroom accessibility including doorway and cubicle sizes for standard, enlarged, ambulant disabled and wheelchair accessible cubicles, and requirements for grab rails, locking mechanisms and emergency access to cubicles.
However there are great benefits to going above and beyond your legal requirements to make your washrooms as accessible as possible, to as many people as possible. Some other aspects of your washroom that you may find it beneficial to consider are:
- The floor surfaces, which may be challenging for some users if they are slippery or highly reflective.
- How many doors a user must navigate when entering and leaving a washroom facility – are more than one, or indeed any at all, really necessary?
- How the washroom and cubicle doors themselves operate, for example whether they require much force to open or close, and whether they open outwards.
- The colour scheme of your washroom, and whether it helps to distinguish different areas or facilities, or whether it may be overbearing.
- Whether the floor and access are level.
- The quality of the lighting, and how the lighting works – for example, some washrooms have motion-triggered lighting that works on a timer, which could present problems for users that require more time.
- Whether there are sharp edges present around the bathroom, for example on the corners of shelves or fittings.
- The height of other fixtures and fittings such as coat hooks and toilet flushes.
- Whether there is enough room to accommodate not only a disabled person, but their carer too if this is needed.
The final point above is addressed most thoroughly by Changing Places, a campaign launched in 2006 on behalf of around a quarter of a million people in the UK who are unable to use ‘standard’ accessible toilets. Changing Places facilities have additional facilities, features and space, including adult-sized changing benches, hoists, privacy screens and adequate waste disposal units, so that people with greater disabilities do not have to stay at home, or so that their carers have to change them on washroom floors.
— Changing Places (@CP_Consortium) June 17, 2016
As there are still far too few approved Changing Places facilities in the UK, with many areas where none at all are available, you can find out here how to install a Changing Places and the guidelines and requirements. To find the nearest Changing Places facility to you, take a look at the easy to use Changing Places Toilet Map.
What steps have you taken, or plan to take, to make your washroom facilities more accessible? What aspects of a washroom do you believe are most often overlooked? We would love to hear your thoughts, so leave us a comment below.