Five Bathroom Modifications that Deliver Big Results
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Five Bathroom Modifications that Deliver Big Results

I recently wrote an article for Exceptional Parent about the planning process we used for the remodel and adaptation of our bathroom to accommodate Julia’s needs. That article provided insights into the thought process we used to determine how to adapt a small bathroom to accommodate big needs. As a complement to that article, I thought it would be helpful to talk more in depth about the five things we did that make it possible for a small bathroom to meet all of our needs, both for Julia and the rest of our family.

1 – Ceiling lift: The ceiling lift is the key to making the bathroom adaptations work. Before, we were lifting Julia in and out of the bathtub. As she grew bigger, that became more and more difficult. Further complicating the situation were Julia’s seizures. She would sometimes have intense seizures that jolted her whole body while she was in the bathtub. Lifting her out of the tub was dangerous – she was wet, slippery and moving violently. Leaving her in the tub was no better – with her arms and legs moving forcefully, the risk of injury was always a concern.

We knew that eliminating the manual lift in and out of the tub was our top priority. We also knew that a traditional Hoyer lift would not be the best solution because the bathroom was too small to be able to maneuver such a large piece of equipment. Instead, we chose a ceiling lift and two mesh slings; one for regular use and one for a back-up since the sling in use consistently gets wet.

At the time we were installing the ceiling lift, Julia was sometimes able to use the toilet with a lot of support. So, we made sure that the ceiling track was installed so that we could use the lift and sling to place her on the toilet. We were very deliberate about the placement of the ceiling track so that Julia could be placed safely in the tub, on the changing table or on the toilet.

One other detail to note: We have a traditional shower curtain, and this caused an issue with the sling going in and out of the tub because the shower curtain rod was in the way. Matt was able to use a telescoping curtain rod and a special mount so that we can move the sling in and out of the tub. Photos below. Leave a note in the comments if you would like further details.

The details: Our ceiling lift is a Prism Medical Lift with a C-450 motor. We have two mesh slings.

2 – Choosing the right bathtub: It was important that the bathtub would be able to accommodate Julia’s bath chair. The tub needed to be wide and long enough to fit the chair and deep enough so that we could fill it with enough water for Julia to be soaking even though the bath chair keeps her 2-3 inches off the bottom of the tub. But, because the bathroom is small, we couldn’t choose an oversize tub.

To find the right fit, we took Julia’s bath chair to the showroom and tested it in several different tubs. With careful attention to finding a tub that wasn’t too small or too big, we found one that was just right.

Another addition we made was a hand-held sprayer, which has been especially helpful for rinsing Julia’s long, thick hair. Before our remodel, we used a pitcher for rinsing, and the hand-held sprayer is much more effective.

The details: Our bathtub is a Sterling Ensemble 60” x 32” Curve Bath/Shower (71220110).

3 – Pull-out changing table: This has been key to making this small bathroom work. My husband Matt worked with the cabinet maker to develop the perfect design. The changing table pulls out from under the countertop when we need it, and is hidden when we don’t. Placing a mat on the changing table brings it up to the same height as the countertop, which doubles our usable changing space. Photos below.

A couple of other details to note: 1 – Because the changing table pulls out over the top of our toilet, we needed to choose a toilet that was short enough to fit underneath. Not every toilet we looked at would fit, so if you’re pulling out the table over a toilet, it’s important to pay attention to that detail. 2 – When the table is extended, the end of it is supported on a small board that has been securely fastened to the wall.

Another note: Before our remodel, we used a pull-down changing table that was attached to the wall (similar to the changing stations for babies in public bathrooms). This design worked great until Julia outgrew it, and we didn’t have enough wall space for a larger changing table. If you’d like details about this design, please leave a comment.

The details: Custom design. But, if you would like more information about the components and design Matt used, leave a message in the comments, and he can share more details with you.

4- Wide pocket door: In this tiny bathroom, every inch counts. Instead of a traditional door, we widened the door opening and used a pocket door. That makes it easier to either carry Julia into the bathroom or push her wheelchair into the room.

5 – Organized storage: I know it’s just a bank of drawers, but I get really excited about the storage space in the bathroom. We made sure to incorporate storage into the design rather than making it an afterthought, and that has paid off. Everything needed for Julia’s personal cares is stored where it’s really easy to reach.

These ideas are definitely not the typical HGTV-style designs, and I will admit I had much more fun picking out the mosaic tile and paint colors. But, these practical considerations are the things that have made our bathroom extremely functional for Julia and our family for the last two years, and we plan to enjoy that functionality for many more years.

Bathroom ideas that worked for you? Please leave a comment. We’d love to hear your feedback.

  • Juanita lonjers
    Posted at 02:46h, 30 July Reply

    I love the changing table the way it pulls out would love to know more on how you did this.

    • Michele
      Posted at 14:05h, 30 July Reply

      Juanita – I will ask my husband to provide as much information as possible. He worked with our cabinetmaker on this design, so he has all the details. PS – Thanks for being the very first commenter on my brand new blog. 🙂

  • Mary Bertin
    Posted at 18:27h, 04 August Reply

    Thank you for this article and the photos. Very helpful!

    • Michele
      Posted at 17:08h, 05 August Reply

      Glad you found it helpful! Our bathroom modifications have made our day-to-day life much easier, and goodness knows that when you have a child with special needs, anytime you can make things easier, that’s a huge WIN!

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