Museums and accessible toilets

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Are museums no go zones?

Museum of London, Docklands

Have you ever been to a museum that hasn’t had a toilet for visitors, staff and volunteers? If it’s a medium to large museum – probably not. They are probably high on the list if not essential.

Disabled people are potential employees, volunteers and visitors, yet still so many museums fail to provide usable, safe toilets for people with access needs. 

I’ve been to hundreds of UK museums of all sizes, only 2 fully met my needs. If I am with my care assistants I can only visit places with hoists.

If a museum provides accessible and usable toilets for people, the benefits are perhaps obvious:

  1. Larger pool of employees to choose from
  2. Disabled and older people can visit
  3. More attractive to disabled and older volunteers
  4. More attractive to schools who have disabled teachers or students

This leads to increased community outreach, education, visitors and profits / grants.

Without usable toilets, museums and galleries are choosing not to welcome and exclude disabled people. 

We have accessible toilets

You have to be very ‘able’ to safely use ‘standard’ accessible toilets. You have to have either strong arms or legs (to transfer from a chair or stand/sit), good balance, good dexterity and grip to hold support rails. Many people are not that ‘able’ e.g. people with MD, MS, MND, arthritis, CP, paralysis, stroke, short limbs, learning difficulties, autism, anxiety … that’s collectively millions of people!!

Florence Nightingale Museum


This type of toilet might meet most of the standard criteria but only for the very able. 

Museums need to:

  • Audit standard toilets against the most recent recommendations for access 

This one below has a raised seat which is not part of access criteria and can make it extra difficult or impossible for wheelchair transfers. The toilet roll is high up and the emergency cord is wrapped around the support rail.

Horniman Museum

  • Install either a space to change toilet or Changing Places. These have essential space and equipment like a hoist and changing bench. 
  • Install a ceiling hoist over standard toilets to increase the number of visitors/staff who can only get out of their wheelchair with a hoist (like Lincoln Castle has below).

  • Advertise your facilities or people won’t go if they are not confident there is a usable toilet.
  • Show pictures of your toilets in access guides and provide clear signage.
  • Have regular reviews of toilet access.

It is still disappointing that so many museums exclude people. Most of the big museums across London for example do not provide usable toilets (notably Cardiff and Edinburgh have full facilities in key museums) .  When these London venues are approached they don’t want to know. 

“In Kent there are no museums with hoists in their toilets – so I can’t visit at all.”

Attitudes must change if disabled people are to get inside museums – it doesn’t matter how many tactile maps, quiet areas and ramps you have if people then have to worry if they will wet themselves and have a miserable stressful day out.

Train travel and toilets

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This week we heard about Anne Wafula Strike in the news – not being able to access the toilet on a long train journey.

The fear of not finding a usable toilet (and risk urinating in your underwear or damaging your bladder and kidneys) is very real. It leaves disabled people choosing the more dignified option – to not make any long journeys by train or car. This leads to major life restrictions around work, health care, leisure and socialising or seeing family.

Until 6 years ago, I had never been on a train. I then had to get into London for specialist hospital services so we started using trains. With my husband, we carefully choose our stations – they have to be 

  1. staffed – to set up ramps to get on and off . (Not all stations have staff present.)
  2. Step free access to the platform. (Some stations have no access to platforms or only access to some platforms in one direction).

It is here we bring into the equation – where will I be able to use the loo along the way.

Where are the usable toilets?

Our main route has been from Tonbridge to London Bridge and Maidstone to Victoria. From the moment I last use the loo at home, the clock starts ticking. I won’t drink anything that day to reduce the need for the loo.

Around an hour has passed and I’m at the station. The toilet door opens straight onto the platform – so my husband who lifts me out of my chair to/from the loo will have to slink out whilst I use it (without exposing me to people on the platform). He will then have to loiter and listen out for me to call him back in. He will get some funny looks – but that’s ‘normal’ for us. It’s not a private affair. 

There is no hoist – so he will have to lift/drag me to the seat. On the plus side it’s clean and has all 3 of the standard set of support rails to cling on to. 

I can’t travel by train to London with my personal assistants as they can only use a hoist to lift me and there are no rail stations with hoist equipped toilets on my route or at my destination. 

