Poo at the zoo.


This week is Love your Zoo Week run by BIAZA. The British and Irish Association of Zoos and Aquariums (BIAZA) is the professional body representing the best zoos and aquariums in the UK and Ireland.

Baby elephant

Chester Zoo

1.3 million people visit member organisations every year. Only a small percentage are disabled people and their friends/families because few venues provide toilet facilities with 

  1. a hoist and changing bench, 
  2. space for modern wheelchairs or 
  3. one that is fully equipped for able wheelchair users and those with other impairments e.g. Bowel/bladder disorders, autism, mental ill health, epilepsy, obesity, shortened height.

 BIAZA members contribute over £650 million to the national economy.

If the venue doesn’t provide a hoist or height adjustable toilet, this means a lot of people can’t visit. People with poor balance, weak legs or arms may not be able to stand up from an accessible seat. 

People with muscle and nerve disorders, balance or co ordination difficulties or frailty from old age may need this equipment.  They may not necessarily use a wheelchair.  

There are no height adjustable toilets in any zoo, aquariums or wildlife parks in the UK.

If standing up from the loo (or standing by the loo) is impossible, such individuals have to be lifted up / carried in the arms of relatives or find a toilet with a hoist and changing bench. Wheelchair users with weak arms/legs also need hoist facilities.

Hoist, toilet and changing bench

Chester Zoo

There are a number of zoos etc who provide such essential equipment and the space to use it. 

These are:

  • Marwell Zoo (first in UK to equip toilets for all visitors)
  • Bristol Zoo Gardens
  • Blair Drummond Safari Park
  • Tilgate Park
  • Chester Zoo
  • Chessington World of Adventures Resort
  • Tropical Wings Zoo (opening soon)
  • Folly Farm Adventure Park and Zoo
  • Cotswold Wildlife Park
  • Colchester Zoo
  • Yorkshire Wildlife Park (hoist and toilet)
  • Wingham Wildlife Park
  • Pili Palas Nature World
  • Camperdown Wildlife Centre (opening soon)
  • Edinburgh Zoo (hires in a bed and hoist for 1 week per year)
  • Whipsnade

(List excludes bird and wildlife reserves and parks/forests).

Possible future venues:

  • Living Coasts
  • Paignton Zoo
  • Newquay Zoo
  • Twycross Zoo
  • London (only hoist and bench currently – no toilet)

Specifically stating no hoist facilities:

  • Woburn Safari Park

However, there are over 100 venues who do not offer usable toilet facilities – not even for people who don’t use a hoist.

Why do they exclude disabled people?

Not what it said on the tin


Signage is part of a toilet being ‘accessible’. Regular readers will know that generally I don’t seem to be having the best of experiences at zoo’s lately! I came across a problem which, like my recent trip to Bluewater shopping mall, highlighted the barrier that is signage.

Here is a good example of how poor signage can turn a good day into a frustrating one.

I’ll start with Colchester Zoo in Essex.

I saw on their map they had an Adult Changing facility (with a wheelchair logo). This is what their website says: 

* All 13 sets of toilets around the zoo and at our cafes have disabled toilet facilities.

* An adult changing area for those with additional needs is provided at the toilet facilities near the meerkat enclosure. Please ask for a key at the Guest Services office or the nearby Meerkat Hangout cafe.

Whoopee – easy toilet access. The map didn’t indicate a key was needed so initially we found the toilet block and discovered it to be locked. To cut a long story short, we asked for the key, the key had been lost and another was brought over. 20 minutes later…

We opened the door expecting to see an adult changing table a toilet and a hoist. What we found was entirely different – a bed, a small sink and just enough space to go into forward and out backwards in a wheelchair.


The definition of an adult suggests a person aged 18 or older – someone who, if they need a pad changing, is likely to need carers and a hoist to get onto the bed (and space etc).

This space is a step up from laying a child on the floor (where they are too heavy/long for a baby changing unit) but is really not suitable for changing adults. When staff said the room hadn’t been used that day – I can see why.

So we were left with the regular accessible toilet – which wasn’t accessible because the toilet was in the centre of the wall and with my chair at the side – no space to transfer or sit on the loo. Fail.


Eventually we wandered around and found a toilet that was usable (I say usable, if you class a very steep ramp to the toilet area that I wasn’t happy going up even in a powered chair as ‘accessible’).  Inside the toilet was better – and thankfully we made it.


Signage fail number two comes courtesy of Bluewater Shopping Centre in Kent.  I knew they had a toilet with a hoist – but I couldn’t remember where. I looked at the maps and they all just had the generic wheelchair toilet symbol on. I was looking for the Changing Places symbol.

Eventually, after doing a lap of the lower floor, I resorted to asking management to tell me where it was – and we found it with a little label outside the toilet saying ‘HDU’ as in High Dependency Unit. I know some people prefer this term as opposed to ‘Changing Places’ (it is a registered CP toilet here) but it confused me.

I thought it was key operated (a sign mentions getting a key) but today the push button door opening switch was half working.

