Further improvements are needed if we really want to make ‘away from home’ toilets truly usable for all disabled people.
The best we have in the UK are those in new buildings which have followed guidance (Approved Document M) on meeting building regulations for access/features etc.
Most places provide single room, wheelchair accessible toilets to the UK wide specified design. A small percentage also provide Changing Places toilets (which take usability a step further by providing a high/low adjustable changing bench, hoist, toilet, sink and larger space). Changing Places are encouraged but not required in buildings.
However, I feel we need to aim higher – because even these toilets aren’t always usable by a large number of people. It’s not just a case of whether someone can urinate or deficate – it’s about comfort for different body shapes, it’s about safety, dignity and hygiene. All these support people’s physical and mental health.
What might the future look like?
Changes in the law and building regulations.
- Improved British Standards which would feed into
- improved design within building regulations, for new buildings (e.g. more space)
- New laws on sanitation and equality for public toilets (both around access for disabled people and access for many other users).
- Laws that make buildings older than 2004 upgrade their toilet facilities to the current specifications to meet duties under the Equality Act (2010) around disability.
*Currently buildings only have to provide disabled access to the level that was specified in the building regulation at the time of the build. Therefore, older buildings will not have the same level of access required today or may have no access at all.
There are so many different symbols, signs and words – which can be confusing for people looking for a toilet. A clear system of symbols would be helpful.
Promote the proper use of accessible toilets – many people need the facilities but don’t go in because of the words ‘disabled toilet’ or a picture of a person with specific, visual, impairment (e.g. wheelchair symbol/person with a stick). We need more public awareness that toilet like these are for anyone who needs the more specialised facilities inside.
Clearly stating that baby changing should be in an accessible parent/child location would make them more easily available to those with urgency needs.
Use of technology / equipment provision to open up accessibility to more people
Significantly high numbers of people need more than just a standard toilet, shelf and sink to meet their hygiene/toilet needs.
- Automatic washing and drying toilets
There are hundreds of thousands of people that are unable to clean themselves easily, or where it causes them great pain or puts them at risk of falls.
- People with upper body limb loss
- People with muscle weakness or paralysis
- People with back problems who can not bend or twist.
- People with severe arthritis
- People with obesity
- People with dexterity/grip difficulties
- People with balance and coordination difficulties.
- People with bladder/bowel disorders/ incontinence
- People with shortened arms
- Disabled women particularly during menstruation.
2. Toilets which can be adjusted in height
These are essential for wheelchair users where modern chairs come in a range of heights (and people generally need to be at the same height to manually transfer from chair to toilet etc). Also, people with muscle weakness, neurological impairments or those who have difficulty moving their joints may not be able to stand up from the toilet unless it can be raised up to a height which suits them.
Variable height toilets also suit many lower limb amputees and people with short legs. Adjustability is key to prevent falls and enable people to sit/stand safely and more easily.
3. Sinks which can be adjusted in height
These facilities are only ‘desirable’ and not necessary within current guidance.
Toilets do not always have none-slip floors or alarm cords. Shouldn’t these be standard in every accessible/adapted toilet?
Did you know that 82% of powered wheelchairs for sale will not fit into the transfer space inside an ‘accessible’ toilet and their is not enough room for assistance (or ambulance staff to get in to help if you fall)?
Increased number of toilets
Large venues like a shopping centre or stadium may have several visitors who need highly adapted toilets – providing one Changing Places is not enough.
What about the cost?
When someone pays for a new building – an office block, hospital, cinema/shopping mall, airport, train station … there is never a question of ‘do we need to put any toilets in the building – because we might not be able to afford it’. It is a ‘given’ that for public health, toilets must be provided. So if a place is going to provide toilets – they need to be usable by everyone (or they are as good as no provision).
Of course, accessible toilets may have additional costs to ensure the space, technology, maintenance, security etc of the above. Those with an adult changing bench and shower need even more space.
Well, how much do you value disabled people as part of your community or workforce? How much do you want their custom (and their friends/carers/family etc)? How do you put a price on doing the right thing and enabling people to leave their homes and participate in life? What about complying with the Equality Act regarding Disability Discrimination?
Let’s be blunt – how much money are you making in your business – because most of the technology and space adaptations could be done for around £10,000 – £15,000 for the full works and is very affordable.
In my own home I have space, a ceiling hoist and a height adjustable toilet that also washes and dries – for around £5000.