We all need to ‘go’: The case for more truly accessible toilets
Adam is 10-years old and my son. Like any parent, I adore my child and would do anything for him.
Which comes in handy as he needs assistance with everything he wants to do. He cannot sit unaided or stand and needs help with every part of life.
Going out has always been a challenge.
Those “disabled toilets” marked with the logo of a wheelchair user actually
tend to be inaccessible to a lot of wheelchair users.
Some people need a hoist, many need a changing bench, and others require adequate space in order to get their wheelchair alongside or in front of the toilet in order to self-transfer using the handrails. Extra space, enough to turn a powered chair, is vital. Hundreds of thousands of people in the UK need Changing Places toilets – that is, an accessible toilet equipped with an adjustable changing bench, a hoist, a privacy screen and enough room for a disabled person, their chair and up to two carers.
Adam needs a hoist in order to get him out of his chair and a bench to lay down on for me to sort his clothes and switch to his toileting sling before hoisting him to the toilet. I used to lift him, till I hurt my back very badly. I was unable to walk for a while, could not drive the car for several months and I could not push Adam’s wheelchair at all for a year. Even now, I can only manage short distances and only on level ground. I don’t think I will ever be able to lift him again.
So we can only have full days out at places where they have toilet facilities with a changing bench and a hoist. Adam’s world has shrunk and he knows it.
Disabled by toilets
Every day starts the same. Adam asks where we are going today and, if we are going somewhere, the next question is always “Do they have a toilet I can use?”
A few months ago I was lost for an excuse as to why we would not be staying long enough to need the toilet and I just said “sadly not”. My son looked at me and asked “Why not?”Two simple words which changed my outlook.
I had accepted that this was our lot in life. I had accepted that we were effectively excluded from most places. At the end of the day, you don’t visit somewhere in order to use their toilet but being able to use their toilet is what enables you to visit.
I expect toilet facilities to be in place for me when I go out. Why shouldn’t Adam expect to use the toilet too? Disability isn’t new. People have been disabled by inadequate facilities for too long.
I want my son to know that he matters. He needs to live a full life.
We can change the world, one toilet at a time
I asked Adam where he wanted to go and decided to ask those businesses to make improvements. The first place he wanted to go to was Cornwall Services! I know, not the first place you would think a child would ask for but many of his friends met there regularly for lunch and to play. It is a great service station but Adam couldn’t “go” there.
When I spoke with the manager it was clear from the look in his eyes that he understood. He had never before questioned what might be needed but suddenly he realised that he hadn’t actually seen any wheelchair users going into their “disabled toilets”. Now he knew why.
Within three months they opened a brand new accessible toilet with a full-sized changing bench and ceiling hoist. Adam was beyond thrilled! As were his friends. These facilities are not just about the user, family and friends are affected too.
That response gave me the courage to approach more businesses. I started writing a blog to help get the message out to a wider audience, as a way to really share why these facilities
are needed and as way of recording progress.
It is called Ordinary Hopes because that is what we have.
Knowing what is needed is the first step
I started by contacting every place that Adam wished to visit. Now I will contact those places that I would like to take him. Then it will be every other place where most people would expect to use the toilet, because everywhere should be accessible.
One more local attraction in Cornwall, The Lost Gardens of Heligan, is 100% committed to installing a Changing Places toilet. Four others are actively looking into it and want to get it sorted by next summer. Others are in the early stages but are considering it.
The common factor among all the business I have been in contact with is that they simply didn’t know what was needed. Once they knew, they wanted to help.
When you go out, have a look inside that mystical toilet with a logo on the door and ask yourself how a wheelchair user who could not stand at all would use the toilet. Speak to the manager, ask them if they have ever thought about it and suggest they Google 'Changing Places' toilets.
One person can make a difference – imagine what
we can do together.
Have you experienced problems with the accessibility of disabled toilets? Let us know in the comments below.