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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.