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Guest post: Do disabled loo designers see us as a genderless entity?

milomilo Member Posts: 164 Pioneering
edited July 2017 in Guest blogs
Over the past few weeks I've been thinking about disabled toilets. It's something that I've posted about in the past and no doubt we could all write at length about the positioning of handrails, flushes and whether or not baby changing units are a help or a hindrance. What I've been considering though is slightly different...
Accessible toilet with two wheelchair logos on the door and walls
 It was prompted by a recent visit to a certain Swedish furniture retailer. Yes, their toilets are wonderfully accessible, but while sat there I noticed something else. On the wall was a tampon dispenser. I had a sudden realisation, this was the first time I remember seeing one in a disabled loo.
Now I should explain that as a 41-year-old male, my experience of tampon dispensers is a little limited. But then I thought back to my pre-wheelchair days, and remembered that countless public toilets had condom dispensers. The point that I am gradually getting to is, why do non-disabled toilets have these but they are not found in disabled facilities?
All of this begs the question, are these omissions just a careless oversight or is there something more fundamental happening? I've long wondered whether designers realise that it's patronising to lump disabled people in with the elderly, when creating products or facilities. Now I'm coming to the realisation that in addition, they see us as a genderless entity that doesn't have the same needs as the rest of the population. At best that is mildly offensive, at worst it is indicative of a pervasive discrimination.
There are those who no doubt break into a cold sweat at the thought of the words disability, sex, sexuality and menstruation ever appearing together in the same sentence, but I'd hope that now in 2016 they were few and far between.
So come on all you current and future disabled toilet designers, lets make room for more vending machines and a bit more equality! Oh and while you're at it, how about some of these?

- Flushes that can be reached from a wheelchair (flushing while sat there is at best an over- rated pastime)

- Bigger spaces. I may be lacking the proverbial cat but it would be nice to be able to maneuvre my chair around.

- Bins that don't solely rely on a pedal to open them. This is aimed at my local physio department, where you'd think they could see the flaw.

Oh and finally, why do so few disabled toilets have mirrors? I know we may be invisible to many people, but we don't mind seeing how good we look.

What do you think? Anymore suggestions?


