It’s all about the bathroom

Getting a power chair will give me more flexibility going to the common areas for activities more than once a day, which is what I’m doing now. But I’ve realized that my other big problem is having to come back to my apartment to use the bathroom. Since I take diuretics, I don’t even try to leave until a few hours after I take them, but being gone any length of time still means a bathroom break now and then.

Okay, this shouldn’t be a problem, right? We have public bathrooms on the first and second floors here with handicapped stalls, plus a single larger room that is marked as handicapped. There are problems with all of them. First, all have closers on the door making it very hard to open while also holding onto a walker or rolling a manual chair. That would require three hands and we only have two, so we either wait for someone to come by to open the door for us or ask someone to come with us to help.

The stalls themselves are not realistically sized even though they meet ADA requirements. I know I’m extra big and use a bigger than average size wheelchair. One of my tiny friends, using a borrowed small chair, found herself unable to shut the door of the handicapped stall AND get out of the chair and maneuver over to the toilet. This is enormously embarrassing since we go to the bathroom because we need to, ahem, go. Since I can’t get in by myself and have the same problem in a stall, I go home instead.

Places that have the single room with grab bars and room have the same problems. Oh, there’s usually room to roll around and get in position, but we sometimes still can’t get the door open on our own, and we’re grateful for the grab bars – but the toilets are so low! When your legs or knees don’t work right, you’re sitting in a hole trying to haul yourself up using the grab bar on one side. It’s not pretty and it’s hard.

So let’s talk about toilets. Standard height toilets are 14-15 inches high. ADA-standard toilets, also called “comfort height,” are 17-19 inches high. That’s much better but there are also extra-tall toilets which are about 21 inches high. That’s a lot of inches of difference and every inch of that matters to me. When I moved here, one of the two things I asked was replacing the toilets with new ones that were the tallest they could find. Little did I know what a huge difference that would make for me now. They’re a very comfortable height and my knees and legs are very happy and don’t feel like collapsing.

Another thing that makes it more workable is placement of the grab bars. When I moved in, there was a long horizontal bar in the shower, one vertical bar on the right side of the shower, and a horizontal bar next to the toilet. Great! I thought, that will be all I’ll need. But it’s not. When I came back from rehab, it was clear that the bar by the toilet was too short or just positioned wrong for me. Wheelchair users need grab bar space ahead of the actual seat to hold on and turn around. There wasn’t space to do that on the existing bar, so I had them install another vertical bar on the left side of the shower, almost making a 90 degree angle, and a grab bar next to the washing machine. Both have been invaluable. I find that when I stand up from the toilet, I reach up to the vertical bar rather than just the horizontal bar next to me. It helps me pull up and stay balanced.

Handicapped bathrooms or stalls don’t have that, another reason I prefer my own apartment. It just feels safer.

I’ve offered to buy a higher toilet for my building’s one handicapped bathroom. It wouldn’t make sense in a place with lots of children or if it were the only place to go, but in a senior living building with lots of people using mobility aids, I think it’s essential. Of course no one has taken me up on my offer, saying they’d have to also replace all the handicapped toilets in the stalled bathrooms at the same time, which doesn’t make sense to me. We have ONE handicapped bathroom. Let it work for those of us who need it.

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