On the train

On the train, I need to get assistance into the accessible carriage. This is where the accessible toilet is located. However, on the way home we are sometimes just put in the doorway area because not all trains have accessible carriages or are too full at rush hour. They have no access to the toilets. Staff just want to get people on trains or are they see the accessible coach is a long way away – so they try to board you into the nearest coach with no wheelchair space. 


I can’t use the toilets on trains because my small powerchair won’t fit and there is no space for my husband to lift me. They don’t have hoists. You can see here that if my chair was next to the loo – my husband would not fit in at all. Alas I haven’t mastered levitation.

I often see they are out of order. If I needed the loo I’d have to get staff to cancel the ramp at my destination- and make new arrangements for me to get off at another station –  and back on another train after using the loo. As I’ve just said, stations might be no go areas because they are not step free or staffed.

If it is possible to get off at another station, what if the toilet on that station isn’t usable? Not every toilet has the ‘standard’ space, suppport rails etc. Take this one for example.


We were a few hours on a train for a day out at Ely. My husband had worked out we could use the toilet at the station. He’d even seen a picture on the station’s website. However, we headed straight for the loo only to find the support rail was not standard / too far away from the toilet to hold on to. I would have fallen on the floor. I had heart failure because we were in a new place with no idea where to find a toilet. 


On our way back from Ely to Kings Cross the same problem but thankfully on the left hand side (I need a right hand side rail as it’s the only way I can lean). For someone else this won’t be usable. This toilet is also higher than the recommended standard for safe and manageable transfers from a wheelchair. 

Trains and stations – will they ever be accessible?

I haven’t heard that newly refurbished stations like London Bridge or Cross Rail will have made any improvements to accessing toilets at stations across London. No toilets with larger spaces or hoists being put in. No refurbishing or auditing of current toilets to ensure all access features are present and correctly positioned or offer better privacy.  

I’ve been part of consultations on toilet provision on new trains. The designs did not involve larger spaces or better layouts for wheelchair users. 

There is never a guarantee the toilet will be in working order – but if all stations had improved, usable wheelchair accessible toilets on all platforms, we could at least get off the train at the next staffed station and be confident that I could pee into the loo and not into my knickers. 

Caught short – the myth 

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An interesting comment came my way stating that ‘normal’ people caught short should be allowed to use the accessible loo the same as non disabled people who need the loo urgently.

Let’s put this to bed right here. 

We have covered before how part of the criteria of being accessible is ‘availability’ of accessible toilets. I.e not taken up by non disabled people who could go elsewhere.

So what if the non disabled person is caught short? Well the reason is different. One person has, as an adult, improperly and in error been unable to time when they needed to empty their bladder or bowel. With some mental competence, being caught short could have been avoided. They then wouldn’t have had to dive into an accessible toilet?

 Disabled people might have a medical need known as urgency where they may only have a minutes warning before their bladder releases whether they are in the loo or not. Clearly these people with a medical need (or arguably a medical need from an upset stomach or similar) require available facilities of an accessible toilet to preserve health and dignity. 

Simply being caught short because someone has not made time for the toilet in their day is no excuse to use up an accessible toilet. 

What do you think?

All about support / grab rails

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Taken from our guide (see links page) we look at the importance of support rails in accessible toilets. AD M is approved document M of the U.K. Building Regulations.

It is possible to have many layouts to allow for the provided dimensions and fixture configurations in AD M.
 

The general layout of a unisex accessible toilet is to have horizontal grab rails to both the left and right side of the toilet [AD M: S 5.8].

Heights, lengths and distance from the toilet / sink / mirror etc must be precise as described in AD M.
Vertical rails must also be provided in specific places.

How many rails do people need?

74% of disabled/older people use handrails. They can be used to pull/push up with or simply to lean on for stability.

41% of powered wheelchair users prefer the right side, 30% the left and the rest had no preference in a 2005 study.

Some people need a rail both sides and on the back wall.  The rails needs to be the right height, length, distance from the toilet/sink, thickness and colour.

An accessible toilet must  have at least 5 support rails with additional ones if the toilet is located some distance from the wall. 


Barriers introduced

As can be seen above, support rails can infringe on the transfer space and cause problems for some wheelchair users.

