Access = Independence

posted on Dec. 19, 2019, at 9:00 a.m.

NKBA Staff

Considerations for storage solutions in an accessible bathroom. By Rosemarie Rossetti, Ph.D.

Editor’s Note: After a 1998 spinal cord injury left Rosemarie Rossetti paralyzed from the waist down and in a wheelchair, she and her husband, Mark Leder, needed to build a new home to accommodate her newly compromised mobility. They worked with the design team and were the general contractors, and founded the Universal Design Living Laboratory in Columbus, Ohio, where they’ve been living since 2012. It is the top-rated universal design home in North America with three national universal design certifications. In this article, part of a series in which she describes the journey and employing universal design/Living in Place features in the house they built, she discusses storage solutions for an accessible bathroom.

As a person who uses a wheelchair, my reach is limited when it comes to opening a cabinet and reaching something on a shelf or in a drawer. Storage that is within the range of 18 inches to 48 inches above the floor is ideal.

When our home, the Universal Design Living Laboratory, was designed, great care went into the design of the storage areas in the master bathroom. The interior designers were Mary Jo Peterson and Anna Lyon. They worked with me and my husband, Mark Leder, and the designers at KraftMaid, who detailed the finished layout and made the cabinetry.

The toileting area contains a 33-inch-wide stacked wall and base unit with an overall height of 84 inches.  The base has three drawers, two 12 inches high, and one 6 inches high. The countertop is 34-1/2 inches above the floor. Mounted on the wall above the counter are two double-door storage cabinets, one 12 inches high and the other 30 inches high. The 12-inch-high cabinet and the bottom shelf of the 30-inch-high cabinet are accessible. However, the top shelf of this 30-inch-high cabinet (at 64 inches above the floor) contains a pull down Rev-A-Shelf accessory unit that was installed by ShelfGenie. This is a handy feature for anyone who is seated or is not tall enough to reach items stored on the top shelf

Under the whirlpool tub are four hinged cabinet doors. When people see these doors, they don’t realize that they are functional, since they don’t have handles. Surprisingly, this storage area is at a convenient height for both me and my 6-foot, 4-inch tall husband, and is a great place to store towels, paper products, and health and beauty aids.

My vanity countertop is 33 inches. Open knee space was required under my vanity sink, so I could roll under it in my wheelchair. To achieve the desired open width, there is no base cabinet to the right of the sink. However, to the left is an 18-inch wide, three-drawer base unit. The hardware on all the cabinet doors and drawers is “D” shaped, making it easy to grasp.

Resting on the counter to the left of my sink is a 52-inch-high wall cabinet.  The lower 18-inch-high door articulates outward and upward. This storage area is used for the hairdryer and two electric toothbrushes. It also contains eight electric outlets to plug in and charge small appliances.

Higher up on this cabinet is a single swing door containing three adjustable shelves. These shelves are not within my reach from a seated position. The goal throughout the design of our home was to have at least 50% of the storage area reachable from a seated position. We far exceeded this goal in the master bathroom.

My husband’s vanity countertop height is 35 inches. Directly underneath his sink is a base cabinet that contains a custom pull-out organizational unit that ShelfGenie designed and installed. Immediately to the right of the sink is a three-drawer base unit. To the left of the sink is a drawer and door base cabinet containing a small central vacuum unit. The hose is retractable and is handy for quick cleanup in the bathroom.

The convenience of having items at an accessible height in this bathroom gives me independence. By having items in drawers and on shelves with cabinet doors, the room does not appear to be cluttered.

Rosemarie Rossetti, Ph.D., CLIPP, is an internationally known speaker, trainer, consultant, and author of the Universal Design Toolkit. The Universal Design Living Laboratory, located in Columbus, Ohio, is the top-rated universal design home in North America with three national universal design certifications. To purchase the Universal Design Toolkit at a 50% discount, or get a free chapter, take a virtual tour, and learn more about her national demonstration home and garden, the Universal Design Living Laboratory, visit To contact Rosemarie and learn about her speaking, training, and consulting services, go

To apply for Certified Living In Place Professional (CLIPP) certification, click here. (NKBA members get a discount.)

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