I also referenced a recent podcast I did on bathroom storage.
[00:00:31] Hello, it’s Sarah. And today I’m going to share the results of another image we had our design advisors review. If you haven’t tuned into us before we are discussing what images pop up on the internet when terms like ‘universal design’ or ‘accessible’ are typed into the search bar for images around the home. We’ve found that many times these pictures aren’t really depicting universal design and it’s possible that architects, builders, advocates, and consumers will see these pictures, assume the design works for everyone, and run with it.
[00:01:05] We’ve seen time and time again, that someone will call something ‘universal design’ and in reality, it doesn’t work for a segment of the population the design was actually intended for. Because of this, we feel it’s necessary to approach design with a variety of voices at the table to make sure we don’t miss anything important. You may have tuned into us before regarding our little experiments, but just in case you haven’t, we are asking our volunteers whether or not the images actually depict universal design and if the setup would even work for them from a functional standpoint.
[00:01:39] At The Universal Design Project, we have a group of volunteers called design advisors who have personal experience with disabilities themselves as a person with a disability, a caregiver, or someone who works directly with people with disabilities, like physical therapists, occupational therapists, and other healthcare professionals.
[00:01:58] Today, I’m excited to share the results from a product from a company called Ropox. They are located in Denmark and I’ve added a link to their site in the show notes. They make a lot of innovative products for the bathroom and kitchen. Some products are unique designs for the home that are stationary and some are automated and move up and down or side to side.
[00:02:20] They’ve also ventured into other things for public spaces like adjustable tables and public bathroom changing stations. Today, we’re going to specifically look at a bathroom sink on their website that they make called Swingline. And that is a height-adjustable sink that swings away from the wall towards a toilet. The demo video is on YouTube and I’ve shown that in the show notes, but here’s a description of the product from their site.
[00:02:49] “Swingline is a flexible and height-adjustable washbasin that can significantly improve the independence of disabled people. The basin can rotate and swing 180 degrees making it flexible and moveable. Wheelchair users find this washbasin to be perhaps the ideal solution for them. It is easy to adjust in height. There is also plenty of room under the basin and for a wheelchair. It is easy to access from all sides and the user or carer can move it to the side to create the largest turning area possible for a wheelchair. The flexibility of the washbasin surely makes a difference because it enables the users to become more self-reliant. It also provides a better working environment for the carers.”
[00:03:36] So our design advisors took a look at the video of this adjustable, swinging sink and we asked them to tell us if it 1) works well, 2) it could be better, or 3) it won’t work. Then they had a text box to describe why they chose the answer they did. We divided the answers into categories to include comments that were positive, negative, those that had ideas, and then a category for questions.
[00:04:00] So here were the results. There were a total of 11 people that responded to our survey. Of those 11 people, 4 thought it worked well, 7 said it could be better, and no one thought it wouldn’t work at all. So let’s dig into their feedback. I’ll share some of my thoughts too from an occupational therapy perspective.
[00:04:19] So here were some comments under the positives area:
[00:04:22] “Innovative and functional design”, “Cabinetry beside the sink helps with storage”, “Adaptable for many heights of wheelchairs”, “I love how it can be moved over to the toilet”, “Height adjustability allows for greater flexibility and a shared restroom. “A child or a little person could use it at their height in addition to a wheelchair user at their height”, “Multiple access points to the sink from a wheelchair level”, “I love how it can be maneuvered to different situations. Universal design at its finest for anyone in a wheelchair!”, “This is great that Ropox thought about the client and the caregiver in the design of this bathroom. Being able to wash your hands after toileting, prior to transferring to the wheelchair is something that I’ve never been able to make happen for a client”.
[00:05:09] So from an OT perspective, there’s really a lot to love here. The fact that this sink can swivel to a different location is pretty cool. Being able to clean your hands right after using the toilet is definitely a convenience. I’m not going to go into a lot of detail here, but how nice would it be to be able to actually wash your hands before you have to pull up your pants? Someone who uses mobility equipment not only has to clean themselves, pull up their pants, but then put their hands on their wheelchair, walker, or crutches, and then go over to wash their hands. We’re living in the age of COVID where we are hypersensitive to everything we touch. Now, COVID isn’t an issue in this situation, but other germs are.
[00:05:50] The height adjustability for this sink is perfect to meet the needs of a diverse group of people around the home. I’m actually kind of short around five feet, three inches. And if I’m really honest, I’m rounding up to that height. But my husband Scott, who most of you know through these podcasts, uses a wheelchair. So we both work from a lower height and to make things more interesting he uses both a power chair and a manual chair that both sit at different heights. There are times that he is unable to get under a sink in his power chair because the height of his seat is taller than the one in his manual chair and his knees bang into the underside of the sink.
