Wheelchair users often get some strange looks from able-bodied people.
Especially if they create a miracle in the supermarket by rising from their chair to reach the higher shelves.
Or by getting up and walking to a table in a restaurant.
People use wheelchairs for a variety of purposes.
Some people can walk, but not far.
Some people have health problems which make it risky to walk far.
Others might tire easily so they use the chair in order to get where they are going, then walk once they arrive.
Able-bodied people do tend to be surprised when they see a wheelchair user get up and walk.
Which surprises me, because when it comes to accessible toilet facilities, people forget entirely that not all wheelchair users can stand or self transfer.
So many “disabled toilets” have been installed whilst completely forgetting it. Hundreds of thousands of disabled people in the UK are unable to self-transfer from their wheelchair to the toilet. But they still need to “go”!
Why are the needs of so many ignored? All that is need is a toilet, basin, hoist and changing table. Not hard and not really that expensive either. Certainly not against the cost of a person’s dignity and safety and not against the costs legal action under the Equality Act could reach!
To be honest, some disabled toilets are not much use to wheelchair users who can self transfer either! Being able to enter the room, turn and lock the toilet door is probably considered to be quite important by us all!
My local zoo is very aware that their “disabled toilet” is not even big enough to get a powered wheelchair inside and close the door. They are looking into it, but so far this is what they have put on the outside of the door!
A friend of mine who has a son who uses a wheelchair mused that maybe it means “throw your wheelchair on the floor because it’s no use to you in here”.
And nobody is quite sure why the wheelchair user is upside down. Unless perhaps they fell out of their chair whilst trying to squeeze into the toilet!
There was a time when I knew nothing about accessibility needs. It feels like many who design “disabled toilets” don’t know anything about it either.
Document M (the legal requirement for provision of toilets) states that “wheelchair users should be able to approach, transfer to and use the sanitary facilities in a building”. When a legal standard is ignoring those who cannot self transfer, what hope is there?
It needs to change. Disabled people need to be involved in the discussion about a new standard. As do carers for those who cannot express their requirements themselves.
Some wheelchair users can stand and walk. Some cannot.
But we all need to manage the same natural bodily functions.
I am a supporter of making sure those with non-visible disabilities feel comfortable accessing any toilet facility that they need.
I just think that the same right should be extended to all wheelchair users as well. Including my son.
My local zoo came on board, realised the importance of Changing Places facilities, and opened a fabulous one in December 2018.
Take a look at it and join me in saying Thank you to Newquay Zoo.