Picture this. You’re out and about, doing your shopping and having a day out with family. You need the toilet. What do you do? You find the nearest toilet and you use it. However, what if you have a disability? What do you do when even the standard disabled toilets aren’t suitable for your needs? Welcome to the lives of disabled adults and children around the country.
Standard disabled toilets only offer grab rails and enough space for the person in their wheelchair. These do not meet the needs of many people with disabilities, who need a hoist to transfer them from their wheelchair onto the toilet, and/or a adult-sized bed so that they can be hoisted onto the bed and changed, as well as enough room for their wheelchair and two carers. Currently, parents of disabled children are forced to lift their child out of their wheelchair and lay their child on the dirty toilet floor to change them. How is this hygienic? How is it safe? However, though some disabled adults can be lifted and placed on the floor like these disabled children, many disabled adults are too heavy or tall for their parent or carer(s) to lift them out of their wheelchair and put them on the floor, so they can’t use the toilet or be changed whilst out at all, limiting their ability to go out or forcing them to sit in soiled pads for large amounts of time. How is this equality? How is this acceptable? How is this dignified? It’s not!
Would you walk into a public toilet in your bare feet? I’m guessing your answer is no. We all know how dirty public toilet floors are. Well how would you feel if you had to be laid down on a dirty toilet floor to have pads or clothes changed. Not only that, you might have to have the door open due to not enough space for the person on the floor, their parent/carer, the equipment they need and their wheelchair. No one would willingly accept this, but this is reality for many disabled people, I myself often have to leave the bathroom door open whilst my nurse helps me empty my stoma bags because there’s not enough room in the toilet for us both. It’s humiliating.
There is a solution: Changing Places toilets. These are larger toilets which incorporate the toilet with grab rails as well as a ceiling hoist, an adult-sized changing table, a height-adjustable sink and enough room for the person in their wheelchair as well as two carers. Currently there are only 902 Changing Places toilets in the UK, meaning many families do not have one in their area and/or are forced to travel miles to find the nearest Changing Places toilet. This is simply not acceptable. Disabled children and adults should not be penalised against due to our needs, or be forbidden from having our basic needs met: to simply go to the toilet, or to have our soiled pads and/or clothes changed, in a safe, hygienic and fully accessible environment? By allowing a bit more space for a Changing Places toilet in every public place, disabled people would be able to participate fully in society and be able to have their personal care needs met safely and adequately and will retain their dignity.
I do not need to use the toilet itself, because I have two stoma bags. However these bags can leak and if this happens, I need a hoist to lift me from my wheelchair, onto a full-size changing table – I am 6ft1 – and enough space for my nurse to clean me up and change my clothes, to change my stoma bag, and clean my wheelchair. Without a Changing Places toilet, if my bag leaked, I would have to stay in my soiled clothes and sit in a soiled wheelchair for the remainder of the day. Not only that, I would end up with sores and burns from the urine or faeces being left on my skin, I would smell, I would be very uncomfortable, and I would be embarrassed. How is this fair and dignified?
It is diabolical in today’s day and age for disabled people with more complex needs to be excluded from participating in society due to inaccessible toilets. Such a basic human need being denied to disabled children and adults. What happened to equality? It should be a legal requirement for every public place to have a Changing Places toilet, and to have access for all. To allow all members of society to participate fully, to be able to go out and enjoy themselves and to live a good life. Help us have our basic needs met and to retain our dignity.