Is this the scariest accessible toilet in the UK?

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IMG_3248At the end of September we took a trip to Bath and Bristol and had a great afternoon at Arnos Vale Cemetery in Bristol. This beautiful place is still used as a cemetery the first person being buried here in 1839.

Unlike modern ‘in a row’ cemeteries, it was designed as a landscaped garden and woodland where you could choose your spot. Today work continues to undergo restoration. There are a number of grade 2 listed Mortuary Chapels and Monuments, war graves and plots of notable people – the inscriptions add to the beauty and interest.

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As a heritage site and final place of remembrance of over 300,000 people, the wooded 45 acre site is also a haven for 450 species of wildlife …. and home to possibly the scariest accessible toilet in the UK.

The toilets under the cafe …

So we had a lovely sunny day wandering around, a snack at the very modern cafe and then it was time for the loo.

You take the lift down underground and on exiting you see signs saying that if you might be affected by the location and content of death and cremation – then maybe take a trip back up to the surface.

This area is the crematorium basement of the Non Conformist Chapel . Peek around the corner and you can enjoy viewing the newly-renovated building and star attractions – a 1920’s cremation furnace, catafalque coffin lift and cremulator – the machine that crushes bones into ashes for disposal – just a short way from where they were actually used.

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Up to 30 people were cremated every day in its hey-day. So if dead people (past and present) are not your thing, then these toilets are not for you.

Plunged into darkness.

The toilets are modern and very large in a cold crypt area around the corner from the bone pulverisers. This is not for the faint hearted.

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So I’m sitting on the loo, in a crematorium basement, feet away from the recent dead and bone crunching machines of the past – when the lights go out.

Blasted things were on a timer – and disabled people need longer than a few minutes to transfer to and from wheelchairs etc and do what they’ve got to do.

Dead people don’t bother me – it’s the living ones that are the problem. I’m not bothered neither about the dark, so apart from being cold, it was actually quite a good loo and you could even have got a portable hoist in there easily.

Dignity down the pan – does it have to be this way?

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It might be a quaint way to describe a lavatory but how I wish bathrooms weren’t the ‘smallest’ room in the house. You can hardly swing a cat in most of them and if you have restricted mobility, then what are you supposed to do….

Time to do some myth-busting and explore the nemesis for wheelchair users that is The Loo.

 

1. Wheelchair users don’t need to pee (or poop).

They probably have catheters or something and pee into a bag or wear incontinence pads? Do people really think that is what happens – and they don’t need to provide accessible toilets? I was once approached by a complete stranger and asked ‘do you use a catheter’. It is bizarre, rude and ignorant – but it happens.

Yes some people do but not everyone – most of us pee and poop the way nature intended and need to get to the loo. Even people with catheters and bags that hold the urine have to be emptied – so we all need a toilet.

2. Disabled people poses super powers to hold themselves for several hours at a time and don’t need a toilet.

Daniel Baker

My friend Daniel Baker at MCM Comic Con – so maybe people do have super powers?

I certainly don’t poses this power and I doubt anyone else does.

If I drink, inevitably I will need the loo at some point. If I drink tea then you’d better have either a toilet or a mop to hand – your choice.

Seriously though, I can’t visit anyone’s house without resorting to only having a sip of water before I go, and nothing until I get home. I can’t risk needing the non-existent loo so my favourite cup of tea has to go on hold.

I use a small adult power chair – but bathrooms in people’s houses are either upstairs or too small to get into (or close enough the loo to transfer).

You know those times when you just know you will be up and down to the loo all day – they are the worst days. I don’t know if I will be able to wait half an hour, an hour or three hours before having to dash home. You sure do feel those pot holes – in fact the number of potholes you bump over directly correlates with the urgency of need.

3. All public places have a disabled toilet, don’t they?

Where do I start with this one! Some don’t have any accessible toilets – going out usually involves using the internet or phoning places to ask for specific details. Often staff do not know what type of accessible toilet they have and provide the wrong information – or leaflets do not specify. Very annoying.

In England the law doesn’t say the public have to have access to a toilet – so councils are not obliged to provide them to anyone!! [Public Health Act 1936].  Generally though, there are good practice standards that should be incorporated into the design of buildings to include flushing toilet facilities that are accessible to disabled people.

The reality, however, is that not even my local or national hospitals meet these standards – never mind the pub down the road or the multi million pound cinema and bowling complex in town!

4. What types of toilets are there and what’s the problem with them?

Well, let us say someone has looked at the building regulations (known as Part M) and chosen to have an accessible toilet on site.  What could possibly go wrong!

Ignore regulations…

10155072_10201673897397303_1686122137207154089_nMy friend Carole found a great example from the New Inn in Durham – the door has no handle. The metal part is for a Radar Key. Some have a step up to them or  display the wheelchair symbol yet are not big enough for many modern day wheelchairs! Others use strong sprung hinges so you can’t open the door … the list goes on and on and the regulations might as well not exist.

Did you know there are 3 types of accessible toilets?

Yes – three! However – this doesn’t make them automatically comply with UK equality legislation or mean they are accessible to everyone.

Type 1 – Accessible to people who can walk.