  • rachelclrachelcl Member Posts: 34 Connected
    In the early 1990s I visited a restaurant in Bournemouth that had a sign on one of its loo doors saying "KIDDIES AND DISABLED TOILET".
  • htlcyhtlcy Member Posts: 133 Pioneering
    edited July 2016
    Great post, milo! It's very interesting that you mention the lack of facilities- in particular condom dispensers etc. I research disability and a lot of disability studies scholars refer to the general perception that disabled people - and disabled women in particular - are viewed as asexual, and their sexual needs and wellbeing are often overlooked by both the general public and medical professionals. Great authors who write about this include Susan Lonsdale, Barbara Fawcett and Rosemarie Garland Thomson. It can be frustrating, and one thing that really irritates me is the idea that i should be grateful to have a partner who is, and i quote, 'putting up with me.' Attitudes like this perpetuate internalised ableism don't they, and I'm sure we've all been there! Thanks for the post; I really enjoyed it!
    Heather :)
  • ZeezeeZeezee Member Posts: 80 Pioneering
    Hi Milo, loved your post it does make you think how much research actually goes into these designs and I believe there is not much. As for people getting embarrassed when mentioning disabled women and menstruation, sex etc. well i am sorry but since my daughter got her wheelchair a few weeks ago and just the word disabled has come up more I have noticed people cringing at the mere word disabled, its been a real eyeopener. I have to say that you would think a physio department would know better but i went to change my daughter during her physio appointment last week and was amazed at how poor the facilities were. The only table was a tiny baby changing table which opened out onto the bin so I could not open the bin, they where both in an alcove so I couldn't let her very long two year old legs hang over the end (which is what I usually have to do). Her wheelchair could not even fit in the toilet space I had to take her bag off and take it in the toilet and then leave the wheelchair outside. I was absolutely disgusted and thought about older children/teenagers who would have to have their parents help them as no wheelchair could fit in, imagine an able-bodied 15 year old having to ask their parents to take them to the toilet, don't they think disabled teenagers get embarrassed. Also my daughter is small right now but how would someone change a child over 3 years old cos I struggled with Ziyal. This was the Children and Young People Therapy Centre. the Wheelchair Centre was even worse there was no disabled changing at all just a wooden bench built in a normal toilet area, so if these professionals in the field of disabilty can't provide us with adequate facilities what hope do we have to get them anywhere else. Education, we have to keep shouting and making people understand our needs as the disabled population and parents of disabled children. Thankyou for highlighting this issue.
  • milomilo Member Posts: 164 Pioneering
    I think that what I'm trying to say is that as a word disability encompasses so much. There are so many conditions and so many varied needs that it would be impossible to create facilities that suit every individual. I'd just like planners and designers to remember that we are individuals with "normal" human needs and not lump us together under one homogenous banner. 
  • Alice11Alice11 Member Posts: 6
    I was in an accessible toilet yesterday, the first one I've been in with a mirror, it was a lovely full length one too! But alas no tampons or condoms were available. I think this links to our desexualisation, which is further reinforced by our sexualities never being represented in the media (or main stream porn for that matter). Great post, it sounds like a good idea for a campaign to me... 
  • milomilo Member Posts: 164 Pioneering
    Thanks Alice11.  When I wrote the piece it was as an observation, I hadn't considered a campaign but you've got me intrigued. I wonder if anyone would like to get on board? 
  • Alice11Alice11 Member Posts: 6
  • milomilo Member Posts: 164 Pioneering
    Great. Any thoughts on getting started? 
  • Alice11Alice11 Member Posts: 6
    edited August 2016
  • milomilo Member Posts: 164 Pioneering
    Don't normally use Twitter but will set it up in the morning and will be in touch 
  • Needs_More_HugsNeeds_More_Hugs Member Posts: 2 Listener
    FYI for you guys (and females as well) tampons are great for packing out a nose when broked or being rebuilt (hospital used them or a variant - am sure they were tampons though! when I had to have my nose rebuilt on the inside!).

    One thing I hate is being lumped in with the baby changing room as well, makes me think that companies/buildings that do that think that a disabled person who uses their toiletting facilities are big babies too, if that's the case then maybe provide us with adult size (S/M/L/XL) nappies too! Seriously disposable adult nappies do come in handy for when waiting for someone to change their babies nappy, take their little toddler to the loo or just a plain lazy able bodied person!
  • jdgoodrumjdgoodrum Member Posts: 1
    Wow, this is so true and I'd never thought about it! Thank you for bringing it to light, it's definitely something that needs changing!
  • RosemaryRosemary Member Posts: 11 Listener
    I ran a campaign at University in the mid '90s to get vanity mirrors, condom and tampon dispensers installed in all the accessible toilets on campus.  I was so angry that disabled students had to ask friends to purchase condoms for them from the non-accessible loos.  One of the campaigns I am most proud of. It's so important that disabled people have the same experiences as everyone else and most of the time this can be achieved by making the simplest of adjustments.  It just needs a little bit more thought!
  • unluckyglounluckyglo Member Posts: 13
    edited July 2016
    Wow @Milo sure started something there. No machines in any of the many different disabled loos I use. Still when I walked I would have not used the machine as expensive and I was organised. 
    However I sure feel that a lot more thought needs to go into building. 
    There is no standard hight which is bad

    Worse thing at present is the amount being closed due to councils having lack of funds
     Up for a petition on twitter as unluckyglo

