Accessible Practices Exchange
Association of
Science Technology Centers
Share Your ExperienceRead Others ExperiencesTopics
Add an Accessible Family Restroom

I've been a huge fan of family restrooms ever since my first visit to the Guggenheim Museum in New York City! Now that I am a "mom," I'm an even bigger fan of them, and, as a museum consultant, I routinely encourage them. It's my hunch that museums are choosing family or unisex restrooms because they are yet another instance where what works well for people with disabilities works well for seniors and parents or caregivers with young children.

Of course, one down side to family or unisex bathrooms is the logistics of school groups. That makes having a mix of both styles available the better choice. A further suggestion is to place the traditional bathrooms on the main floor or where the educational classrooms are located and then put family bathrooms on each floor.

As I said, my favorite example of this style bathroom is at the Guggenheim. The bathrooms are beautifully designed and integrated into every floor of the museum's spiral. They are located at regular intervals which means they are predictable (very helpful from a "way finding" perspective") and they are clearly marked. From the outside they appear very discreet, but on the inside they are very spacious, allowing plenty of room to change or nurse a baby! Sara, New York

My husband uses a wheelchair. This past year we went to Florida and to two of the major attractions there. We liked the rides better at one, but won't return due to staffing. We were looking for an accessible bathroom. After asking a couple of different staff we finally found a staff member that directed us to the front of the park. Later we learned we had been about a hundred feet from an accessible bathroom. My husband said later that he would prefer to spend time at attractions where staff is more able to answer our questions and assist us with our needs.

In our visits to museums and other places, we've had staff help us in a number of ways, from the simple--holding open doors, finding us a seat; to the more complex--clearing a bathroom and standing guard so that I could help my husband use the restroom when a family restroom wasn't available. Staff are key. How they treat us is very important to me. MA, Ohio

Woman trying to reach paper towel dispenser. I bet you have seen this before. It happens a lot: the trash can is placed under the paper towel dispenser. Seems to make sense but too often the result is a paper towel dispenser that's out-of-reach for most wheelchair users. It's not done on purpose, but likely because no one's gone on a tour of their restrooms with users. My solution is to mark the floor with an "X" to remind maintenance staff where the trash should always be placed. S, Washington

In Malaysia where I live & work, the majority of people are used to male and female toilets with signs of a man with his hat on and a lady wearing skirt or just the word "Male" or "Female." However, in big cities like Kuala Lumpur, where there are many buildings built during the early 90s, there are many new generations of toilets in the malls, hospitals, and corporate buildings specifically for people with disabilities. These toilets have wheelchair signage on them. Strictly speaking, majority using them are people with disabilities. Many public places like modern malls have also included a baby changing room next or close to these toilets. Some malls have also provided comfortable nursery corners or rooms just to cater to mums to inclusively feed their babies apart from changing babies diapers. Some malls have also designed toddlers' seats in their toilets. This multiple use is one reason to have unisex restrooms available next to conventional male & female toilet Uzay, PETROSAINS Discovery Centre, PETRONAS Twin Towers, Malaysia.

Speaking as someone who works as a county ADA coordinator and uses a wheelchair, the biggest plus I can think of concerning family/unisex rest rooms is that partners/parents/caregivers can readily assist someone with a disability who is of the opposite sex. Examples illustrating this situation are children with disabilities needing assistance; an older person who has had a stroke and needs some assistance to transfer from a wheelchair or some help with their clothing; and someone who may have a high level of quadriplegia and requires assistance. Of course, people in the general populace, especially parents, also like the family restroom because of being able to accompany a young child. Sandy, Florida

Woman in wheelchair pushing door open. This photo shows signage for a family or unisex restroom at our new visitor center. The sign is on the door latch side of the door. It uses pictograms to show that can be used by males or females as well as the international symbol for accessibility. The text is raised and in Braille. The door handle uses the lever type that curves toward the door and there's a metal piece across the bottom of the door that helps eliminate damage from someone pushing it open with the foot pads of their wheelchair. But the I did not measure height of sign or how far it is from door. Neither did we test how easy the door is to open so I need to measure and test some more. MJ, Alabama

At our historical site, we have designated two rooms that can be used upon request by people with disabilities. Actually, they were originally used as dressing rooms for our theater. But because they were rarely used as such we commandeered them to put cots in so that should kids fall ill while they are here, they can chill a while. There is an accessible restroom outside and each room is curtained for privacy. They are about 6' x 7' so there is room for a chaperone or teacher to stay with a child. I can think of only one time when we had a child who needed to be changed and fed through a tube and needed privacy. The room was a blessing then and the student's aide was most impressed that we could provide such a quiet, out of the way place for them. Having such spaces was not something that was originally in our space plan 12 years ago, but has evolved out of our need to provide for the diversity of people who visit now. B, Massachusetts

We designed our early childhood science exhibit to have two family restrooms leading off from the main room. About half of the children need a parent with them and parents with infants use the changing tables. The room is large enough to accommodate a baby carriage. These rest rooms are also convenient for people with disabilities to use, but it's my impression that most use the other restrooms in the building, all of which have an accessible stall.

We don't have use signs saying "family restrooms" or "unisex"; rather each door has a sign with three symbols: Male/Female and the international accessibility symbol. Visitors sometimes seem perplexed because they expect that one room must be for girls and one for boys. But after looking again at the signs, people generally don't hesitate to go in. Plus with the way the exhibit is set up, we talk to almost everyone that comes in the door, and we mention the restrooms and the fact that they are family restrooms.

The doors of these restrooms are weighted so that they close when you let go, but there is a door stop so that if someone is helping someone else to go in, they don't have to fight with the door to keep it open. We do have locks on the doors, but they are fixed so that no one can get stuck in the room. The locks are large and easy to handle. While inside, you can lock the door, but if you turn the inside handle, the lock pops open. With a quarter or screw driver, it is possible to open the lock from the outside. This way, someone who needs help inside can get it. The only problem we have had is a child opening the door from the inside before his/her parent is ready.

The restrooms are all tile on the inside (white, yellow, and blue). The trashcan, sink, and toilet are all on the left side. The baby-changing table folds down from the wall across from the door. There are grab bars on the wall next to the toilet which sits low to the ground. Also on the wall is a music box that plays a children's song when its button is pushed. There is a stool underneath for the really small children. The room is very well lit.

We have had very few problems with our family restrooms. Our visitors are very satisfied with how large and accommodating they are. The tile floor can get slippery if the sink gets a lot of usage, but we have had no accidents. The biggest problem on our side is that the restrooms seem to be used by everyone who has a baby, and we have to have our cleaning crew empty the trash cans a couple times a day. Also, when we have large groups in the exhibit, having only two restrooms is a problem, but only right before time to leave. That's when all the parents are trying to get their kids to use the bathroom before they get in the car. Luckily there is another set of restrooms near by that we can send them to. R, Kentucky

Next Page

Blue Line
Association of
Science Technology Centers Logo
Copyright 2006 by the Association of Science Technology Centers Incorporated. All rights reserved.