The first is a slightly larger cubicle with some grab rails or a higher seat for example – these are for people with restricted mobility but who can walk a few steps – ambulant disabled people.

Some venues say they have a disabled toilet – but don’t say it’s only for those who can walk.  Some of these wrongly display the wheelchair symbol. This happened to me at work once and I had to cross my legs for 8 hours! The venue then went and built a new toilet block with two ‘wheelchair’ accessible toilets – but still these were not big enough for even a manual chair. Sometimes you just give up and I refused to go to that venue again. Not having toilets within reach can prevent disabled people from working – this is what happened to Boots Opticians when they failed to provide a nearby accessible toilet for a member of staff.

 

Type 2 – Accessible to some athletic wheelchair users who can perform acrobatics.

The second type displays the wheelchair symbol and is a toilet that should meet building regulations for wheelchair access.  The sticking point with these is that the recommended space is only big enough for the length of a compact /short length chair – and not everyone has one of those.

WC_dimensionsHere is a scaled picture of a wheelchair accessible toilet according to building regulations. The green rectangle is the footprint of my NHS power chair. Next to it is the recommended (same scale) turning area the regulations use for ‘enough space’. As you can see it’s based on a manual chair, it’s a tight fit and it doesn’t mean there is available floor space by the toilet where you actually need it!

 

Throw in the difficulty caused by the addition of a baby changing unit on the wall and baby nappy bin on the floor – no floor space or room at all to turn!

To deny someone appropriate toilet facilities is a huge black mark in the book of human dignity and rights.

 

My husband has to stand me up and then hold me to try and swing round and move me backwards between the gap of the sink and my chair, to sit on the loo! You have to be a circus performer to pull that one off without falling and banging into things. Not to mention trying to maneuver your clothes off …. that’s when you say ‘sod it’ and stay at home.

Type 3 – Accessible to all and includes an adult changing bench and hoist. They are known as Changing Places toilets.

These are few and far between – only 600 in the UK – if you need to change a pad without these facilities you might have to lay on the floor of a public toilet like this child has to do.

5. So what do you do then?

Stay at home, don’t visit family for long periods or spend lots of time finding out about the exact nature of the toilet facilities on offer – then decide whether to go or not.

Even more degrading for women.

Some men have the options of using a portable urine bottle – but women experience the most difficulty having to transfer to the loo every time and also deal with menstruation. Give yourself pins and needles so you can’t move your legs much, wear mittens and then try and change a pad or try asking your husband to help …. now try it in a cramped toilet on the first day of your period with the nauseating smell of baby poo lingering in the air. Not so nice is it?

Welcome to my world and hundreds of thousands of women like me – a part of our lives that goes unspoken about, unnoticed  – but it doesn’t have to be this way.

With proper facilities, assistance and good information, we can make informed choices and retain a level of dignity and hygiene that might otherwise be flushed down the pan.

Louise Watch, writing for Blogging Against Disablism Day 2014.  BADD2013

Blogging Against Disablism Day, May 1st 2014

Review: DisabledLoo.co.uk gets 1/10

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Disabled_Loo_HomePopping  up on Twitter (and joining Facebook) early this March was the website  DisabledLoo.co.uk .

The website is a map of the UK with the names of some of the key towns and cities. Clicking on a town shows you a picture, name and address with a star rating for accessibility and cleanliness.

Review: 1/10 

The project/individual’s website currently doesn’t say anything other than invites people to contact them with pictures and the relevant rating they would give. The website has obviously only just been set up (perhaps a launch prior to any data was not the best publicity to go for?).

There is no data currently (the pictures are just examples). The problem of relying on public data usually means little data is ever entered. We will have to ‘watch this space’ to see how this website pans out (pardon the pun).

Like similar sites, the ratings on accessibility will be meaningless as one person’s ‘excellent’ is another person’s accessibility nightmare. Similarly, cleanliness is subject to change – varying from use to use and will mean very little. Having said that, I’ve been into public toilets rich in pee and obviously not cleaned in months – and those I wouldn’t even bother entering as they are too disgusting. Again, one person’s view on cleanliness will also be very different from another. 

I will be blogging soon on ‘what might make a good toilet App’ and highlighting the range of problems disabled people have with toilet location and rating tools.

What I did like was the basic design – clean, no adverts and a huge map that came out well on my phone as well as my desktop. I was using Safari.

What doesn’t work so well is the colour – dark green map on a rich blue background. Blue and green (and little contrast) are difficult if not impossible for many people with visual impairments – and they need to find toilets too particularly if they also have other impairments. The writing is, however, white and the information page which the links go to are nice and clear and contrasting black on white. On the down side, the star rating are yellow on a white background which is a difficult to read colour scheme.

I am primarily reviewing the purpose of the site and data quality and not the accessibility – however, on this occasion, it seemed relevant. I do not know how it reads using text to speech or similar.

It is not clear how the site will handle multiple toilets in one town or building.

 

 

Accessible toilet signs – what they mean.

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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 

Disabled_toilet_2Accessible_toilet

 

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.

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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.

 

Unisex_disabled_toilet_sign-2

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.

Facilities

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 

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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