I’m sure we have all had toilet trouble in the past, and disabled people are no different. However for many disabled people, there is an additional meaning to ‘toilet trouble’ – the inaccessible accessible toilet.
For starters, the laws around accessible toilets are a bit fuzzy. Businesses are expected to make reasonable adjustments for disability. But what is reasonable and who exactly decides? Well, initially it’s the business owners. Whether it’s reasonable to put in an accessible toilet can depend on how much space the business has or how much income it has. It can encompass a huge number of things, which all means there are many ways around installing accessible toilets.
But even when a building has an accessible toilet, it is rarely accessible for all. Often they are too small for a wheelchair user (and extra person) to manoeuvre around. Sometimes the toilet is too low. Sometimes it’s too high. Sometimes the sink blocks the ability to transfer to and from it. The problems go on and on.
And one of the main problems: impairment isn’t universal. What works for one person won’t work for another. For example, if you need to be lifted then a higher toilet is obviously going to save the lifter’s back. But then the liftee may be unbalanced because they are so high from the floor
So not to the even less glamorous, and particularly problematic, part of this topic. For those who can’t weight bare, how are they supposed to get changed? This is the trickiest bit for many people. I, for example, am quite small and I’m used to being thrown around in the most awkward of spaces. But even I get stumped by how to get my jeans back on.
Last year, Toby Perkins, the MP for Chesterfield, presented the question around accessible toilet provision at a Westminster Hall debate. Despite being a Politics graduate, I’ve never actually watched Parliament TV and I especially did not think I’d ever watch a debate on accessible toilets. But it was great to see that this is an issue that isn’t just being ignored, because let’s face it, toilets are a topic that you’d rather just flush away and never have to think about.
Mr Perkins MP was specifically focusing on a relatively new accessible toilet design named Changing Places. These toilets address the inaccessibility of accessible toilets by catering for those that can’t use the ‘standard’ (whatever that is) accessible toilet.
Now, I don’t expect many of you to be familiar with these as, even for those within the disabled community, they’re relatively unknown. But to give you a quick low-down… these toilets need to have bigger square footage. They have a toilet placed centrally on the wall so you can transfer from either side. They have a hoist (which is a piece of equipment that enables those who cannot transfer independently or through being lifted) to enable transfers. And finally, they have an adult-sized changing bed.
These rooms are life-changing and would benefit 250,000 people (1 million if you include the family and friends who would also benefit). That’s a huge number of people. And since Mr Perkins discussed it last year, more have sprung up around the UK – there is a map on the Changing Places website to help you find ones near where you’re visiting.
So what happens to that large number when they can’t access one of these amazing toilets? Well, either they stay at home and miss out on whatever they wanted to do, or they have to time their trip with regimental precision. Within the disability community, there’s a concept known as pee math. Basically, it’s the amount a person can drink before they will need to use the toilet. For those that can’t access standard accessible toilets, it isn’t just a concept, it’s a religion. It’s something you live by every single day. And God forbid, you decide to go for a few post-work drinks because alcohol seriously messes with pee math! Trust me, I know!
Mr Perkins MP stated how we have a moral obligation to provide these toilets, but also how they will be economically beneficial for the UK. Tourism is a huge money maker. So let’s target those 1 million people who are currently unable to visit places that don’t have a Changing Places toilet. And it wouldn’t just affect British tourists. By having facilities like this, the UK could become a leading accessible tourist destination, attracting a huge number of overseas visitors. So there’s really no reason why we shouldn’t look at installing more of these toilets.
Unfortunately, the government has no intention of changing the building regulations to make these toilets compulsory in certain buildings, so we will need to rely on the generosity of those businesses and councils who decide to install them. It’s going to be a fight to make accessing toilets a universal right for all, but it’s a right we can’t give up on because without them urine trouble.
To finish, I hope all you readers are pleased I didn’t go down the track of using far too many toilet puns because they really are tearable… sorry I just couldn’t resist!
By Lauren West