Some time ago, almost 2 years ago, I wrote to the zoo.
They didn’t send me a pet, in fact, they didn’t even reply.
It was the start of a lengthy, and often one sided, conversation!
Yet all we want to do, is go to the zoo. Like other people do, because, we are “other people” too! Some might say “disabled, not less”, and they are quite right.
But we are really just disabled by the facilities. Or, more correctly, the lack of them.
Just before Christmas we took Alfie the Elf with us for a short visit to the zoo. It was only ever going to be a short visit, because the zoo simply doesn’t have a toilet large enough to use. They have a “disabled toilet” and it even has one of those stickers on the door reminding people that not all disabilities are visible, yet the one thing it doesn’t do is enable those with some pretty obvious disabilities to actually use it.
Doesn’t look too small, I hear you say! Well, no, not if you are a twelve inch tall Elf!
But, when you are a person, (of not even fully grown person size) who uses an adult sized powered wheelchair, it is a different story. I am assuming that most (hopefully all) of us prefer to close the door before we start to use the toilet! Yet, those very people with
impossible-to-hide disabilities are the very people who cannot use the facility, all whilst being reminded that not every disability is visible!
Even if you don’t know much about the space required to turn a wheelchair, you can see here that it isn’t actually possible to turn a full circle with a child’s remote controlled vehicle.
We are not just asking for a larger disabled toilet, we are asking for an accessible toilet, one with an adult sized changing table and a hoist, because that is actually what a great number of disabled people actually need. Some people can be lifted by carers, but they still need more space than this room offers.
And we have been asking for almost two years now.
A visit to the zoo is not cheap.
Our carer was allowed in for free, as he should have been, because he was only there to assist a disabled person. But the fee for one adult and one disabled child, for less than two hours at the zoo (no drinks, no visit to the café and a lot of stress about whether we can get home without a wet seat) is really quite a high price to pay. The fear and stress was a particularly high price!
There was another child there that day, a boy just a little older than my own son, who also needed the same facilities – a toilet with a hoist and changing table. Because people who can’t stand up or self transfer still need the loo! That boy left even before we had to, just because he needed the toilet. He had a very short visit to the zoo and I am sure that he was very sad about that.
I do appreciate that the zoo did eventually respond (after my alternative Dear Zoo blog) and that they are looking into it.
I appreciate that they have responded to my e-mail from January 2018 requesting an update. I read their response and I do indeed understand that these things take time.
But it has now been almost two years since we first asked.
A few weeks back a lady was setting up monthly workshops with the zoo for home educated children. Places were limited. I dithered too long trying to work out ways that I could make it possible for my son to attend. Because it wasn’t as easy as just deciding if we wanted to go, or thinking about the workshop costs, I would have had to hire in a mobile Changing Places toilet for my son, every month, and that was going to be expensive and potentially very difficult to arrange. So, once again, my son was treated less favourably than others, due to disability.
Or, more correctly, treated less favourably due to disabling facilities.
Because, at the zoo, where everyone else is just ambling around looking at the animals, my son isn’t disabled – he is just another person ambling around looking at the animals! Or, at least, he would be “just another person” if the facilities enabled him to be so.
When people ask a business, charity, council or other organisation to update their toilet facilities, they are really just asking to be treated as a person.
Not a problem, not an unwanted nuisance, but a valued person.
These facilities, Changing Places Toilets, are not new and they are not that special. They have been recommended in the building standards for this type of attraction for a long time. And the Equality Act is an anticipatory one.
I appreciate that the team at the zoo are looking into improving their provision, I really do. But my eleven year old son just sees another year of exclusion ahead.
And that makes me sad.
And it leaves me worried for his future. So many disabled adults tell me of the enormous anxiety they live with every day, caused through these feelings that another generation of children are now struggling with.
Isn’t it time all attractions moved forwards in a positive way, making sure that they really are accessible to all?
They shouldn’t need to be asked repeatedly.
It shouldn’t need public pressure.
And it really shouldn’t need legal action.
If you are responsible for any business or attraction and want to be accessible to all, please get in touch. Don’t wait till you are asked – make a difference now!
Just a quick note to add that I have nothing against signs reminding us all that not all disabilities are visible. I have several friends with hidden disabilities and am a big fan of everyone being able to access a toilet!
But we should also be making sure that those who depend upon a very obvious wheelchair can also use them.