  • milomilo Member Posts: 164 Pioneering
    edited August 2016
    Thanks very much for all your thoughts and comments on this subject, please keep them coming. As a result of the feedback I have been in touch with Alice11 and we've been discussing ideas for a campaign to try and rectify what I see as " discrimination by omission" to give it some kind of name. Without getting on my soapbox, it appears to me that the disabled are still treated as a bit of an after thought where facilities design is concerned. I'd love to hear from anyone involved in the designing and construction of disability facilities and get their views. Also if you'd like to help get this fledgling campaign off the ground I can be contacted here or on Twitter
  • mumonamissonmumonamisson Member Posts: 3 Listener
    Hang on.. are you telling me disabled people have sex?  And periods?  Surely not?  Just joking of course!  Another thing that annoys the hell out of me with disabled toilets is that restaurants go out of their way to make their 'normal' toilets all pretty and have nice wallpaper or pretty tiles, fancy sinks and maybe even some pictures on the walls.  Where are the pretty disabled toilets?  Does being disabled mean you not only are a genderless elderly person who never has sex but you also have no desire to pee in plush surroundings and instead prefer to be surrounded by clinical looking tiles and if you're really lucky a mop and bucket which is stored in there just for your viewing pleasure?  I do love a good rant about toilets, I have lots of them on my blog if you want to join me! 
  • milomilo Member Posts: 164 Pioneering
    Yeah I know of one pub that has TV screens in front of the urinals but only the ubiquitous mop bucket in the disabled. 
  • GillKGillK Member Posts: 4
    Really good blog. I have a 'hidden' disability - IBS - which raises another set of issues. However I'm also having to use a walking stick at present and the accessible toilet for most of the time which has been a real eye opener.  None of the ATs I've visited appears to conform to British Standards including the one in my local hospital.  I'm the founder of Public Toilets UK on facebook, campaign the aim of which is to support groups trying to keep their facilities open, particularly from a health perspective.  That said I'm keen for toilets to become more inclusive generally and am involved with a team at Sheffield Hallam who have a project on the go called Around the Toilet centred around gender issues.  If you think I can be of use in any way then please feel free to make contact
  • milomilo Member Posts: 164 Pioneering
    edited July 2016
    Hi @GillK. I'll have a look at your facebook campaign later today. I'd like to hear more about what you are doing at Sheffield Hallam as I suspect there may be a tie in with what I'd like to achieve. At the moment I'm trying to formulate an approach to make the most of a campaign ,so I'd like to hear your thoughts on what works and what you may have done differently with the benefit of hindsight
  • tisszytisszy Member Posts: 8 Connected
    ASDA NUNEATON deserve a medal ... separate disabled loo and baby changing loo facilities. Well done Asda, little things mean a lot. 
  • lynn18lynn18 Member Posts: 2
    Must admit I have never thought about the lack of machines before but yes you are right.Ive never seen any in disabled loos.I have noticed loads of times though the lack of mirrors and that really bugs me x
  • HarriHarri Member Posts: 6 Listener
    I think a bit of ‘name and shame (or give a gentle prod) may help, maybe we could have an online questionnaire that we could fill in for each disabled loo we use? The main problem is I think, that the ‘designers’ and I use that term loosely of disabled loos expect ‘disabled’ to equate to wheel chair users. Instead of having male and female loos how about wheel chair users/high loo/other? I am very tall and have a connective tissue disorder and when I need to use a disabled loo I find they are usually far too low!! If you have the same problem as me pop to the loo on Lille station and they have a higher than average loo - bliss. If I manage to negotiate the loo then I can often not get down to the basin or hand dryer. On the plus side I regularly see condoms in a local supermarket loo, along with tampon and nappy dispenser - all eventualities covered! I personally think we should use the term ‘differently abled’ rather than ‘disabled’ and then that may jog peoples minds into designing  differently accessible facilities and not get their mind too attached to the wheelchair icon. What do others think of the term ‘differently abled’?

  • milomilo Member Posts: 164 Pioneering
    I think Harri raises a couple of good points. I guess it may be a case of you can't please all of the people all of the time.  I recently used facilities that had a raised seat so high that it was almost impossible to transfer from my chair. 

    I do think that the idea of differently able as opposed to disabled carries a lot of weight and not just in this context. 