It wouldn’t let you in but once in, the internal button did close and auto lock the door. To gain entry you could force slide the door open (no handle of course!).

The problem was, inside there was no curtain, so I sat on the toilet, opposite the door, whilst my assistant went outside to give me some privacy – only we didn’t realise the door was so slow ….. the 40 seconds it took for the door to open and close felt like an hr.  Not the best experience!







An open letter to West Midland Safari and Leisure Park


Dear West Midland Safari and Leisure Park,

This week I visited your park with my husband and parents to do the walk round section. We were first time visitors on holiday from Kent and had an amazing afternoon.  I especially loved the dinosaur exhibit – just spectacular.

The access was really good for me as I have muscular dystrophy and use a powered wheelchair.

We are huge fans of zoos, conservation programmes and dinosaurs!! This was the perfect attraction for us.

Tickets are such good value and we made use of your visit again for free – super value as our ticket price already included a discount for disabled people and one free carer – greatly appreciated.

Because we were only there for the afternoon, I did not need to use the toilet. However, on our second day, during the hottest week of the year and after a 2 hr safari, it was time for the loo before we left.

This is where the day had a horrible and distressing end.

No toilet provision

To understand my distress I am willing to share with you the following details in the hopes that we can discuss solutions to ensure other disabled visitors have a better and more dignified experience.

My experience

The park was 30 minutes from closing. It takes me 20 minutes for my husband to physically lift me out of my chair and drag me to the toilet and back again.

I can not stand and have little use of my arms and hands.  At home my personal assistants/carers use a ceiling hoist to lift me from my chair to the toilet.  This is not painful and gives me greater dignity. Outside of the house my husband has to wipe the public toilet floor and drag me bare foot (to avoid friction) from my chair, lean me over a grab rail (I have little upper body balance) and then afterwards try to wipe me whilst seated. As you can imagine, it is difficult at the best of times.

It is not unusual for wheelchair users to be unable to stand, use their arms to push/transfer themselves or balance when on a toilet seat.  Many disabled people who can walk also have difficulty with balance and need a full compliment of grab rails and space etc to help them.

First attempt

First we tried the toilets in the carpark. On opening the door we saw there was no horizontal grab rail on the right hand side and very little space . I can only lean to the right due to scoliosis (and can only sit propped up on a grab rail) – so this meant the toilet was out of bounds for us. I would have fallen onto the floor.

Second attempt

Having a bit of a panic, we hurried some distance into the park to the next toilets by the reptile house.

We opened the door – same problem. No grab rail on the right hand side.

Third attempt 

The park was closing. We crossed over the path to try the restaurant – surely a toilet we could use. No. It was here I had one of the most painful experiences I’ve ever had.

The first problem was the toilet seat. A flat seat with narrow aperture ( similar to a child’s seat). It was agony.  Most accessible toilet seats are wide aperture, gently curved to cup the adult pelvis. This is to provide upper body stability and a space for the nerves and pelvic bones to be ‘in the hole’. I am a small adult but the seat caused pelvic and nerve pain  making it impossible to ‘go’ properly.

Secondly, the grab rail was a none standard height from the ground and a short length.  To hold/lean on it caused me to reach backwards as it only extended out to my waist and was so low I could fall over the top of it.  This was very dangerous but we had run out of options.  Incidentally there is no reachable horizontal bar on the left that is reachable.

Thirdly, there was no room for wiping /cleansing before sitting back in my chair.

It was very distressing and degrading.

Lastly as a point to note, no emergency cords in any of the toilets that I noticed and paper towels that can’t be reached from a wheelchair.


Some of these problems are probably easy to quickly fix – installing horizontal grab rails of the standard height, length and distance on the left and right side of each toilet. Also changing the toilet seats.

For full access, there is opportunity to perhaps consider what other zoo/safari parks have done and install a Changing Places toilet. I have enclosed some photographs of their great facilities at the end of this letter.

These have space for power wheelchair users, carers, hoist and changing bench for those who wear pads. They are more dignified, hygienic, safe and comfortable. Here is an example below.

  [JD Weatherspoons, Blackpool Promenade ‘The Velvet Coaster’ became the first pub to offer customers and staff Changing Places facilities in April 2015]

Without my husband being present to lift me, I am one of around an estimated 230,000 people who can only visit venues with a Changing Places toilet. I am also unable to use your current facilities even with my husband making visits restricted to the length of time I can cross my legs.

I suspect many visitors have a similar problems or simply can’t visit because of inadequate toilet facilities – but don’t complain because of the stigma and embarrassment of explaining intimate personal problems.

I have shared my experience in the hope that this will raise awareness of how it is possible to extend your facilities to welcome thousands of new visitors and their families.

Kind Regards

Louise Watch, Kent

* 2.5 million was spent on their new Living Dinosaur attraction but no priority funding given to improving toilet facilities?

UPDATE: August 2018. Changing Places opened. (Right hand support rail pending). Currently not on their website/map.

[Source: Facebook]