Accessible toilets have inaccessible washbasins: study

By Katelyn Catanzariti
Updated December 10 2023 - 9:35am, first published 9:30am
Wheelchair users can access toilets, but not always the washbasins, a study has found. (Mick Tsikas/AAP PHOTOS)
Wheelchair users can access toilets, but not always the washbasins, a study has found. (Mick Tsikas/AAP PHOTOS)

More and more businesses, offices and public buildings across Australia offer accessible toilet facilities, but a new study suggests most have inaccessible washbasins.

The Building Code of Australia has very specific guidelines as to the size, height and type of toilet that must be installed, and the size of the room and door required to accommodate the disabled, but there are no such requirements for washbasins.

Most places simply install Australian Standard washbasins, but according to a recent study, as many as half of the people who use these facilities can't access them.

"These kinds of public spaces should promote the user's safety, autonomy and dignity, however with the current standards, some of the wheelchair users' knees would touch the washbasin or the pipework underneath it, preventing their effective use," says Konstantina Vasilakopoulou, acting director of UNSW's Home Modifications Clearinghouse (HMInfo) and leader of the Livability Lab.

"The research demonstrates the need to re-evaluate Australian Standards."

HMInfo conducts and translates research for industry and consumers to promote a more inclusive built environment, while the Livability Lab is focused on biomechanical studies to inform design for improved liveability and useability of the built environment.

The lab uses motion capture and video technologies to record participants' movements to make their assessments.

Researchers at the Lab interviewed 20 accessible toilet users about their thoughts and experiences before asking them to undertake tasks at a custom-built "test rig".

They simulated using a washbasin, looking at how easy it was to use the soap dispenser and taps.

"Mirrors, soap dispensers, light switches, automatic hand-dryers are often placed too high for people in a seated position," Dr Vasilakopoulou said of the findings.

The study found that 19 out of 20 participants still thought the toilets should have more space for a wheelchair user to enter, close the door and manoeuvre.

It also found the inclusion of change tables, the use of steps and issues with the doors increased their inaccessibility as well as the possibility of injury during transfer from wheelchair to toilet.

"This demonstrates that, despite our best efforts, even accessible spaces can be designed with an able mindset," Dr Vasilakopoulou said.

"It reinforces the need to co-design these environments with people with lived experience to ensure they are fit for purpose."

Australian Associated Press