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.

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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?

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. 

The bare foot challenge…

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Take a photo (of your feet) standing bare foot on your toilet floor – then share it on social media and add the hashtag #barefootchallenge to join in.

Petition and challenge information 
Nominate friends or do it yourself…. Find out why below.

Why?

Ever stood bare foot on your toilet floor? How about in a public toilet? Not quite so appealing is it? 

I have to be bare foot to be lifted onto a public toilet – so my shoes don’t create more drag. In a public toilet it’s pretty yucky.

Other disabled people have to lie down on the toilet floor for pad changes. 

Floor changing
 This challenge creates awareness and opportunity to sign a petition of support for change – in the form of more Changing Places toilets. These are toilets with a hoist, changing bench and space. They offer hygiene, dignity, safety and equality.

There are very few of these yet they are needed by hundreds of thousands of disabled people. 

Guide 2 – What makes a toilet accessible?

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Our second guide can be downloaded from: links and resources page.

What_makesWhat makes a toilet accessible? An introduction to the needs of disabled people and assistants/carers.

A 30 page guide providing a brief introduction into the facilities that should be provided in a public accessible toilet to ensure dignity, safety and equality of toilet and hygiene provision.

We hope you will find the information useful if you:

  • Are passionate about improving the accessibility and usefulness of toilets for disabled people.
  • Wish to raise discussions with a business concerning a difficulty you have had accessing or using provided toilets.
  • Are building a new toilet or upgrading your existing facilities.
  • Are responsible for the maintenance or cleaning of sanitation facilities.
  • Are designing or submitting planning applications involving a new accessible toilet or altering existing ones.

 

Contents

About this Guide
Contents
Toilet types and signage
Three types of toilet
Legal requirements
Disability Equality
Building Regulations and British Standards
Health and inclusion
What should I find in a new accessible toilet?
Unisex, individual accessible toilets.
Changing Places toilets using BS 8300 (2009)
Accessibility features
Door entry and locking
Lights and accessories
Toilet height and seat type
Washing / drying toilets
Other accessibility features
Examples of a stylish toilet that is not accessible
Sinks and their function
Use of toilet paper
Facilities for people with bladder and bowel disorders
Availability – an important part of accessibility
Provision for people to manage their bladder/bowel
People who have an ostomy
Using the toilet whilst standing, or sitting in a wheelchair.
People who use a hoist
Needs of Carers / Assistants
People with other needs
Privacy
Stigma
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.

An open letter to West Midland Safari and Leisure Park

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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.

Solutions

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: Disabled people and their families share their similar experiences since this was posted on Changing Places Facebook Page.

   
   

  

 

Twycross are fundraising for a Changing Places toilet : 

  

The back stage tour at the 02 – aka where is the loo

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On Thursday we went to the O2 Arena in London for the first time to see a concert. All we knew was that doors opened at 6.30 so we arrived extra early to go for a meal.

The dome has eating venues inside it, which circle the central arena (which also has it’s own food hall for event ticket holders).

The plan was to use the Changing Places (CP) toilet. Whilst the location of the loo is given (both on the 02 and CP website), it became meaningless as it said Block 106 Level 1. We couldn’t find ‘blocks’ mentioned on the maps inside the venue or where this was in relation to our accessible seating in the actual arena.

We also didn’t realise that the loo is just for the Arena (and not for the cinema or restaurants within the dome, but outside of the central arena).  This means it’s only really available from door opening times if you have event tickets and request an access key card.

As the doors were closed we asked a few people who seemed to be ‘sign-posters’ and they didn’t know what a CP toilet was and tried to send us to the cinema accessible toilet area. Eventually, we found a desk of some sorts tucked back out of view to the left of the arena doors.  The person did say they were on level one and that we would be shown up to it because people weren’t allowed in yet and their was security about every 20 metres.  So we waited about 10 minutes for our security escort.

Then we went on a backstage tour with our guide … to a standard loo. We explained we wanted the CP one and the guy said oh the ones on level 1 – follow me. *sigh

So we had to do the backstage tour in reverse, into a staff lift, and up to level 1. Entry to the loo was by key card and the security guy loitered in the lobby to escort us back down.

The toilet was slightly bigger than the regular accessible toilets – but one of the smallest CP toilets we have used,  There was  only just enough room to place my chair to the side of the toilet for a transfer (we were using manual not hoist transfers that night). So, it was a little disappointing on space available for my particular needs.

There is also a speaker system in the loo for public and staff announcements and they pipe music in which makes it hard to communicate with assistants during the moves/lifts etc.

The toilet is a regular one (no bidet / auto cleaning)

However, it was much better than the none CP one we glimpsed on the way in.

We then had to be escorted down in the public lift to the entrance to have our tickets scanned (doors were now open). We had now done a full loop which had taken 40 minutes of walking time all in all.

We then did the back stage tour again – this time to get to our accessible seating on the ground floor. We had a good view – but would have needed a full escort again to take the staff lift to level 1 if we needed the loo again. That is exactly what we had to do at the end of the evening.  We had done so many laps of the back corridors that security staff now greeted us with a ‘hello again’.

All in all, regarding toilet facilities, it is great they have CP facilities but a shame they are not easily accessible from outside the central Arena, and are not easily and quickly accessible from the ground floor accessible arena seating.

Now that we know what to expect, we won’t go so early next time, so that we can time the loo for door opening times.