Solutions

  1. Assess your toilet – do they have the full complement of support rails and are they in the right place and the right length / height? 
  2. Mix it up – the standard suggests that if you provide more than one unisex toilet, a choice of layouts for left and right hand transfer should be provided. 
  3. The smaller the space, the more grab rails will get in the way for powered wheelchair users and carers – re-consider your design space. 
  4. Provide Changing Places toilets in addition to existing accessible toilets. The larger spaces to the left and right of a central toilet offer more transfer option angles for people who use powered wheelchairs, large walkers/ frames, or need carers to assist them.

FAQ: The RADAR accessible toilet key

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What is a RADAR Key?

The RADAR key opens toilets fitted with the RADAR National Key Scheme (NKS) locks. Toilets fitted with these are for the use of disabled people and are found all over the country (e.g. pubs, restaurants, leisure venues, tourist places, shopping centres, stations, airports etc).

Why is it called a RADAR Key?

The NKS scheme used to be administered by an organisation called RADAR (The Royal Association for Disability Rights). This has now merged with two other organisation to become Disability Rights UK. The name RADAR Key has stuck since then and is was going to be relaunched but this no longer appears to be the case.

What types are there?

There are two types – one with a small head and one with a very large head for people with grip or dexterity difficulties. Both are silver with the word RADAR RADAR_lockKey embossed on them and will fit into an NKS lock which looks like this:

They are long handled to bypass vandal protection blocks built into doors.

Who can have one?

Any individual with an impairment / medical condition who needs access to these larger toilets or hygiene facilities or needs facilities to assist mobility or navigation (such as hand rails, lower basin, contrasting colours, different toilet height or seat arrangement, changing table, hoist for example).

One downside is that you do not need proof of need to purchase one so parents and non disabled people can abuse the scheme.

Where do I buy a genuine key from?

You can buy genuine keys from http://www.disabilityrightsuk.org. At the time of writing (updated August 2016) they cost £4.50 (RADAR, when audited showed no profit in the keys – they actually made a loss at this price).

Disabled_Toilet_Key

Genuine RADAR disabled toilet key

The Blue Badge Company are also promoting a genuine key with a blue handle for £6.00 image

 

I have seen them for sale elsewhere – do they work?

Fake RADAR Key

Fake RADAR Key

There are hundreds of places claiming to sell ‘genuine’ keys including many prominent charities and mobility shops. One of the reasons for relaunching a new key is to avoid people being ripped of by fakes that may be so rough cut and out of shape that they don’t easily open toilets, if at all.

Tom Gordan from their sales team told me:

“Disabled people need genuine Radar keys because they are dependent on them to open what is often the sole toilet which they can use. 
Genuine keys genuinely work all the locks because they have extra machining processes and are more reliably cut and also more accurately cut.
Each one is tested on a radar toilet lock (not the padlocks which are a more basic mechanism) by a master locksmith to guarantee that a disabled person does not suffer.
Identification of genuine keys is easy – if it says “radar” on it, it is a genuine radar key. If it doesn’t then it is an inferior copy.
Including postage, the majority of the dodgy keys are sold for more than genuine ones direct from Disability Rights UK, so the confusion leads to those copies creating both awkward situations and extra cost.”

How do I find a toilet?

A booklet for regional locations is available on their website costing £3.50. However, it will cost you £70 to purchase all regions.

The majority of toilets use the scheme so it’s probably best to just follow signs to toilets/accessible toilets as anyone would do.

A new RADAR Key App will be available around September 2016 listing toilet locations.

Why are accessible toilets often locked with these in the UK?

Many places choose to install NKS locks on their toilets to keep them clean and reduce the chance of them being abused by people who don’t need to use them, vandalised or used for drugs, sexual activity or a wide range of other things.

 

 

 

 

 

Changing Places low usage?

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Gill, a fellow toileteer, had a couple of questions – which I felt might be a useful topic to take a look at. Here is the first one:

Changing Places: Changing places room is greatly needed and appreciated by users, but it would appear that in general they get very little use. I believe that this is partly due to signage. The facility might appear on an app but once in the building there may be poor directions. Also once found they might well be locked and someone has to go on a key hunt. Apparently some providers are closing them as they have never been used, and the average usage is once every six months. There’s been a suggestion that they could become a more multi use facility? eg first aid room; baby changing room for a disabled parent. Do you have any thoughts on this?

