Creating inclusive campuses and workplaces is more than a “best practice” – it’s beneficial in a multitude of ways for both users and building owners. As schools and businesses compete to recruit diverse, talented individuals, significant research supports the thought that organizations fostering equality and inclusivity show higher levels of engagement, profit, and creativity. Beyond this, it’s considerate of all human beings.

So, what does all this have to do with a bathroom? Survey results show this is an area where users of all demographics agree that we, as a design community, can do better! Most multi-stall restrooms lack auditory and visual privacy. Stall partitions have wide gaps, do not extend from floor to ceiling, and can be thin or flimsy. Stalls are too narrow for caregivers to accommodate a loved one. While solutions addressing all these concerns can come at a higher construction cost, in many cases, investing in inclusivity provides a clear benefit for student and employee satisfaction, performance, productivity, and recruiting.

What is an inclusive, or gender neutral, restroom? An inclusive restroom is designed to be easily accessible and usable by people of all backgrounds and abilities. Imagine a restroom where a father can confidently accompany his daughter with complete safety and privacy, or one where a caregiver can easily assist someone in a wheelchair. An inclusive restroom goes beyond traditional designations and provides a safe and comfortable space for everyone. That is the essence of an inclusive restroom. Let’s look at six important elements of inclusive restroom design.

Safety & Security

The most important aspect of restroom design is the safety and security of those using the space. How can design help with this? It can start with good, comfortable lighting. If you’ve ever walked into a dimly lit restroom where maybe a light or two are out, or flickering, it can make you feel uneasy. Warm lighting in the right places can help make a restroom feel like a safer place to be.

Other items such as full-height partitions, clear signage, and occupancy indicators are just a few additional examples of how design can aid in feelings of safety and security.

Accessibility & Inclusivity

This is probably the number one element we think of when we hear the words ‘universal restroom’. A lot of times when we hear this, we picture the sign on the door with the wheelchair icon, and maybe a wider stall with a silver bar next to the toilet for someone to hold onto. Those are great elements for accessible bathrooms, but there is always room for improved design. Adding accessible sinks at lower heights along with lowered mirrors are another inclusive design element to incorporate. The toilet itself is also a consideration, as the height for the seat can be lowered. It can also be helpful to have accessible restrooms that are gender neutral, allowing for a mom, dad, or caretaker to assist someone of the opposite gender in the restroom without being uncomfortable.

Door-less entries into the restrooms themselves are another helpful feature of an accessible and inclusive restroom. You may have used restrooms like these at large stadiums or universities, where the wall wraps around into the restroom without a door to push open. This is handy for wheelchair or walker users, but it’s also a way to remove another place that everyone’s hands are touching, preventing the spread of more germs. Other automatic fixtures like faucets or hand dryers minimize physical contact and ensure a clean and sanitary space. Of course, there are many other ways to make restrooms accessible for everyone, but these are a few key considerations.

Privacy & Comfort

Using the restroom can be a delicate matter, and most people tend to like their privacy in the restroom. With inclusive restrooms, this topic is especially important. Single restroom stalls with full height doors and walls can help, and some restrooms even go as far to include soundproofing materials for maximum privacy. Adding a sink and trashcan in individual stalls can also be a major plus in ensuring all users feel comfortable.

Family Friendly

Gender neutral restrooms come in handy again here, as a mom or dad might need to be in the restroom with their kids no matter which gender. A small area with some comfortable seating could also be a big help for families who need a space to wait for their kids using the restroom. This space could accommodate a stroller, wheelchair, or other kids as they wait.

A private space to pump, nurse, or change a baby is great in a family friendly restroom. For mothers who need to do these things, having a chair in a private room with a locking door is ideal – somewhere to sit other than the toilet! A changing table with throwaway pads to cover the table with is also very helpful.

For the Future

One thing we know for sure is that the future is ever changing. That, and the fact that people will always need restrooms. Your restroom needs may change for a number of reasons. A special event could cause lines for the women’s restroom to be double that of the men’s. Your user demographics could shift and leave one gendered restroom barely used. Why not design your restroom to accommodate all people now, so you can be open to the unknown future ahead?

What will the future look like? The truth is, we don’t know. Now, more than ever we’re asking, why not? Why not design private facilities for all users? Why not provide maximum comfort and privacy for all our students and the workforce? Why not find a way to do this in the same footprint as a conventional restroom AND provide flexibility to better accommodate user needs? Inclusive restroom design – why not?

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