Disabled toilets well actually disabled access toilets is the preferable term, when we use the term disabled toilet, is actually gives the impression that the toilet no longer works, it’s broken. Whereas the term disabled access toilet tells us that the toilet in question is accessible for all people who have specific mobility related access needs. Of course the whole question of what disability means will be dealt with under numerous other blog postings.
Disabled access toilets are provided for the use of people who have specific needs. These needs are wide and various, but it is very important that we realise, that many people who need to use disabled access toilets will not always be using wheelchairs, walking sticks, or be accompanied by guide dogs. It is often been said to me by people, “I saw somebody coming out of a disabled access toilet and it was clear that there was nothing wrong with her”. Well my question always is; how do you know? And that's the point, how do we actually know? There have been many occasions where I have waited patiently outside of a disabled access toilet and the door has opened and somebody's walked out and they have looked at me and blushed or apologised, but I have never judged, I always smile and say “that’s fine”. It is quite probable that they have needed legitimate to use that facility, but they do not need to tell me why, that is private and likely embarrassing. However it maybe that they have slipped into the toilet rather than waiting, or queueing, or walking a few extra metres to the other toilets, if that is the case then shame on them. It might just be that seeing me waiting is enough of a shock to put them off doing it again.
So why is it so important that we have disabled access toilets? Disabled access toilets are designed with much more room, often with people who are using wheelchairs in mind. But of course inside of the disabled access toilet we will find other facilities such as hinged arm support by the toilet, grip bars to assist people to sit and stand to use the toilet, also other grip bars by the sink to help people to hold onto while standing to wash their hands. The mirrors are often lower as are the sinks and the hand dryers which are so placed for people in wheelchairs; of course this is something of a problem if you are a disabled person who is not using a wheelchair now that is a design error.
But now we come to the big problem of what disabled access toilets are not meant for they are not meant for storage of mops and buckets of course many people will say one mop and bucket ‘isn't going to hurt’.
“Isn't it” I ask? Yes is the answer! One mop and bucket has the habit of attracting other mops and buckets, then a broom, then more brooms, then paint tins, then a whole plethora of other gadgets and gizmos and materials that should never placed in the disabled access toilet. When I go into a disabled access toilet to find things stored in their which should not be I actually find it somewhat insulting that this is what people think of me and other people who are mobility impaired. It is a very bad message, and contradicts any other messages you are sending out about being welcoming to ‘disabled’ people, but it is so easily done, and so very common. Other things disabled access toilets are not designed for are parent and baby changing areas this is a growing problem. It may well be that a parent and baby changing facility is placed in a disabled access toilet with disabled parents in mind this would be good practice. But if it is placed in their for able-bodied parents because it is the largest space in the church or hall then this is wrong because whilst that spaces been taken up by parents using it to deal with their babies, a disabled person may be waiting to use that facility.
This leads on the last but one point in this posting, but an issue that must be noted by all providers of facilities. One of the greatest problems of making a ‘disabled’ people wait to use the disabled access facilities is that people with certain conditions may need to go to the toilets much quicker than other people. This must always be bore in mind when planning, never just plan to have a ‘disabled access toilet’ because we are supposed to; plan to have a couple because you will make people with various conditions much more at ease when visiting your church. Some people with various conditions will plan their lives around those places that offer facilities that make life easy; those places that offer such facilities are the ones that care, I trust these are our churches.
Disabled access facility should never be designated for the use transgender or transsexual people, it is both and insult and a breach of their human rights. I have only come across this on a couple of occasions but it is wrong and it is insulting. Somebody who is going through a transgender or a successfully transgendered have the right to use the facility of the gender to which they have become. Occasionally issues have arisen whereby short-term agreements have been made with the person so that they may use the disabled access facility this is by far not ideal. Because again the person is using the disabled access toilet that is dedicated for somebody who might need to use it at short notice.
To conclude this first posting on disabled access toilets; never ever fall into the trap of saying we have not got anybody who is disabled because when you look around your church you do not see anybody in a wheelchair. If you do this you make a major mistake because there will be many people who will need to use a disabled access toilet who will not be visibly ‘disabled’. So remember to treasure your disabled access toilets, keep them clean, keep them accessible at all times and keep them free from clutter.