The future of public accessible toilets

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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)

Most importantly:

  • 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.

Clear signage

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.

Usage

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.

  1. 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.

Safety

Toilets do not always have none-slip floors or alarm cords. Shouldn’t these be standard in every accessible/adapted toilet?

Space

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. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Equality of toilet provision – The Equality Act 2010

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Whilst not a legal guide, information is provided here, and in our guides, to help you assess if your toilet provision is meeting the required standards and your Equality Act duties. Only a court can decide if you have failed to prevent or caused disability discrimination.  Similarly, toilets which do not comply with health and safety will be subject to further actions and investigation from relevant safety bodies.
Guide to Accessible Toilet Standards and Equality Act Requirements

The Equality Act 2010

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In the UK, the Equality Act protects the rights of all disabled people, as individuals – which includes sanitary facilities that are provided.

Facilities being offered must provide equal access to toilets for disabled customers / visitors and employees, to the same standard as non-disabled people.  This means meeting their Equality Act 2010 obligations. Public bodies such as councils, schools and hospitals have additional duties under human rights law and the Equality Act.

The Equality Act does not recognise ‘minimum standards’. An individual disabled person or carer could argue that there has been no ‘reasonable adjustments’, as required by law, as it relates to them.  Also, what is ‘reasonable’ changes over time and adjustment is an ongoing obligation.

Being Reasonable

A business should pay close attention to how ‘reasonable’ is judged in courts and described in the Equality Act. Many businesses underestimate the extent of their duty to make adjustments and do what is reasonable in all of the circumstances.  Citing ‘too expensive’ or ‘disruptive’ without evidence of a thorough assessment and providing strong reasoning would be unwise.

Making adjustments

Businesses must take positive steps to remove barriers to disabled people and make reasonable adjustments. They must think ahead and plan to remove barriers – not wait until a person has had difficulties or feels they have been discriminated against.

Listen to the experiences of disabled people and if a problem has occurred take reasonable action to prevent discrimination from re-occurring in a timely manner – the ongoing obligations of the Act.

If someone doesn’t cooperate with their duty to make adjustments, the Equality Act says it’s unlawful discrimination.

The duty to make reasonable adjustment, imposed by the Equality Act 2010, means that provisions beyond that in Approved Document M [AD M] of the building regulations are likely to be required to anticipate the needs of a range of disabled people so they have equal toilet access.

You may have to upgrade your toilets now rather then wait for a ‘refit’ or new toilet block to be built.

Reasonable adjustments may include:

  • Gaining a thorough understanding of the needs of a range of different people and understanding particular needs e.g. asking “what do we need to do specifically for people with profound and multiple learning difficulties” as opposed to ‘what facilities do disabled people need’ or ‘what is the minimum standard we have to meet’.
  • Auditing toilet facilities thoroughly – not just against minimum standards.
  • Consulting with disabled staff, customers or other organisations to ensure facilities meet a wide range of people with different hygiene needs.
  • Making physical adjustments / building new toilets.
  • Providing Changing Places toilets or hiring a mobile unit
  • Publishing access statements about toilet facilities.
  • Making people aware of the type of facilities you have (e.g. widths of doors, heights of toilets, layout of grab rails, type of lighting etc).

What do the building regulations say?

Although the guidance in this Approved Document, if followed, tends to demonstrate compliance with Part M of the Building Regulations, this does not necessarily equate to compliance with the obligations and duties set out in the EA [Equality Act].

This is because service providers and employers are required by the EA to make reasonable adjustment to any physical feature which might put a disabled person at a substantial disadvantage compared to a non-disabled person.

In some instances this will include designing features or making reasonable adjustments to features which are outside the scope of Approved Document M. It remains for the persons undertaking building works to consider if further provision, beyond that described in Approved Document M, is appropriate.

[http://www.planningportal.gov.uk/uploads/br/approved-documents-amends-list_2013.pdf]

How do I upgrade my existing toilets?

cp_doorTo provide good facilities the following types of venues (but not inclusively) should be looking at 1 or more Changing Place toilets alongside provision of toilets that meet the latest building regulations (October 2015) – these have diagrams of exactly how to fit out a toilet, what size it should be etc for maximum accessibility.

  • major transport terminals or interchanges such as airports, large railway and bus stations
  • motorway service stations
  • sport and leisure facilities, including entertainment arenas, stadiums, large hotels, large theatres and multiplex cinemas
  • cultural centres such as museums, concert halls and art galleries
  • shopping centres, large retail developments and Shopmobility centres
  • key public buildings within town centres such as town halls, civic centres and principal public libraries
  • educational establishments, including universities
  • health facilities such as hospitals, health clinics etc.
  • portable facility at outdoor events

There is also a British Standard for accessibility BS8300:2009.

Guides on our link/resources page will also help you.

