Types of handrails for the disabled

Updated June 15, 2017

Many modern handrails are designed to aid those with certain disabilities, particularly blindness and ambulatory disabilities. Design parameters cover the design and placement of handrails, including grab bars. Used in many homes, handrails for the disabled are not limited to public places. However, most handrails and grab bars used in private settings are also designed to meet publoc standards.

The material

Handrails and grab bars must be able to withstand a certain amount of stress. Therefore, most handrails for the disabled, especially those used in public areas, are made of steel or anodised aluminium pipe. However, some grab bars and handrails produced for use in-home use are made of reinforced nylon or PVC pipe. Handrails must measure 3 cm to 3.7 cm (1 1/4 inch to 1 1/2 inch in diameter.


The most common types of handrails for the disabled are those used for paths, stairways and wheelchair access ramps. These rails extend along paths parallel to the ground or incline. It is common for these rails to come in bright colours or colours that contrast the background. If the rail lies adjacent to a wall, there should be a 3.7 cm (1 1/2 inch) space between it and the wall. Handrails should sit at least 37.5 cm (15 inches) above the ground, be continuous (no breaks) and contain a rounded-off section at each end, called a "D-return." Also, these types of rails will often have Braille signage at each end, indicating the position and destination of the rail.

Grab bars

A grab bar is a shortened handrail, used primarily in bathrooms to aid disabled persons. Toilet grab bars are quite common in public toilets but can also be installed in the home of a disabled person. These bars usually sit adjacent to the toilet on one or both sides, allowing the handicapped person to lift himself on and off the toilet seat or steady himself. Similar grab bars are made for showers and tubs. The purpose of a grab bar is usually to aid in support and movement in private situations where a handicapped or injured person is unlikely to desire help from another individual.


There are some portable grab bars on the market that use suction cups at each end to adhere to a smooth surface. These are not able to meet the stress requirements, using suction cups for support. However, these help those with mild disabilities or those who travel a lot.


Some manufacturers make suicide-proof handrails and grab bars. Used mostly in hospitals, especially psychiatric wards, these rails have a sheet of metal that extends from the inside of the rail to an adjacent wall. This ensures that patients cannot tie anything around the rail with which to hang themselves.

Shower seats

Shower seats are related to grab bars and are typically made of a similar material. These seats unfold so that a disabled person may sit down while showering. Shower seats often have a built-in or nearby grab bar.

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About the Author

Carl Miller has been writing professionally since 2007 and has freelanced for the "Western Oregon Journal." His short fiction has been featured in "Northwest Passage Literature and Arts Review." Miller is an English/writing student at Western Oregon University in Monmouth, Ore. He has worked as a cook, painter, waitperson, custodian, data analyst, retail manager and salesperson.