Written by Angela May Published: 7 January 2020
Sinead Burke describes using a public bathroom as “an excruciating experience”.
It is a human right to be able to go to the toilet, with dignity. However, despite there being a range of allegedly accessible WCs for people to use when away from home (ambulant disabled, wheelchair users, those who need help), there is still not one, single design of toilet that addresses everyone’s needs.
Perhaps part of the problem in developing a truly accessible toilet is our understanding, interpretation of the terminology itself. As Sinead asks, who is it accessible to? Whose needs are NOT being accommodated?
It is further complicated by the signage. The traditional image of disability is a wheelchair. Yet only 10% of registered disabled people in the UK are wheelchair users. It emphasises the value of developing a universal design of public bathroom.
And, however much a venue or provider wants to be inclusive, there is inevitably a financial implication. It may be the cost of the space needed to provide the raft of different WC configuration to meet everyone’s needs. It may be the financial cost of purchasing- and then maintaining- all the appropriate support equipment.
And how to find one design that meets everyone’s needs? We know from our own experience that even two people with the same condition will have different issues to face and overcome.
Changing Places toilet facilities go a long way to meeting the needs of everyone. Yet even they
still exclude some- such as Sinead. But it is something that certainly helps the majority of disabled people.
It may need us all to take a broader view to accessing public washrooms, and a change in the overall approach to Changing Places provision, towards the requirement of Building Regulations Approved Document M. That says that, if there is not the space etc for separate WC facilities, then the very least that should be provided is a unisex wheelchair accessible WC facility.
What if that was amended, and enacted, so that the very least was a full-specification Changing Places toilet(*)? Would that be a step in the right direction towards an inclusive design of public washroom, that was the ‘norm’ rather than the exception?
(*) BS8300:2018 states a Changing Places facility should be 3m x 4m, with a ceiling height of 2.4m; it should include a peninsular WC (it notes a wash & dry WC would benefit many users), a full room cover overhead tracked hoist system, height-adjustable adult-sized changing/ showering bench, height adjustable wash basin, and privacy screen.