Changing Places and similar toilets are very valuable. However, imagine you’re a shop or tourist attraction who has invested thousands in providing a large fully accessible toilet with a hoist and bench… only to find it’s rarely used. A waste of money, you say angrily, as you knock it down to make way for valuable retail space. 

Aghhhhh. What went wrong?

We can break down some of the key reasons as to why they are at risk of being underused.

1) The toilet is not signposted within the venue or town.

I’m a CP toilet user and so many times I find there is no signposting. I know from the CP map that the venue has one … but it’s not on any venue map, booklet, and no directions given from public toilet blocks. (O2 Arena, Bluewater Shopping Centre and my local town come personally to mind). 

  • If you don’t tell people where it is then they won’t use it!

Yesterday I looked at the CP map and saw Toddingto Services had one … I went in only to find it was on the northbound side and I was southbound. Whilst it’s on the Google map section of the CP map, the description didn’t indicate which side!

2) The toilet isn’t called a Changing Places. 

Staff might not know that a Changing Places toilet might be labelled, in their venue, as a ‘high dependency unit’ , ‘Space to Change’, ‘Hoist assisted toilet’, ‘Adult Changing Room’ etc. as there is no official standard name.  People who use these toilets might not realise to look/ask for alternative names. (Bluewater/O2 Arena / mobile units come to mind).

In Lincoln castle they have a hoist … but they just call it ‘the accessible toilet’.  No mention of it on their visitor literature!

  • Staff training can help.

3) Location, location, location

These toilets might be a significant investment … so location is critical. Even if a large venue has a CP toilet, if you have to walk for 30 minutes to reach it, you might not use it. Maidstone has one in its council building – great only it’s over 30 minutes fast walk uphill from the museum, theatre, main shopping area etc. It’s quicker for me to drive home!! 

  • Toilets need to be central to the action.

Yesterday I was at Chester Zoo. It’s a huge venue. I was a long way away from the CP toilet (about 600 metres) and it was back in the direction we had come from, so I used a basic loo. Does that count as none use or just my personal choice and need for the loo quicker than we could reach it?  The location is good though and well signposted – in fact I’d say in this instance 2-3 toilets would all be used well. 

  • Sometimes too few CP toilets or wrong locations can risk low overall use.

4) How is use being monitored?

Unless a person has to request one to be opened or someone is constantly watching the entrance (and this is being recorded) then usage monitoring might not be happening.  Use might be ‘guessed’ by  something as simple as ‘the bed paper roll’ still looks full or ‘the toilet roll hadn’t gone down in months’.

These methods have obvious flaws.  Thinking of the many CP toilets I have used, only 1 was visible by staff at a reception desk (who had other work to do rather than to vigilantly act as official toilet monitor). How can venues say with certainty if they are being used or not? 

Do cleaners make notes if it looks ‘used’? 

Most are ‘just toilets’ with no special key  and might be used for clothing changes or something which wouldn’t leave any dent in the toilet roll. I often use my own specialist wipes that are flushable – so you’ll never know I’ve been in.

Could they have other uses?

Thinking about secondary uses, the two obvious choices are noted by Gill. A first aid room or for wheelchair accessible baby changing.

The latter could be problematic in that parents using chairs are likely to need to sit under the changing table area to access their baby and CP benches are not open underneath. A height adjustable baby changing table might be an option that could fit in the full size CP toilet to assist disabled parents.

What about using it as a first aid room? There is nothing in health and safety legislation to suggest that a toilet space can not be a first aid room. However, whether someone would want to be treated in a room with a toilet nearby could be a problematic.  Hygiene and infection control may be an issue and CP benches are often just a shower trolley – not meant for laying on for a prolonged period and not that comfy.  There is also the consideration of what you would do if the room is being used and you needed the toilet or someone needed first aid. How likely this is to occur will depend on many factors. Location of the toilet and size may influence any decision to have a multi use room. For small to medium stores etc, multi use may be worth considering with the addition of a chair and first aid cabinet/wall mounted kit. 

Let a toilet be a toilet 

I see a simple solution. You don’t HAVE to use a bench or hoist to use the facility. Why not just have it as a toilet for use by anyone who would normally need an accessible toilet? Do disabled people in general know they can use it? 

