Smart Shower Design and Safety Tips for Wheelchair Users - Blog - Reeve Foundation

From our friends at Vive Health:

A common conundrum wheelchair users face is having to get into a relatively cramped bathroom space multiple times a week to bathe safely and successfully. If you’re looking to upgrade your bathroom for a safer, more efficient bathing experience, don’t miss this quick guide:

Getting In and Out of the Shower

Think renovating your tub shower into a wheelchair accessible bathing environment is impossible? You may be surprised by the variety of options available to simplify bathing:

Curbless shower - this roll-in or walk-in type of shower features a low lip and graded floor that is slightly sloped to drain water without spilling out of the shower area. Wheelchair users will need at least several square cubic feet of space to navigate in this type of shower successfully. Transfering first to a rolling shower chair (or water-resistant shower chair with wheels) simplifies the use of this type of shower.

Walk-in tub - you’ve likely seen an infomercial for the type of tub that features a small door on the side that opens and closes to let a person in an out. For wheelchair users, walk-in tubs are far more accessible than a tub where you have to lift yourself over the side to get in; however, some assistance may be needed to enter the tub and get on a shower chair safely.

Transfer chair - in the event a wheelchair user has a traditional shower tub, there is still equipment designed so they can shower independently. Shower transfer chairs that sit with 2 feet in the tub and 2 out feature a sliding seat on which a user can sit and then slide themselves over until they are fully positioned in the shower tub area.

Grab bars - sturdy, mounted grab bars equip wheelchair users with the support they need to pull, steady, and push themselves up and down during a transfer as well as during a shower. Experts recommend installing grab bars at sitting and standing heights both inside and directly outside of the bathing area.

Improving Accessibility

Reachability may be an afterthought when it comes to bathroom design for wheelchair users, however, it’s the small touches like improving accessibility to the faucet and toiletries that can make bathing and showering truly enjoyable.

Toiletry dispensers - it’s super easy for slippery hands to accidentally drop the shampoo bottle in the shower; not as easy for someone with limited mobility to quickly duck down and pick it up off the wet floor though. Toiletry dispensers solve this problem by fixing bottles of commonly used toiletries to the wall in an easy-to-reach place so all someone has to do is press a button to get the soap, shampoo, or conditioner they need.

Shower controls - wheelchair users should look for creative ways to place shower controls so that they can be adjusted easily without getting a person wet. Removable shower heads also allow a person showering sitting down to wash and rinse themselves with ease - experts recommend getting one with a hose that is at least 5’ long for added maneuverability. Mixing valves with anti-scald technology can also be installed to prevent any unwarranted burns or pressure changes that can sometimes happen in the pipes in the bathroom walls.

Preventing Falls

Even when safety precautions like shower chairs and grab bars are taken, people are still at a higher risk of falling simply because of the nature of the bathroom environment - it’s often wet, slick, and foggy (especially after a shower). These quick reminders can help:

Non-slip flooring - traditional bath rugs and mats may make wheelchair maneuvering in the bathroom difficulty, so finding a happy medium is a must. Inside the shower itself, non-slip flooring material that adheres to the floor and provides extra traction may come in the form of a shower mat, non-slip spray with which you coat the floor, or non-slip adhesive strips that simply stick to the floor. Outside the shower, textured tile and thin non-slip mats that adhere or are suctioned to the floor are a good choice.

Lighting - consistent and accessible lighting is a must in this fall-prone environment so wheelchair users should look at making sure light switches are easy to reach both inside and outside the bathroom door. Glass shower doors can also let more light filter into a shower than a thick shower curtain. And curtains or blinds over adjacent windows can help prevent glare on the bathroom mirror.

One final bathroom upgrade wheelchair users may also find helpful is a telephone or medical alert call button system. In the event of an accident like a fall, having quick and convenient access to calling for help can provide peace of mind and improve safety outcomes.

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About the Author - Reeve Staff

This blog was written by the Reeve Foundation for educational purposes. For more information please reach out to

Reeve Staff

The opinions expressed in these blogs are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation.