I was thrilled to be asked to contribute to the OT Magazine recently with an article on a bath I designed for the less able. The following is the article as it appeared in the May-June edition 2017.
“A couple of years ago I was asked to work on a project designing unique residential units for people with Alzheimer’s.
The property development company wanted to create a beautiful environment that did not look ‘disabled’, and assembled a team of designers from a range of backgrounds including complex care experts, architects, and myself.
The developers searched for accessible products around the world but didn’t find everything they were looking for. I was approached to help with the layout of the units, advise on equipment, fixture and fittings, and also the design of a new accessible bath.
As a OT I knew that while many people prefer a bath to a shower, there are few products on the market which support safe transfer. If more baths were designed correctly, people would be able to bathe independently and safely for longer periods of time.
It was an absolute pleasure to use my core OT skills to design the perfect accessible bath. As a Housing OT I have observed thousands of people getting in and out of their baths. During my assessments I always ask my clients to show me how they have adapted their methods of transfer once they start to struggle. Analysing the task at hand, and understanding the effects of different medical conditions on a client’s ability to transfer, led to this unique design.
My first task with the design team was to make everyone aware of the difficulties people experience while bathing. These might arise from weakness in the upper or lower limbs, issues with joints, balance problems and issues relating to the height and weight of a user. Problems encountered can include:
- People struggle to get over the side of the bath from a standing position as this requires shifting the weight of the body from one leg to another and lifting their legs higher than the side of the bath.
- Some baths are too high to allow a user to sit on the side and place their feet firmly on the floor, and some are too low, preventing the user from moving from sitting to standing when trying to get out.
- Some rims are too narrow to allow the user to sit safely on them and transfer their legs into the bath whilst sitting.
- Most baths don’t have any rails to hold onto whilst completing the manoeuvre.
- Once the user’s feet are inside the bath, people with weak upper bodies struggle to lower themselves down into the bath slowly and safely.
- Petite people struggle to control their bodies whilst in a bath full of water because there is nothing to hold them in place.
- People with joint and muscle problems usually struggle to move from a lying position to standing because they don’t have adequate strength or range of motion to push themselves up against the water.
- The majority of people try and turn in the bath onto their knees. However, most baths are too narrow for this manoeuvre.
- Once on their knees, the bath rim is too narrow and slippery to grip onto when trying to move from knees to feet.
- Once a user is standing in the bath, there are no rails to provide support when transferring their legs over the side of the bath.
This OT task analysis was vital in informing the unique features of the new aptly-named Concept Freedom bath.
One of our first priorities was to provide a comfortable area for people to sit on while transferring their legs in and out the bath. We created a wide flat reinforced rim at one end and carefully calculated the bath’s height to ensure that most users can sit comfortably with their feet firmly on the floor. The width of the bath allows users – including tall people – to turn onto their knees from lying, while a very slim rim at the tap end maximises space.
In addition to the unique design, the rim itself is slip resistant and supports grip. We also designed a unique internal foot ledge to provide people of short stature, and those with weaker upper bodies, a method of controlling their posture and movement while in the water.
The new bath was put through extensive trials, and from these we realised that the wider rim at the head end, with a corresponding decrease in the width of the internal bath, provided a sense of security and control.
Every aspect of the design was carefully observed and measured and once the key features were agreed, we worked closely with Ideal Standard during the manufacturing process.
The finished product is thoughtful in every detail with a highly functional design which looks as good as it performs. The Concept Freedom Bath is different in many ways – not least because it is beautiful and does not compromise aesthetic for accessibility. Less able people are just as likely to want luxurious bathrooms, a fact that some manufacturers have been slow to acknowledge.
Last month we were delighted to learn that the design had scooped a prestigious industry award, after being named as Bathroom Product Innovation of the Year at the KBB Review Retail and Design Awards in London. It was a real privilege to be part of such a talented, multi-disciplinary design team, and to use my skills as an OT and ergonomist to design a product which not only looks good, but will give people real freedom in their everyday lives.”