If you know me, you’ll know my favourite subject is TOILETS. Yes, toilets is a strange subject to get my wheels excited about, I know, but I'm not just talking about any old loo. I'm talking about Changing Places toilets.
Since lockdown there hasn’t really been that much need to talk Changing Places - which are fully accessible toilets needed by a quarter of a million disabled people in the UK - as the Government closed everything down due to Covid-19. But now that some lockdown measures have been eased and people are venturing out in the thousands to beaches and parks, toilets seem to have become the topic of conversation on everyone's lips. But not Changing Places toilets, no: public toilets.
Public toilets have been closed for months now. Despite many parks and open spaces reopening to the public, there have only been a select few open but unable to cope with the demand. The Government has been particularly wary about the risk and if it’s safe but is now encouraging councils to reopen them.
I'm a campaigner fighting for more Changing Places toilets for the quarter of a million disabled people and their families, including myself. When I read about local residents criticising ‘fly peeing’, parents changing their children in cars and car parks, and the general public complaining about the unfairness of not having a clean safe space to go to the toilet, it definitely struck a chord with me, as I’m sure it will many others.
Should I/we be angry that people are now so quick to say: "We need a safe space to go to the toilet and for our children when we are out", or: "There aren’t enough public toilets available", when this is exactly what I/we have been shouting from the rooftops? Disabled people with complex needs and their families need a safe, clean, big enough space. The difference is I either don't go out at all, limit my fluid intake, or have to hold it in. That is painful and can cause serious infections. Parents who have children with complex needs have long been changing their children in the back of their cars or on dirty toilet floors. The whole ‘lack’ of public toilets isn’t a new situation for some of us.
Do some people really understand the importance and need for Changing Places toilets? No.
Is it down to ignorance and lack of knowledge? Yes, absolutely. When you don't have someone in your life that has a disability you'll never see the day-to-day struggles they might face - but in the same sentence, you may already know someone and they just haven't shared or showed you their struggles.
Just before lockdown, the Government announced in the Budget that Changing Places will be mandatory in British standards. It has also agreed to provide £30m towards supporting the installation of these vital toilets.
So as we start to see places reopening I will continue to keep fighting for more Changing Places toilets as everyone has a human right to use a toilet and enjoy life.
I don’t want people in the future to still be fighting for the same reasons I am today.
- Muscular Dystrophy UK co-chairs the Changing Places Consortium. Find out more about the campaign here.