Currently building regulations say that venues need a standard wheelchair accessible toilet  … and CP toilets are additional. 

Well perhaps this should change  – the only difference would be a finger wash basin near the toilet (and this could be fitted in a CP toilet as a moveable / swing out basin perhaps). That way one toilet suitable for all could be provided. Even going as far as enabling parents with children in prams to use the room in smaller venues where low use might be a financial issue? 

Maybe, in small venues, we need to start providing shared facilities that serve more than just disabled hoist/bench users. 

Time for a Change?

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The campaign for toilets with an adult bench, hoist and space for 2 carers resulted in the Changing Places Consortium being formed 10 years ago.

Whilst significant campaigning (largely by individuals with varying styles and mostly by parents) has resulted in the provision of over 850 of these toilets, we wondered whether it’s time for a change? 

Campaign success?

There is no single campaign or campaign  strategy for changing places – individuals can do whatever they want. This makes the campaigns disjointed and dilutes or replicates efforts. You see this regularly across the multitude of social media accounts/Facebook Pages and private blogs identifying themselves as campaigners using the CP symbol. Whilst Aveso and the Consortium generate information sheets and ‘Selfie Kits’ etc … there is a blurring of who or what is the ‘official’ approach. 

Protecting young people

Take the recent episode of parents who collected and posted pictures on the Internet of children (and other people’s children and young adults) on the toilet floor, face showing and wearing incontinence pads. Young people unable to consent to this undignified use of their image. If a school or care business did this it would be a serious child protection and human rights issue. However, when I raised this as a concern the Consortium said parent campaigners are not affiliated with them and can do as they wish. This didn’t stop their official social media accounts from sharing the images.  Mixed messages ensued across multiple Internet forums. The rights of the child were lost amidst the the cause, angering many disabled people.

Would not the responsible approach be to support campaigners with training in methods and ideas which protect the privacy and dignity of children? Just because dignity was lost in being on the floor doesn’t mean the indignity should be extended by their image being shared.  Is this the sort of campaign that can only achieve success by using increasingly shocking images? Thankfully many people did indeed use their creativity and there has been a reduction in the use of children as dignity martyrs – and so individual efforts continue and the campaign actively promotes them. 

Pen v. sword?

Individuals can approach companies in any way they want ranging from polite letters and personal conversations to social media harassment. 

It is likely that as much harm as good has been done with these tactics which has divided campaigners for toilet equality.  How can you have a meaningful, positive conversation when the previous contact they had with a campaigner was focusesd on personal anger, emotion and frustration. 

It’s easy to get angry when you have struggled that day in a cramped toilet and are gathering up your evidence to make a complaint or have ‘that’ conversation. You want to throw the book at them, yell at them. You want to drag them into the toilet and make them see what you have to go through. You want them to empathise and make things right – but all you get is a ‘sorry you were unconvenienced’ letter to fuel the next stage of complaint. 

It’s hard not to let personal emotions damage your chances of negotiating an agreement to provide a toilet you and thousands of others can use. However, we have to remain polite, persistent, factual and professional. Unfortunately not all campaigners do – and that’s a big problem.

Time to rename and rebrand?

Many have kept their distance or tried to move things on locally. There have been issues with Changing Places being built that fall short of the recommended guidelines of 12 sq metres. That said it is a guideline. Some felt a smaller room was acceptable and out sprang the Space to Change campaign with its own logo. Then things became problematic with determining which ones were listed on the CP toilet map.

Recently a local campaign for a new branding of ‘Hoist Assisted Toilets’ has gathered momentum. In fact, one of the problems with the CP toilet was that they were very focused on the needs of people who used incontinence pads. This alienated (in name and focus) people who were continent but needed a hoist or those who needed a bit more space or other equipment. People didn’t like asking for a Changing Place due to the remaining stigma of incontinence. 


This has led to CP toilets being called other names including ‘high dependency unit’, ‘Space to Change’, ‘Adult Changing Room’ etc. It’s confusing and has resulted in staff and visitors talking cross purposes and toilets not being found.  If there was a single campaign with good leadership, one name, one symbol and one strategy then we might have more of these toilets.

The future of toilets 

The result of the above could indicate that change is needed in many areas if we are to benefit from more Changing Places toilets in the UK.