[00:06:25] But on another note, it’s not really ideal to have everyone in a household working from the same height. We’re all kind of used to it, right? Because most homes have one height at the sink to work from. Yet, somebody is going to have to compromise by having to work at the sink that’s not so ergonomic for height. Having the ability to raise and lower the sink for those who are short, tall, seated, or standing is a really big plus. Then you don’t have to have that conversation of, well, what height should the countertops be? Should we have one lower or one higher? But we only have room for one sink; what height do we put it at? Think about all the different tasks you do at the sink. I know when we travel and we’re in a location with a lower sink, even though I’m short when I’m standing at a sink for a long time and have to lean down to do those tasks, I can feel the strain on my back and shoulders. This adjustability is definitely a plus.
[00:07:23] One thing I saw on Ropox’s site was that they also made sure to design a sink with a cleaning friendly design, with rounded corners, without any dirt traps to make it easier to wipe down the sink. This is also helpful for people who have low vision or are blind so they don’t hurt themselves running into a corner. Or think about little kids as they’re running around the bathroom and they could potentially knock their heads on the corners of sinks and cabinets.
[00:07:50] So let’s go onto the negatives.
[00:07:52] Our design advisors thought there was “Limited storage and counter space”, “The aesthetics of the sink toilet combo screams disability and could limit the resale value of the home if the next tenants prefer more traditional design and cabinetry”, “The pull knob may be difficult to use”, “My concern is that once it’s in swing-away mode, that it does not appear to lock in place and if someone forgets that it moves or tries to use it for stability or to assist in standing, it will swing and cause a fall”.
[00:08:23] I do have to agree that there is limited space for storage in this design. I just did a podcast on bathroom storage, which I’ll link in the show notes, and I discussed how we all have a lot of stuff that we use in the bathroom. Plus people with disabilities that need to cath themselves, or do some sort of bowel routine need even extra space to set supplies.
[00:08:43] If you look on Ropox’s site, they do mention that you can choose a model with a dock- in-option that gives you the look of a standard vanity with a bit of extra space to put items. But from the pictures, it still doesn’t look like a lot of space. Plus sometimes that extra counter space is actually more helpful while sitting at the toilet. And if the sink swings away and leaves that extra counter space still attached to the wall then, well, that’s not convenient while you’re doing your business on the toilet. The site also says that there is a detachable accessory tray that can be placed on the edge of the sink, which may be a little help as well.
[00:09:20] I do have to agree with the comment that this particular sink may look like it’s for someone with a disability and could limit the resale value of a home. But it would be functional for the people living there currently.
[00:09:33] So one thing that wasn’t mentioned in the comments was the price. I do have one design advisor who reached out to the company to get a quote, but I would imagine that this would cost more than a typical sink setup. She is actually still trying to get that information for me. So I will post that in the show notes when I get it. But that is the difficulty with this type of equipment, is that if it isn’t being purchased and sold in the mainstream market, the price will have to be more, which is unfortunate because those who would actually benefit from a sink like this may not even have the option to purchase it because of the cost. They do have a representative here in the United States so that’s definitely helpful in knowing that there are connections here, as well as in Denmark where this company originated.
[00:10:20] So the two comments about how the sink functions are also important to note. The knob mechanism that you pull for the sink to move may be difficult for those to use with limited hand function. That would be paralysis, maybe arthritis, a hand injury, or maybe think about someone who doesn’t have any hands. Plus, noting the safety of the swing-away feature is a really good point. Do we know if the sink locks in place when it swings out? What if someone tries to use it for stability when they stand or if they try to move back to their wheelchair, will it move and cause a fall? Is the unit even sturdy enough to support someone trying to hold onto it when they’re standing or in the process of standing? Some people actually choose whether they want to sit or stand at the sink or at the toilet.
[00:11:11] We have really smart design advisors and they addressed some of their ideas to those questions above in their comment section. So let’s move on to those ideas that they had for some of that functionality.
[00:11:26] “Maybe use some kind of push-button instead of the pull button for those with decreased hand dexterity and people that have difficulty with motor planning to first pull the knob and keep it out while also trying to pull the sink to a different position”, “Think about the color. Maybe the knobs should be a brighter color to increase visual contrast and make it easier to use. Also, make it a different color from the knob on the other side to prevent confusion”, “It may be a benefit to use an automatic faucet and automatic soap dispenser”. “I think it’d be great to have another way to make the sink swing out besides the knob you have to pull out; not everyone has the ability to grip and pull. Maybe a lever or a button or a voice command”.
