Universal design: the accessible lavatory lament

A couple of weeks ago I was invited to attend a seminar on universal design. A presentation about accessible toilets in the UK was given – the provision of public accessible toilets and their ‘accessibility’ as according to British standards.

There was a discussion after the presentation and the question was raised as to who has priority over accessible toilets/disabled loos which are normally locked by Radar keys. It came up that they are very useful places for others too – for breast feeding, as a quiet place for respite, for changing children, generally more spacious and everybody likes to have access to them. As the only wheelchair user in the room then, I piped up that it can be quite a wait when you re in need with non disabled occupying the one accessible loo. But then there was the comment that non disabled also had to wait to use toilets as well – sometimes. At this point I gave up, I was not there to tell a roomful of academics (most of them) why there is a priority for disabled people with those accessible toilets. Nor that there is legislation against discrimination in favour of breast feeding mums since 2010, there is no need to hide in accessible loos to do that.

I cannot but helped thinking of the comparison with the wheelchair space on the bus Рmum with buggies and wheelchair users compete for the one space. There is a ruling on disabled people’s right to access wheelchair spaces on buses this month under the Equality Act. But first of all, I should make it clear that I am not advocating that only disabled people/wheelchair users have a right to those spaces but to make the point that non disabled people should realise the barriers we face everyday just on the need for a bodily function. I do not think that many non disabled people have to spend any time on organising and planning where to have pit stops. Life should not revolve around the availability of accessible toilets. I had a job at a university once where going to the nearest accessible toilet meant taking 2 lifts or going across the road to the library where I had to ask the librarian for a key for the toilet Рit was locked exactly because they wanted control on its use.

And there is no legislation for priority for disabled users for accessible toilets. Anybody can buy a Radar key (available from Amazon or Ebay as well).

So often the only accessible loo can be down a long corridor, up/down a lift and when you get there, its taken up by a non disabled person because its more comfortable. It takes me longer just to transfer, to get in and out of my clothes, dismantle pieces of my wheelchair sometimes. I cannot hop into another cubicle. Some of us have other problems. Yes, there can be others who need the space for other needs. But if we go by universal design why are we not advocating that all loos be accessible, then there would not be the competition for the one/two accessible loo/s in the building.

Sometimes one gets the impression that one is delegated to the role of being the shrill lamenter as a disabled person, the last thing one wants to do in a roomfull of worthies – lamenting the lack of toilet facilities. How can you expect your professional peers to take you seriously after that? Much easier to hold in, ingest fluids carefully!

reblogged from Maverick Monkey

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