What is the difference between a disabled toilet and an accessible toilet?
A designated toilet for disabled people is described as an ‘accessible’ toilet.
There are no disabled toilets even though many people call them this in day to day life.
A toilet would have to experience some disadvantage, barrier or inequality and have feelings and emotions to be disabled – which of course is impossible!
The purpose of an accessible toilet should be to enable disabled people to gain prompt access to facilities that might be different from regular toilets in terms of the available space, layout, equipment, flooring, lighting etc. i.e. removing the disabling barriers and restrictions that might be present in regular toilets.
So, a toilet with different lighting and colour for visually impaired or photosensitive users is still an accessible toilet, even if it is not accessible to wheelchair users.
The term ‘disabled’ refers to a person who may experience barriers in every day life because they have an impairment or medical condition. If barriers and inequality are not experienced the person won’t be disabled in that particular situation.
I will always have a medical condition, but if there are good toilet facilities I am not disabled when it comes to toilet access/use.
So how do disabled people know if a toilet is accessible in the way they need?
If a place is going to offer an accessible toilet, the best option is to try and make it as accessible as possible to people with a wide range of impairments. Because disabled people have different requirements, ‘minimum’ standards and guidelines become meaningless.
Therefore, to tell someone ‘yes we have an accessible toilet’ is of little use when people need to know exactly what type of access you offer. Knowing the measurements of things like the space to the side and front of the toilet, height of toilets, type of seats/back and grab rail placement are very important for example.
Stating you have a wheelchair accessible toilet is better than nothing – but is still of limited use because people will have varying sized wheelchairs, different ranges of mobility/strength etc and some may need room for a carer or hoist/adults changing table.
What can I do to provide accessible toilets for a wide range of people?
Making specific details available is the ideal way to enable people to decide whether to come to your premises based on how accessible the toilets are for their needs.
If you are designing a toilet facility, allow for a large a space as possible and ensure the toilet is unisex and locked with a Radar key to prevent abuse. Try to exceed recommended guidelines and consider positioning/privacy (e.g. many toilets open into public areas which is not good if a carer has to exit the toilet whilst the person is still in there!).
Consider attracting customers to your venue by making toilets super accessible such as having a changing places toilet or installing a ceiling hoist.