If you don’t try, nothing will change.
For too long I made excuses and avoided the difficulties but it was not the right thing to do.
Not for my son.
Not for other disabled people.
And not for all who will follow.
All disabled by poor facilities – in this case toilets.
Many might wonder how this is possible, after all, everyone knows that places HAVE to have “disabled toilets”. What most don’t realise though is that the current building standards make them a struggle for a lot of wheelchair users and absolutely impossible for hundreds of thousands of others to use them at all.
My son is 10 and has wanted to enjoy days out at the zoo for a long time. He kept asking and I kept making excuses as to why we couldn’t go.
The reality was simple, we couldn’t go because I couldn’t get him on the toilet there. Indeed, I knew that I wouldn’t be able to get him in the toilet and close the door, let alone get him out of his chair.
But what was achieved by my excuses?
I was risking my son feeling that I didn’t care enough about him to take him to the zoo.
And when he was older, would he be angry that I had done nothing to change it?
None of us knows how much time we have but when your child has health problems and disabilities you are a little more aware of the fragility of life.
We all want memories, not regrets. So, I wrote to the zoo. Several times.
It has not been straightforward but none of that really matters.
What matters is compassion and a will to improve.
I am very pleased to share the news that I met with three members of the zoo team recently and that I am impressed with them.
They are not only committed to making Newquay Zoo accessible to all, they also want to ensure that their sister organisations improve too.
Living Coasts in Torquay (often more commonly known as “The Penguin Place”) is likely to be the first of their attractions to have a Changing Places toilet installed. Mainly because it is a relatively new building and is easily adaptable.
Paignton Zoo is expected to be the next one to have the facilities installed. The zoo already has a toilet which once had a hoist and changing table in it. Sadly, some years ago it was vandalised and the equipment was not replaced. It is so sad that anyone would destroy essential equipment such as this. I am hopeful that awareness of the importance of these facilities will help ensure that this does not happen again.
Newquay Zoo has a plan for a major refurbishment of the entire entrance area and this will now include a Changing Places toilet facility.
Unfortunately, this will not happen for about two years so the management team are looking into ways to adapt a current toilet to temporarily house a ceiling hoist and changing table as well. It would require some building work and the zoo are delighted to have the support of Keep It in Cornwall for Kids (K.I.C.K.), a small local charity, who are very keen to help fund it.
Newquay Zoo has the difficulty of their buildings being mainly sheds and needing updating, hence the planned refurbishment. Whilst they hope that there will be a solution to upgrade an existing toilet to house a hoist and changing table, if it really is not possible they will be looking into regularly hiring a mobile changing places toilet so that nobody is excluded.
It is brilliant that they are not going to stop till they find a way to include everyone.
This is the sort of thinking that more organisations should be using.
Even better, during a discussion where I mentioned a friend’s daughter who is registered blind but gains so much from a visit to the zoo, we discussed a device which can enable blind people to use a toilet independently, the Room Mate. One of the zoo’s representatives was already aware of them and is keen that these devices should be installed too!
This is how people should respond to a query about accessibility!
Yet again, organisations from Cornwall are not only leading the way but they are planning to go further than the original request. That deserves recognition.
Now that they know better they are determined to not only do better, but to do the best possible.
In all the years when we were able to visit Newquay Zoo, one of the most impressive parts of the day were the fantastic staff. Staff would see my son as we wandered around and stop to talk to him. Even when he couldn’t speak back, they never stopped talking to him. We were often by the warty pigs for feeding time and the staff would always ask if he wanted to help. I suppose that is part of what makes us what to return so much.
It may take time, but the will is there. And when people are determined, great things will happen.
Thank you Newquay Zoo.
Thank you for telling my son, and every disabled person, that they matter.