I get excited when I find a really nice toilet. You might think that’s weird but let’s face it, toilets are important. We all need them. But sometimes we can’t use them when we really need to, as maybe they are busy or out of order. This is especially true for disabled toilets.
As a wheelchair user I am unable to use the usual able-bodied toilets as there is not enough room in them to manoeuvre. So I depend on there being a disabled toilet in every place I visit. However, it is in no way guaranteed that there will be a disabled toilet in a given restaurant, pub or shop. Even if there is one, there is no guarantee that I will be able to use it for a number of reasons which I will now explain.
Are you sitting comfortably? Then I shall begin.
Disabled toilets are often too small
Yep, size does matter, at least where disabled toilets are concerned. They come in an incredible range of shapes and sizes. Some are big enough to have a party in with dozens of guests, and some are so small you can’t even close the door behind you. For practical reasons, disabled toilets need to have enough room in them so that a wheelchair can drive in, and the carer has enough room to walk around them. If there is enough room for the chair to spin around 360° then that is fantastic. However such ample room is a luxury that is sadly not very common. As I said the size of disabled toilets varies wildly. Let me give you a few examples to illustrate. At the University of Leicester students union building there are two disabled toilets on the first floor. Both of these toilets are so small my chair takes up virtually all the space inside. This means that the carer had to close the door behind me, then squeeze through a tiny gap between me and the sink, climb over the bin and the toilet (whilst trying not to put their foot in it) in order to get back in front of me. It’s a struggle. Meanwhile downstairs we find a disabled toilet with enough room for me to spin my chair 360°, which is great. Why do we have such completely different size disabled toilets IN THE SAME BUILDING?? Why can’t they all be big enough so that using them is not such a struggle? I just don’t understand it. It is the same story everywhere I go. It’s a complete lottery as to whether the toilet will be big enough for me to use. This makes it such a wonderful surprise when I find one that DOES have enough room for me, because frankly I am never expecting it.
Disabled toilets are often used as store cupboards
Yes, store cupboards! Even if the physical space in the toilet is big enough, it is not uncommon to find that the space is taken up by mops, brooms or chairs, I have even found them being used as a food store. So, before the toilet can be used we need to chuck all the crap out of it so that I can physically get in. Not something that you want to have to do if you are desperate. The fine establishments that have done this obviously didn’t give a shit that it may be a major inconvenience if anyone actually wanted to use the toilet. However, there have been occasions where there was so much stuff in the toilet that it was not possible to remove it without hiring a skip. So, in this case I was forced to leave the place and try elsewhere. Like I said, NOT something you want to have do if you are desperate.
Disabled toilets are often wrongly used by able-bodied people
Many a time I have been desperate for the toilet only to find that it is engaged. After waiting for what seems like an age, I eventually find an able-bodied person sheepishly emerges from it. This enrages me. Disabled toilets are ALWAYS outnumbered by able-bodied toilets. It’s a sad fact. If you go into any able-bodied toilet and you will usually find many urinals or cubicles to choose from. However, there is usually only one (or two if we’re lucky) disabled toilets in any one place. So there is really no need to use the disabled toilet if you are able-bodied. When I was at university I regularly found that girls were doing their make up in there. On a number of occasions even couples were using the disabled toilet – no prizes for guessing what for! There are never enough disabled toilets so able-bodied people are abusing a valuable limited resource and forcing the people that it was designed for to wait. The situation is made even worse on the frequent occasion that more than one disabled person needs to use the toilet at the same time. At times like these it really shows how inadequate the system really is for disabled people. I went to Naidex a few years ago, which is a major exhibition of all things disability related, at the NEC in Birmingham. I had never seen so many wheelchair users together in one place. But the side effect of so many disabled people in one place was that there were long queues of at least five or six people for just one or two disabled toilets. The system is just not designed for large numbers of disabled people in one place. It is woefully inadequate.
There are not enough disabled toilets
I touched upon this in the last point, but I just wanted to reiterate it. It seems almost everywhere you go there will only be ONE disabled toilet. This amounts to making the LEAST amount of effort required by law to accommodate disabled people. That one disabled toilet may not even be usable for the reasons I’ve mentioned above. Why can’t these places have more than one disabled toilet? What happens if, for example, a group of 10 disabled people wanted to use it at the same time? Nothing good I imagine. The problem is that the Equality Act (2010) states that service providers must only make REASONABLE adjustments for disabled people. So they obviously think that only providing ONE disabled toilet is reasonable. But it is not practical, and in my opinion it is not reasonable. Able-bodied people are provided with many toilets, not just one. So why is the same not true for disabled people? That is inequality right there.
There are no disabled toilets
All the previous issues I have assumed that a place actually has a disabled toilet, but many of them don’t. Mostly I find it is the older buildings and small businesses that don’t have disabled toilets. If they can’t add one because it’s a listed building then maybe that is fair enough. Otherwise there is no excuse. I have been to pubs only to find there are no disabled toilets, and I really think they should be in a pub of all places. Some places do have disabled toilets…but you have to go up some STAIRS to get to it! I am not joking. Some idiot, somewhere, couldn’t see the problem that stairs might pose to disabled people. It is seriously beyond belief, but I assure you I am not making this up. It does happen. Another equally baffling occurrence is when a place is so seemingly inaccessible to wheelchair users that it would be almost impossible to get in, yet they still have a disabled toilet. Who is going to use it if wheelchair users can’t even get in the building?? One time I went to this restaurant and there were eight steps at the entrance to get in, and they had no ramp. Miraculously I still managed to get in IN MY POWERCHAIR (that’s another story) and I was astonished to find that they had a disabled toilet in the restaurant. But guess what! They were using it as a store cupboard! I will bet you good money that I was the first wheelchair user ever to set foot (or wheel) in there. I felt like Neil Armstrong when he first touched down on the moon. I think they only had it so that they could say “Look! We are making adjustments for the disabled! Aren’t we great!” Never mind that they can’t actually get into the building. It’s madness.
All of the above problems and more can be solved by “Changing Places” toilets. These are the absolute gold standard for disabled toilets. They are brilliant. Each one contains a ceiling hoist, a changing bed, a centrally placed toilet and all the room you could ever need. They are like the Sistine Chapel of the toilet world. There are now hundreds all over the country but more need to be built, as they really do make disabled people’s lives a lot easier.
No more will disabled people need to be laid on a dirty toilet floor to be changed. No more will disabled people have to wait all day to go to the toilet because there was not a hoist available when they were out. No more will we have to fight to squeeze into a ridiculously undersized toilet just to exercise our basic human right to have a pee when we need it.
Changing places toilets need to be installed in all major public places like shopping centres, airports, service stations, sports stadiums, theatres and arenas. These places will only install changing places toilets if we make our voices heard. Please help our campaign by spreading the word and lobbying your local venues to install changing places toilets. This will help give disabled people a lot more freedom in the places they can visit, and will make their lives a lot easier.
You can find out where the nearest Changing Places toilets are, or find out about the campaign by going to their website: http://www.changing-places.org/