We all occasionally say stuff something which, afterwards, strikes us as being a little bit poorly thought out. We don’t generally mean to have said it or used the tone that we did.
When you are a business though, especially when replying to someone who has made an enquiry about facilities for disabled people, I would hope that a little more thought would go into it.
Searching online, making telephone calls and sending e-mails before going anywhere comes as standard here. (https://ordinaryhopes.wordpress.com/2016/06/10/you-didnt-call-ahead/) We start planning and thinking about how to make things possible long before we decide to nip out!
This post isn’t about naming or shaming anyone. Sometimes people really just don’t understand what is needed or what can be done to make things better. Sometimes they don’t read before pressing “send”.
I am hoping that these places will have a rethink of how they answer. I am hoping that they might put themselves in the position of the person enquiring and ask how they would feel with that answer. If anyone is ever named on this blog it will either be because they are amazing and deserve to have praise heaped upon them (#CornwallServices) or because they have had more opportunities than I can continue to give but still don’t seem to really understand.
I generally send a version of this e-mail,
My son is a full time wheelchair user. In order to be able to use the toilet we need a toilet which also has a full sized changing bench and a hoist as well as a toilet and basin. Do you have a toilet facility which would enable us to visit? If not, do you have any suggestions as to how we can make things accessible?
Replies are variable.
Thank you for your e-mail. There is a urinal in our male toilets as well as one cubicle toilet. The cubicle is large enough to fit a wheelchair in and also has a basin however it doesn’t not have a hoist.
So, that would be a “no” then.
No recognition that facilities do not meet our needs, no understanding that this might make us sad, no will to improve things.
People like me are used to things being far from ideal. We understand that many people and many businesses just don’t know what is required but surely, from a PR perspective, most people would know that that is not a great answer.
Thank you for your email and suggestions regarding the changing facilities for wheelchair users. I’m pleased to hear that your son has always enjoyed visiting the ______ in the past, but unfortunately our toilets (1.75m x 1.90m) do not currently have a full-sized changing bench/hoist. We are very keen to try and make all of our facilities as accessible as possible and are very proud of our wheelchair access throughout the building. We are obviously reliant on funding to make improvements to our building and will certainly consider your suggestions when looking at future developments.
With regard to your visit next week, we are unfortunately unable to provide a hoist at such short notice. I’ve tried to find a room available where you could change your son but unfortunately both the Learning Centre and the Lecture Theatre are booked on that particular day.
I’m sorry I can’t be of further assistance but if you would like to have a chat about it, please do contact me on _________.”
This one is at least an improvement. An acknowledgement that things are not quite okay. They will even consider tacking it on to a future development plan – when something important needs doing.
I cannot hide my disappointment. Whilst the rest of our group will attend the workshop from 10am – 2:30pm my son will not be able to stay for the whole session.
Whilst I appreciate that you looked into a room for changing purposes it would not have helped as he prefers to use a toilet and not need changing.
If Adam is still happy to come, knowing that he cannot stay, I will be keen to take a look at the current facilities.
We did not go.
Can you imagine any organising saying to an able bodied person that they have no toilets but if you want to just soil yourself we will try to find a place you can get cleaned up???
They did not respond to that last e-mail. I should imagine that they felt a bit uncomfortable when they realised what they had said. Just because he has disabilities and needs help does not mean he does not want his dignity to remain intact.
Another “favourite” reply to a discussion about toilet facilities came after a dear friend wrote on the Facebook page of a local attraction.
She had located their “disabled toilet” (I hate that phrase – always tells me exactly what to expect – an entirely disabling room) to find that, yes, whilst she could get her child’s wheelchair in the room and shut the door it was not big enough to have the required 2 carers in the room as well as the chair and get her child out of her chair. So they had had to leave her wheelchair outside!
If you have never had to buy a wheelchair before you may be a little in the dark about the risk here. My son’s manual wheelchair cost just short of £4,000 and I could have bought two brand new cars for the price of his powered wheelchair. These things are expensive!
They are also vital. If something happens to that wheelchair you are stuck as a family.
Then they had the awful reality of having to lie their precious and wonderful little girl on the floor to manage her care needs.
She was very polite, bringing it to their attention in a very polite way. The response included this astounding statement:
Nobody has ever complained before.
Wow! Why on earth are you complaining woman? Other people either don’t come or don’t complain!
For a while now I have been hopeful that Exeter Services would install a fully accessible toilet facility. They do, after all, provide toilets for everyone else and using the toilet is probably one of the big reasons families stop there. It is also a great Service Station with Krispy Kreme doughnuts for sale. Of course we want to stop here!
Once again, the importance of making sure that people are not being discriminated against due to disability isn’t totally high priority. I had the second letter in response to my letter saying that surely the “development opportunity” was already presenting itself.
So we no longer stop at Exeter.
We no longer purchase the doughnuts.
We found another facility which welcomes us, The Hayridge Centre in Cullompton. http://www.devon.gov.uk/thehayridge It takes us a little out of our way, which means we must factor the extra travelling time into any journey, but it has everything we need. It was a bleak afternoon weather-wise so it may not look much from the outside but it has everything we need inside. If you do not have your own Radar Key you can pop into The Hayridge Centre where the staff will be happy to help.
Finding a place like this makes such a difference on a long and stressful journey.
People like me totally appreciate that it can be expensive to make changes (remember the cost of that wheelchair mentioned earlier?) and we understand that it is difficult (not quite as difficult as the options facing someone who cannot go to the toilet or someone who could not wait any longer) but we do understand.
The duty to make reasonable adjustments under section 20-21 of the Equality act applies where, broadly, a provision, criterion or practice puts a disabled person, or disabled people, at a substantial disadvantage in comparison with persons who are not disabled.
Substantial means only “more than minor or trivial” (s.212(1) EqA)
I think we would all agree that not being able to use a toilet is way more than minor or trivial.
Disability Equality may have come a long way over the years but there is still a long road to travel. A long road with very few toilets if you are travelling along the motorway!