Inclusive design means making a space feel welcoming for all people.
How is this different from, say, designing gender-neutral bathrooms? Inclusive design goes further. It improves bathroom efficiency and reduces wait times because each stall is available to any person looking to use it, regardless of age, gender, and ability.
Design Elements of an Inclusive Bathroom
When designing an inclusive bathroom, you should consider multi-user hand washing stations. They are especially useful in facilitating an easy flow of people in and out of restroom areas with the added benefit of increased accessibility.
Circular hand washing stations, like Acorn’s model no. 3506, are perfect when space is at a premium. This fixture serves up to six users at one time and has a much smaller footprint than traditional multi-station counters.
The International Plumbing Code recently approved two amendments, scheduled to take effect in 2021. They are a significant change to previous versions of the code that promoted sex-segregated facilities.
Single-user restrooms will require signage indicating they are available for anyone to use, regardless of gender. In addition, multi-user restrooms can now be offered to all users. Each toilet must have its own private compartment, but the sink area may be shared.
In this regard, inclusive restroom design is actually an improvement over traditional public bathrooms. Inclusive restroom stalls feature walls that extend as high as possible—sometimes from floor to ceiling—creating a greater feeling of privacy and security.
Advantages of Inclusive Bathrooms
In addition to increased efficiency and reduced wait times, inclusive restroom design offers a number of other benefits. Let’s take a closer look at how inclusive design can be an asset to businesses, schools, and the people who use them.
Inclusive Design in Commercial Applications
Restaurant owners have long been in favor of inclusive restroom design, not only because it’s the right thing to do, but because they can typically save 71 square feet of valuable space compared to gender-specific bathrooms. Full-service restaurants are recommended to provide 12–15 square feet per person; for fine dining, increase that to about 18–20 square feet. That extra 71 square feet adds up to a table for four.
The smaller footprint of an inclusive bathroom benefits other types of businesses, as well. Depending on the local real estate market, you could save $2,100–$6,600 per year per restroom. In a commercial office building, that translates to significant savings.
The use of inclusive design can also reduce potential legal liability following last year’s Supreme Court ruling upholding civil rights protections for LGBTQ employees, which has since been cited in several lower court cases involving bathroom rights.
Inclusive Design in Education Applications
Schools are already making moves to incorporate inclusive restroom design in their facilities. More than five years ago, St. Paul Public Schools made a policy change granting transgender students and staff access to whichever restrooms they prefer. A year later, they began eliminating gender-specific bathrooms wherever they could.
The first to convert was Johnson Senior High. At Johnson, every restroom was outfitted with single occupancy stalls, each equipped with floor to ceiling walls and doors. The doors were fitted with a locking mechanism that would indicate if the stall was in use.
While it was more expensive to build walls instead of partitions between stalls, the school could fit more fixtures in the same space.
Hand washing stations were moved out of the restroom and into the hallway, where they’re more easily accessible—a plan that is certainly beneficial in today’s environment.
Students and staff are happy with the new open design, and the school district has enjoyed an unexpected bonus. Instances of bullying in the restrooms declined considerably following the completion of renovations.
Who Benefits from Inclusive Design?
(Spoiler Alert: Everyone!)
If you’ve ever been out and about with a small child of the opposite sex, you know how awkward a situation it can be to use a traditional restroom. We often hear complaints that men’s bathrooms have open urinals and tend to be dirtier than women’s restrooms. Family restrooms are few and far between, often occupied, and not particularly well looked after.
There is also the perennial problem of long lines at the women’s restrooms while the men’s room has no one waiting. The efficiency of inclusive design means shorter lines for everyone.
By moving sinks and lavatories out to a more public space, you provide important hand washing accessibility to anyone passing by, not just those using the bathrooms.
The Future of Inclusive Bathrooms
Inclusivity could be the greatest fundamental shift in how restrooms are designed since the introduction of the Americans with Disabilities Act. The economic, social, and compliance changes pave the way for inclusive design to become not just a trend but a standard.
These inclusive spaces provide a place for not just washing, grooming, and eliminating. They also offer private spaces to change your child’s diaper, comfortable areas for mothers to nurse, and adequate room to help anyone needing assistance.
The good news for building owners, architects, and designers? Manufacturers are beginning to embrace this design trend, and that means more options and styles from which to choose.
Stalled! was formed in 2015 to address the design consequences of the pressing social equity problem. The project assembles a cross-disciplinary research team that includes architect Joel Sanders, transgender historian Susan Stryker, and legal scholar Terry Kogan to explore this question from a cultural, political, and legal perspective.
We are committed to tackling this topic through three design, legal, and educational initiatives: developing Best Practice Guidelines for all-gender restrooms in light of legal, economic, and practical considerations; amending the International Plumbing Code (‘IPC’)—the model code that governs most construction in the United States—to allow for all-gender, multi-user restrooms; and raising the awareness of the design community and institutional and government stakeholders.”
Want to learn more? Take our free, online CEU course at AEC Daily! It explores in more detail the benefits of inclusive spaces and discusses the sustainable, hygienic, functional, and distinctive design and material options for inclusive public bathrooms.