Carrie Aimes, 30, from Worcestershire, has the condition Ullrich congenital muscular dystrophy, and is a full-time wheelchair-user. She is a member of Muscular Dystrophy UK’s Trailblazers group, a network of 800 young disabled people and their supporters who campaign for independent living.
Picture yourself on a day out with friends, or enjoying dinner at a restaurant with your partner. Then imagine, for just one moment, that there are no toilets available – and your only options are to hold it in, not drink all day, or face the humiliation of wetting yourself.
It may sound extreme, but this is the reality for a quarter of a million disabled people across the UK who need toilets known as Changing Places. These are larger than standard accessible toilets, with additional equipment – and the stark reality is there are not enough of them.
Without enough Changing Places toilets being more widely available in public places, disabled people face isolation. They may not leave the house, or they might cut outings short. For me, the solution was even more drastic, and in 2011 I underwent surgery to insert a suprapubic catheter. Medically, this surgery was unnecessary, and of course, I didn’t want to go through the ordeal. But I had reached the point where I was making myself ill, and relying on assistance from others. I wouldn’t go out, or I’d dehydrate myself because I was so desperate to avoid the indignity of struggling to transfer from my wheelchair whenever I needed to go to the toilet. I was prepared to do anything.
Now, I no longer depend on others to do what most people would consider a basic human right: use the loo. Gone are the days where I have to face the indignity of using small and poorly-adapted disabled toilets, which are often locked, used as storage cupboards, or vandalised. But for more than 250,000 disabled people, the struggle continues.
We are now seeing some progress. The Government is committing funding to building Changing Places toilets at motorway service stations and in hospitals, while proposals have also been put forward by ministers to make these facilities mandatory in new, large public buildings. None of this would be possible without the hard work of all the amazing Changing Places campaigners. But we need to keep pushing.
Today, applications open for funding for Changing Places toilets at motorway service stations in England, with the Department for Transport committing £2 million to the project. Changing Places supporters can play their part by encouraging local providers to apply for funding. Tell businesses why you, or your family, need Changing Places toilets. Share your experiences – good and bad – so that companies know they can make a difference by building these necessary facilities.
Changing Places are a much-needed lifeline for disabled people. I will not stop campaigning until they are commonplace across the UK.
- Applications can be made by motorway service station providers only at: changing-places.org.