Full details about Changing Places and are available from:

http://www.pamis.org.uk/cms/files/publications/Changing%20Places%20a%20Practical%20Guide.pdf

Smaller venues should look at recent building regulations below and also look at whether other facilities could be offered e.g. a hoist or a changing bench for disabled children if they can not provide a Changing Place.

http://www.planningportal.gov.uk/buildingregulations/approveddocuments/partm/adm/
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If toilet facilities are not meeting the needs of individual disabled people, organisations must change things to make sure there is suitable toilet provision. Not having useable toilet facilities would be a major barrier to using / visiting , or working for an organisation.

Having no usable toilet facilities is also highly likely to prevent substantial income generation from disabled people and their families because they would be unable to visit, or visit for the same length of time as non-disabled people might.

Share your experience tool kit – challenge discrimination

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Our new guides and ‘Experience form’ make up our new tool kit to challenge discrimination.

The tool kit is available for disabled people and their assistants / carers, to enable them to approach a company who has failed to provide accessible toilets that meets their needs.

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It can be the start of a conversation to challenge discrimination and provide business with an opportunity to explain their approach to equality in the area of toilet access / sanitation / hygiene provision.

 


 

Step 1:

If you have had a bad experience, either download our form (or copy and paste the text into an e-mail).

The form (and a link to a text version to copy and paste) is available from: Links and resources page

Step 2: 

To fill out a pdf. form, use the ‘text’ and ‘highlight’ functions on your pdf viewer, save it and attach it to your e-mail.

  • Even easier is to create a new e-mail, and copy and past the text straight into it  from here.

 

Completing the form:

Once you have completed your basic details, go through the list of statements in the following 10 topics:

  1. Finding and entering the toilet area
  2. Entering / securing the toilet room
  3. Inside the toilet (space/colours/lighting/equipment)
  4. About the toilet / bench / hoist
  5. Sink
  6. Accessories (e.g. mirror/dryer etc)
  7. Horizontal support rails
  8. Vertical Support rails
  9. Emergency cord
  10. Other

simply deleting the ones that don’t apply – or highlighting the ones that do.

don’t forget to attach any pictures of the toilet you had difficulties using – this is important evidence.

Step 3 – Understanding the company response

The person may respond with a general statement like ‘… we do our best to make our venue accessible and will look into it’. In which case,

  • reply with a reminder to ask if they can let you know what they found out
  • ask about what they intend on doing and
  • when you might hear back from them.

Another type of reply might be something like ‘we have already complied with Document M and provide accessible toilets’. In this instance, you may want to read and supply the company with one or more of our guides, pointing out that meeting Document M guidelines does not mean they have met their duties as required by law within the Equality Act 2010 – and that the toilets did not meet your needs.

If you are unsure what these mean, our guides will also help you understand these standards and equality law.

Our guides to support you and the company include:

You can view the contents of these by clicking on the above links. They can all be downloaded from our links and resources page.

Step 4

If you are not happy with their reply you could consider continuing your discussion with them or you could consider sharing the communications with an advisor or legal expert to explore the option of taking legal action and the costs which might be involved.

Other options might be to contact your MP and explain the difficulties you have or consider a social media or local media campaign.

Remember, you have the right not to be discriminated against and treated differently when it comes to public toilet provision or as an employee who needs accessible toilets.

Launching 3 exciting publications

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Today we launch the first of 3 new publications that you can download from our links/resources page

Legal_requirements

Guide to Accessible Toilet Standards and Equality Act Requirements.

This 17 page guide is to help raise awareness about the standards, guidelines and equality laws surrounding the provision of toilets for use by disabled people and their carers/assistants.

We hope you will find the information useful if you:

  • Are passionate about improving the accessibility and usefulness of toilets for disabled people through campaigns and personal discussions.
  • Wish to raise discussions with a business concerning a difficulty you have had accessing or using provided toilets.
  • Provide toilets for disabled staff, visitors, customers and volunteers – and wish to provide the highest possible standard of ‘away from home’ toilets.
  • Are committed to the welcoming provision of a truly accessible toilet to demonstrate your commitment to social inclusion and equality.

 

Content

British Standards and AD M 
When do AD M requirements apply?
What if a new toilet does not follow these standards?
Types of accessible toilets 
Equality of toilet provision – what the law says. 
Be aware of ‘compliant’ suppliers
The duty to make reasonable adjustment and AD M
Do I have to follow the solutions in AD M?
Employment law
Human rights
UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities
Making adjustments 
What reasonable adjustments might include.
Auxiliary aids or services
Attracting customers and improving community inclusion
Facilities on request.
Thank you to:

*AD M = Approved Document M.  This is available from the official planning portal web-site [http://www.planningportal.gov.uk] for the most up to date information and documents.

Not Fit for Purpose

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 If you have a story to share, and want to be a guest blogger – because a short Tweet won’t do your story justice … Let us know.

We are always writing to companies and tourist venues about poor standards of toilet provision. If you want us to include quotes from your experiences – tell us below.  

What would you tell businesses to persuade them to provide toilet facilities that are fit for purpose?