When looking for suitable toilet facilities, what do the signs actually mean and what facilities can you expect in the UK?
Changing Places Toilets
This is the symbol for a Changing Places (CP) toilet. You will find it on signposts and the door to the toilet as well as leaflets and other literature. It very clearly shows what you might find inside that differs from other accessible toilets. The three key features are:
- a hoist (bring your own sling/vest)
- an adult sized changing bench
- more space
Changing Places toilets feature a large space for people to move around – as needed by people who use powered or specialist positioning wheelchairs or who require assistants to help them.
They are unisex toilets and the toilet is centrally located with space both sides (with a privacy screen).
Many also have a shower facility. Facilities are also mapped and photographed to easily locate them on the Changing Places Website.
Many will use the RADAR toilet key to gain entry (which can often be borrowed from a nearby location/service desk).
*In the USA larger toilets are often known as Companion Toilets.
Space to change toilet
The door sign may be identical to the above as this toilet space has a hoist and changing bench but is smaller to a Changing Place.
The international symbol of a wheelchair user to represent disabled people is used on toilet doors to indicate an accessible toilet. Sometimes the words ‘Disabled Toilet’ are used to indicate a toilet facility clearly with both words and a symbol.
However, this is not popular with many people who believe that disability is only present if the person is excluded or put at a disadvantage by society in some way. Therefore, if they have appropriate toilet facilities, a person with an impairment is not ‘disabled’ or excluded/disadvantaged in that situation (so you wouldn’t use the term ‘disabled toilet’).
An accessible toilet is the wording preferred by some people.
This is a very clear sign.
It uses the universal symbol of disability in an appropriate blue and highly visual colour. It also shows the male and female figures indicating it is a unisex toilet. This is important for people who need assistance in the toilet by someone of the opposite sex. It clearly has the word ‘Toilet’ on the sign with the braille text beneath.
You can expect varied facilities such as:
- support / holding rails (horizontal and vertical grab bars,
- lowered or raised toilets,
- lower mirrors
- lower hand wash basins/driers.
- emergency cord
- contrasting colour schemes
- space for manual chairs
Some have none slip flooring and large waste disposal bins. Many have paddle/easy flush handles. However, they do not necessarily mean there is space for power wheelchairs, scooters or larger manual wheelchair users.
There are a lot of variation in layout and facilities in the UK despite guidelines and equality legislation.
This is a sign being adopted by businesses who wish to remind people who negatively ‘glare or comment’ that people don’t look disabled and entitled to use the toilet. It reminds people that just because you can’t see their impairment, it doesn’t mean they don’t need accessible facilities e.g. People with arthritis, autism, epilepsy, D/deafness, mental health illness, bowel/bladder impairments etc.
Restroom, Loo or WC?
In the UK you may see the sign WC. This is an old English abbreviation for Water Closet (which refers to a flushing toilet). A toilet is also frequently called a ‘loo’ or ‘lavatory’ / ‘lav’. Most people in the UK use the word ‘loo’ or ‘toilet’.
Ambulant Toilets – person with a stick symbol
Popular in Australia and other countries (and now being seen in the UK) are toilets with a picture of a male or female stick user. This represents disabled people who have mobility difficulties but who can walk. If a place can not provide a wheelchair accessible toilet, these toilets may have some facilities such as support rails or supported seating or higher toilets.
Some people find them confusing and they attract many complaints. However, what is worse, as a disabled person, is going somewhere which says they have an ‘accessible’ toilet but it is only accessible if you can walk or don’t need a space for your wheelchair.
I find the symbol of a person using sticks very clear and informative whereas the wheelchair symbol doesn’t even mean there is wheelchair access – it’s just being used as a symbol to represent all disabled people and not specifically wheelchair users nor the larger spaces they need.
Symbols are not representative
The wheelchair or stickman symbols do not represent people with impairments that may need accessible toilets such as
- People with bladder or bowel disease
- People with autism
- People with learning difficulties
- People with mental health illness
- People with sensory loss