    What do other members think of the idea of naming and shaming the worst facilities?  Or alternatively could we institute a rating system similar to the points awarded for food hygiene? Maybe an award for the best facilities of the year. 
  • HarriHarri Member Posts: 6 Listener
    I love using Premier Inns for their high beds but if I want a wet room rather than risk a trip to A&E to get in the over bath shower I have to have a ‘disabled’ aka wheelchair accessible room and have the knee high loo and wash basin - Premier Inns heart is in the right place but they haven’t got their head around the fact that people with disabilities have different needs, that’s why I thought of the term ‘differently abled’ because we can all do something but we all do it so differently! Don’t get me started on tactile paving near crossings, they send fear nearing panic to grip my heart, great for sight impaired people but not so good for balance impaired loose jointed people!! I digress, maybe a rating system would be better praising the good and getting the not so good to try and catch up, definitely have a ‘loo of the year award’ the winners would be flushed with success (sorry, couldn’t resist  that!)
  • AnniAnni Member Posts: 17 Connected
    I agree with milo's whole list of improvements. I just have one thing to add: parents, when you've finished changing your baby, put the table back up! OK, two things: baby changing table manufacturers, add some sort of clip to tables so they don't fall from the upright position.
  • CarolBCarolB Member Posts: 2
    I agree this needs to be a campaign.   I think it needs to be education on the companies / facilities part.  I'm on a mission now, you've inspired me.   We need to tweet connect and contact the facility providers through social media and their ceo's to give us back our dignity.    Get tweeting and facebooking friends ! 

  • milomilo Member Posts: 164 Pioneering
    edited September 2016
    Many thanks @CarolB. Will post more later but for now if anyone wants to get in touch with ideas for a possible campaign, please tweet me (at)andy_cheape
  • tisszytisszy Member Posts: 8 Connected
    Will put this here and hope as I don't do Twitter:

    A petition on might be useful. 
  • buffalobuffalo Member Posts: 18 Listener
    my pet peeve is, I kid  you  not, foot operated waste bins, duh!
  • buffalobuffalo Member Posts: 18 Listener
    but PS I actually met a lawyer last week who referred to the bathroom facilities as "An Accessible toilet" I was so impressed.  
  • milomilo Member Posts: 164 Pioneering
    Thanks for all the comments. When I wrote the original piece, I never anticipated that it would generate so much discussion. I'm beginning to wonder if there is the beginning of possibly more than one campaign here. One to get vending machines into disabled facilities and a second to create some kind of award scheme to recognise companies who provide genuinely good, useable accessible toilets.
  • milomilo Member Posts: 164 Pioneering
    @buffalo I agree about foot operated bins. On the flip side, my local Tesco has a flush that operates via an electronic sensor. Great as my hands aren't always good enough to operate a manual flush. not only that, but the moved the sensor when I demonstrated that it was unreachable from a wheelchair. Oh and the alteration was done within 24 hours. Hats off to Tesco Durham Road, Stockton.
  • MSmum99MSmum99 Member Posts: 27 Courageous
    Suport Milo's post. Don't think I've seen either machines in any loos I use. I support Euan's guide campaign re: tied up emergency cords. If these don't touch floor, chances of a disabled person who'd fallen on floor may be nil/fatal. contact Euans guide and they will sed handy cards to fix on cords, I seem to need to do this in every loo I visit esp in hospitals!
  • GillKGillK Member Posts: 4
    There are the annual Loo of the Year Awards that include accessible toilets.  I think having vending machines in the loo is a good idea though I've noticed a decline in public toilet generally, possibly due to vandalism - unfortunately there are always some who spoil things for others.  That said vending machines are probably safer in the accessible toilet as many are only opened by a RADAR key.  The flush system is another bugbear.  I find pressing a flush button quite difficult and I can understand that a level presents difficulty for others.  A sensor which you wave your hand over sounds a good idea.  These are sometimes used in motorway services.  There's certainly a lack of imagination and reality [oxymoron?] when it comes to the design of an accessible toilet!
  • milomilo Member Posts: 164 Pioneering
    @GillK I think in general a bit more understanding of the issues faced would go a long way. The simple act of moving the sensor meant that the Tesco toilet can be used much more easily by both those who stand and those who use a wheelchair. I'd really like to hear the thoughts of designers if anyone can put me in touch with some. 
  • GillKGillK Member Posts: 4
    I think the person I'd ask is currently out of the office but I'll send an e. The British Standards BS8300 are certainly not being adhered to possibly because they're so expensive; the information in them seems overwhelming - there's a lot to plough through; and designers are reliant on the spaces provided by the developers and planners.  They are left with a space they have to fill to the best of their ability.  It defeats the object in my view.  Changing-Places facilities have a set criteria which seems easier to follow and in order to reach the CP standard there are inspections I believe.  That is what is needed for the Accessible toilet too.  Are they properly inspected?  No, I don't believe they are or the toilet roll at least would be in easier reach for the person on the loo!!!
  • milomilo Member Posts: 164 Pioneering
    @GillK I think that on the whole I'd like to see a more joined up approach to planning and designing facilities in general. There are issues that seem to arise from lack of thought or understanding. Also there are places getting it wrong who really should be doing better. 

