But you don’t look disabled… why are you using an accessible toilet?


I’ve written before about people who abuse accessible toilets and don’t need to use them by their own admittance.   However, amongst people who walk in and out with no obvious mobility, sensory or learning difficulty are people with hidden needs for these facilities.

Sherrill Hawker has written an excellent post for us, as our guest blogger, about why she often needs to use accessible toilets when she doesn’t look disabled.

You can read her blog on: http://ostomychampagnelifestyle.wordpress.com/

and find her on Twitter: @SherrillHawker

IMG_0085But you don’t look disabled……

This is what I am sure many people think when they see me go into a disabled toilet, especially when I use my RADAR key. I am sure people think that I am just trying to skip the queue when I hop into an empty disabled toilet, but this really isn’t the case. I don’t overly care what people think but I guess there is a small part of us all that doesn’t want people to think we are ignorant morons! And by that, I mean I would never park in a disabled bay and if I did I am sure people would secretly tut tut at me for doing so and so I suppose I don’t want people thinking that of me when I use a disabled loo.

You see, I have an Ostomy, which means I wear a stoma bag which is attached to my stomach to collect waste from my small intestine. I had a debilitating bowel disease called Ulcerative Colitis which got so bad that I had to have emergency surgery to remove my large bowel.

I don’t look disabled, there is nothing you can see by looking at me that would indicate my need for disabled facilities, I am not in a wheelchair, I don’t have any missing limbs, I am young and look fit. But what you don’t see is my stoma bag I wear beneath my clothes, the bag that fills up gradually over the day, the bag that needs emptying regularly, the bag, that if not emptied will burst and I will end up covered in poo. No-one knows you wear a stoma bag, it is impossible to tell, they are surprisingly discreet, but it is something we have no control over, we can’t tell it not to fill up, we can’t hold on to it until it is more convenient. So when the need arises to empty, I personally prefer to do it in slightly more private surroundings. Like any poo, it smells, but unlike (and I know this may be a bit TMI!) people with large intestines, it is more acidic, more raw, it hasn’t gone through the usual bodily processes. So it’s nice to have some privacy and not feel paranoid about the smell. Now, I generally don’t care what people think, I am not going to see them again, and when I have to use a ‘normal’ toilet I have deodorising sprays and perfume which helps, but I still like the privacy. There are also times in which I may need to change my bag, it is rare, as once done at home I tend to be ok for the day but every now and then, the inconvenient leak happens which requires a change of bag. Can you imagine trying to manoeuvre yourself in the smallest cubicle known to man, having to deal with changing a bag and all the paraphernalia that goes with it, plus the need for access to water?

Unfortunately, people assume that to use a disabled toilet you must look disabled, what people don’t realise is that there are people like myself who need use of a disabled loo.

I think the worse thing for me is when I may go to a busy bar or club on a weekend. It fills me with dread that I may need to use a ‘normal’ toilet to empty, as I have said, I am not ashamed, but on a busy weekend, where alcohol is involved, people are unforgiving and not backward about coming forward if they think the cubicle smells. It’s a horrible experience and one I try to deal with as best I can, I just get on with it, but it is these times especially that I prefer a disabled loo. But you know what? In a busy bar or club the disabled toilet tends to be locked and only a member of staff can open them (they often don’t use the RADAR key system).  This means that I have to find a member of staff to open it for me and then I am having to explain why I need to use it when they tell me it is for disabled people only!! I could name and shame but I won’t, but the point is that I don’t want to have to explain myself to anyone, why should I? I understand that they are worried about drugs but why should those of us that don’t look disabled need to explain our reasons? Fortunately (well the majority of the time) it isn’t an ‘emergency situation’, when I had Ulcerative Colitis (which basically means you have barely any control over your bowels) if I had to stop to ask for a key or try to find a member of staff then I may have sh** myself there and then!!

So, I guess what I am trying to say is don’t judge those who don’t look disabled but need to use a disabled toilet, bars & clubs listen up and do something about your locked disabled loo situation so those like me, don’t have to explain ourselves and if you walk into a toilet cubicle that smells, before you turn your nose up in disgust, just think that someone may be really suffering.

 Post comment: This post has had a number of people contact us via Twitter, sharing similar experiences and blogs they have posted on the same topic. Here is one of them below:

Accessible toilet signs – what they mean.


Updated 2017

When looking for suitable toilet facilities, what do the signs actually mean and what facilities can you expect in the UK?

Changing Places Toilets

Changing Places toilet symbol

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. 

Accessible Toilets with wheelchair symbol 



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
  • Carers