[00:12:12] So from my OT perspective, the push button idea is really great. I actually hadn’t thought about the fact that somebody may struggle to understand how this mechanism would work in the first place. I also thought it was a great point that you may have to pull out the knob and keep it pulled out while moving the sink. That might not be very intuitive for some people to understand that. If it was just a push button, then that one step allows the sink to move. Adding in a different colored knob lever or button is even greater. I think to allow this to move with a voice command may up the price, but hey, it would be a really neat option.
[00:12:49] The contrast in color also helps with those who have difficulty seeing as well as those who may come up to the sink and not even know it has a swing-away option. This speaks to both the color contrast and figuring out how the sink works, but have you ever been to someone else’s house and are using their shower and can’t figure out how to turn it on or how to adjust the temperature? I have been to different places and it literally took me forever to figure out how to get the shower to come on after I’d already figured out how to get the tub faucet to turn on, but how do I move it to the shower? Plus making sure the water temperature is appropriate is essential so you don’t burn yourself or you have to take a cold shower. The controls need to be easy for everyone to figure out how to operate from the first encounter and clearly labeled with both color and raised texture.
[00:13:37] I also want to address the stability of the sink. One design advisor was worried that it might not be stable enough to withstand pressure either while it was at the dock in the wall or on the swing away mode at the toilet. I actually looked on their site to get more information and I found a few other sinks. One is called the Supportline and it is more suited for people who have difficulty with walking and standing. This sink is on a rail that slides closer to the toilet and then can slide back to basically rest in another place on the wall where the sink would have a home per se. So if you’re at the toilet, you can slide it to reach the water but then it also has handholds on it so you can grip it and stand when it slides back toward the mirror where it would be in its home base. So, basically it can stay at the sink near the wall in the corner or then it can slide to you while you’re at the toilet. It’s also height-adjustable. So this sink may be better for those who have some ability to stand versus someone who will be seated all the time and not using the sink for support. And this is really based on how everybody does their tasks at the toilet, and if they’re able to stand or not.
[00:14:53] So they do also have quite a few other sink models that will adjust up and down with different countertop widths. So if you’re looking to put one into a smaller space versus a bigger one and you want more counter space and then whether or not it has handholds or not. Some even have a curved front to make it more comfortable to lean up against the sink and I’ll also put those sinks in the show notes so you can investigate if you’re interested.
[00:15:19] So a few questions that design advisors asked, there were two: “Is the faucet easy to use?” and “Is the sink deep enough?”
[00:15:26] I think these are great questions to ask. The faucets all look like they have lever handles, which are definitely easier to use than having to turn a knob. But I wonder if it’s easy to install a different type of faucet? Sometimes in the bathroom, people are washing a lot of medical equipment and a taller faucet would allow you to put bottles or bags underneath versus a shorter faucet. The idea of a motion-activated, or voice-activated faucet, could also be considered and it would be interesting to know with all of this adjustability if the faucets could be switched out.
[00:15:58] The sink depth is also a good question I think for the Swingline sink, as well as all the others I saw on their site. Just like you want to get up close to your desk to work on something, it’s nice to be able to pull up close to the sink or underneath it and not have any barriers to getting yourself as close as possible to reach into the sink, spit, shave, see yourself in the mirror and use your tweezers.
[00:16:22] So overall, I thought this was a really neat product to review. It’s so interesting to see what different manufacturers are coming up with. And I think the feedback we received here is so helpful in digging into all the little details of this sink.
[00:16:35] Plus based on the variety of sinks I saw on their website, as well as other products that they have on the bathroom and kitchen lines, it really seems as though the design team was taking into account the needs of the people with impairments and how they use the bathroom to do different ADLs or their Activities of Daily Living.
[00:16:55] The feedback we received from the design advisors was mostly in the ‘could be better‘ category and it was really based on a few details of this product that could impact somebody’s function. This was the very first product or picture that we’ve reviewed that no one said that the product wouldn’t work, so great job Ropox.
[00:17:15] I also appreciated seeing the other models so people have a choice in what they desire for their home in a sink. They all seem to have that height adjustability and a few with either the swing or slide option. Although, even just having that height adjustability, kind of like the convenience of a standing desk, it makes this sink one more step closer to being universal than the standard setups we see. I still think that storage needs to be thought through more for home situations, but I really love what Ropox is doing here. It’s definitely a better fit than most sinks.
[00:17:50] And this is why we need to make sure the voices of people who actually experience disability firsthand are being heard throughout the design process so we can improve upon the design of products like sinks. Thank you, design advisors, for sharing your thoughts. And we appreciate you allowing us to use your words and feedback to help educate and advocate for universal design and our collaborative process. And we thank you, listeners, for joining us for new episodes of our podcast and we hope that you’re learning new things about UD and the benefits of collaboration. I look forward to sharing more with you again soon. Bye.