    I recently spent a couple of days on an orthopaedics ward at our local hospital. I was 
    absolutely gobsmacked to discover that the toilet in the bay had no adaptations whatsoever,  no handrails or anything else, the nearest accessible toilet was in the corridor near the lifts and to get to it I had to be buzzed through the ward security doors. They offered me a bedpan which I refused on principle. If they can't make accommodations for accessibility then where is the incentive for anyone else to do so? 
  • GillKGillK Member Posts: 4
    I'm amazed at the lack of understanding and appreciation of design in hospitals with regard to accessible toilets.  You'd think that would be the one place that ensures accessibility. There appears to be no joined up approach either in hospitals or elsewhere.  If spaces on offer to designers are of different sizes something has to give but what?  Why can't spaces be the size as described in BS8300?  Why are there standards if noone adheres to them?  It's all very frustrating.  My architect / designer colleague is not available until after 15th August but she is willing to discuss the issues after that time.
  • milomilo Member Posts: 164 Pioneering
    @GillK it would be great to have her perspective on it. Seems to be that so many places think that if there is a handrail then that constitutes a disabled access loo. Feels like we are an afterthought to just pay lip service to.
  • CarolBCarolB Member Posts: 2
    I went to an ice cream parlour the other day that didn't even have a disabled loo .   I was shocked. 
  • milomilo Member Posts: 164 Pioneering
    @CarolB it's  surprising the places that don't. I know of a cafe who have one up a flight of stairs, not exactly ideal as I'm in a wheelchair. 
  • WheelyRachelWheelyRachel Member Posts: 67 Courageous
    Well Milo, I hadn't thought of it that way. But you make a very good point. Love everyone's comments too. In my experience the DWC are often used as a cupboard for huge bins mops and even the visitors use wheelchair this is all often placed in the spot we place our chair so we can transfer. Yes I also hate having to share with baby often waiting for over 30mins.
    The point you mention about the facility always being unisex with non of the items that are within ables facilities is wrong. Why cant we have a decent mirror.

    The lack of tampons and condoms maybe their afraid we might breed and take over the world maw ah ah !
  • Jamie SutherlandJamie Sutherland Member Posts: 1
    Disabled Toilets should have all of the same amenities as an able bodied Person's toilets including condom machines.
  • milomilo Member Posts: 164 Pioneering
    @WheelyRachel and @Jamie Sutherlandit really should be that simple, the disabled facilities should have the same amenities as found in the able bodied toilet. Can I suggest everyone speaks up if they find unsuitable facilities? So often it's a result of ignorance and much can be achieved by pointing out the errors. As for world domination, I like the idea but might be defeated by any stairs. 
  • MalibuladyMalibulady Member Posts: 1
    Many disabled toilets smell horrible as well - not cleaned very often either. 
  • And do us Mentally Disabled people ever get included? Half the time we can't get in them...then there's the mirrors you can never look on because they are too short...and even walking in them people look at you as if to say you're not disabled because you don't have a wheelchair! The sign doesn't fit us either!! 
    And there's no Olympic Games for Mentally Disabled-We are completely discluded!!! 
    And the disability forms ask almost no questions about our mental health only physical as if that makes a difference to us!
    I'm sure that the times I have been able to get into a disabled loo it has calmed my mind and stopped me from having serious mental issues that would cause me problems and everyone else around too-not to mention the State a small fortune of I had to go in hospital!! Sadly many times the disabled toilet was locked-I'd never been given my own key and serious problems resulted!!! 
    Most mentally ill people say if you are diagnosed with a condition that's it -your whole life over-your friends don't want to know you anymore and you are left alone! People say it is akin to a death sentence!!! 
    I live in a village in the middle of nowhere -I worked out in the last 5 years 32,000 hours or something I had spent about 8,000 hours asleep and 20,000 sitting alone in my room! Fortunately I do go out and possibly spent about 2,000 hours with people I met.20,000 hours alone is a long time! 
  • Actual friends is about less than 100 hours in 5 years-the other 1900 hours are with people I meet at events-most of whom I never see again-but I have to go out to talk to someone or I would go crazy!! I joined a gym recently and in the 2-5 minutes chat I ever have with anyone there-everybody too busy working out-I kinda feel like they my 'frien
  • milomilo Member Posts: 164 Pioneering
    @iThinkTheyForgotUs, I think you raise a good point, that invisible disability is so often overlooked. We have family members with autism and sensory issues, I know they so often get odd looks or comments for using the accessible toilets as they struggle with the others. 
  • Just worked out I did the math wrong-5 years is about 42,000 hours but the percentages would still be the same...10,500 hours asleep,26,000 hours alone in my room and 6000 hours with other people.I got good at meeting people I don't know anyway...and some of those 26,000 hours if I was lucky I might of have a girlfriend and then sometimes she maybe came round.But they never stay long either :(
  • The noise drives me crazy -it's just not peaceful-males toilets have so many hand drying machines and they all scream at me while I'm in the loo!!
  • Why can't people just wipe their hands on their trousers like we used to do!! Hahaha
  • I am very sensitive to sound and hand driers are not the most peaceful thing!! If I drive on the motorway and then stop for a rest can't even sit in the loo without hearing screaming hand dryers!! Almost constant as people go in and out! And soo LouDDDD!! 
  • Just got re-assessed for PIP after many years on DLA-they want to take it off me now because they said-well the reason I didn't need it was because I could look at people in the eye!! Really is that a sound reasoning???
  • I am currently appealing the decision-let you know how it goes!! If I lose it I will have to leave this page!
  • milomilo Member Posts: 164 Pioneering
    @iThinkTheyForgotUs good luck with the appeal. 
  • scousegirlscousegirl Member Posts: 1
    Most of the disabled toilets I have used have mirrors BUT they are on the door right OPPOSITE the bloody toilet so I get to watch myself pee...also I am very short & find I have to 'hitch' myself onto the toilet seat because  they have them on plynths....... do the designers of these loos actually sit in a wheelchair & try transferring to a 'high' seat?   Because if they did I am sore they would be more accessable....
  • milomilo Member Posts: 164 Pioneering
    @scousegirl,  it's a question I asked myself, maybe they should try and use the adaptations for themselves before they sign it off. 
  • IsleAccessIsleAccess Member Posts: 1
    I have been informed that building regs now state that NEW toilet facilities have to have separate baby changing facilities, not combined with wheelchair accessible toilets. However, this regulation is not retrospective, meaning that existing facilities can stay combined.
  • milomilo Member Posts: 164 Pioneering
    edited August 2016
    @IsleAccess, if that's the case then it's certainly a step in the right direction. Mind you I know of at least 2 bars locally that have no accessible facilities. 
  • lillibetlillibet Member Posts: 2 Listener
     I find it very annoying when in a posh  hotel or pub and there is no mirror in disabled loo it may sound trivial but it really upsets me to think these designers assume  disabled people would not want to  check their appearance.
  • NystagmiteNystagmite Member Posts: 608 Pioneering
    As someone with Hyperacusis, I hate that I've either got to carry hand foam with me, (can't use hand gel) the hand drier (which is always far too loud) or tissue to dry my my hands with. Thankfully, the train toilets do have a towel (yes, I'm aware it's not overly hygienic) instead of a loud hand drier.
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