A campaign supporter has been in touch due to a troubling response from her MP to her request that they support Paula Sherriff MP with her Accessible Toilets Bill in November.
Here it is…
“I am all in favour of Changing Places Toilets being installed in places where that is feasible and reasonable – and there is already a strong body of law that requires the owners of public premises to make all reasonable adjustments to promote access for the disabled. This is just as it should be.
But I don’t believe that it is sensible to have a piece of legislation which requires a very specific kind of toilet produced by specific manufacturers to be installed even in places where it may be ruinously expensive to do so.
So I am afraid I cannot support this Bill.”
Yes, upon first reading it, I was cross. What kind of MP would not support a Bill to ensure that all people can access toilets in large new developments and complexes like theatres, railway stations and shopping centres???
And then I realised something.
MPs don’t have super powers! They don’t have knowledge about all things. And sometimes they are tired, and don’t read everything properly.
MPs are human too. (I know that not everyone believes that of all MPs, but I think this one is, which is why this post is not about “naming and shaming” but about understanding that we have elected regular people to do important jobs, and that we cannot all know and understand everything about everything.)
This MP is just not fully understanding the proposals of the Bill. And they are clearly unaware that the Equality Act is not actually a “strong body” at all. The reality is that it relies on an individual who feels discriminated against, and who has had an experience of being treated less favourably due to disability, being emotionally strong enough, and financially able, to take legal action. But many MPs probably have no life experience of severe disability, nor of the Equality Act, so we need to help them with this!
When over 250,000 disabled people cannot access toilets away from home, we have to recognise that current regulations and advice are not working. Access to toilets is not a “kindness” or a “nice thing to provide”. Access to toilets is an essential requirement for us all.
Paula Sherriff’s Bill is very clear that it is not asking small businesses to provide these facilities. “As a minimum, my Bill seeks to strengthen regulations by making the provision of Changing Places toilets mandatory in large new builds, complexes with public access, or sites where visitors can reasonably be expected to spend long periods of time.” That sounds very feasible and not ruinously expensive at all.
Large new developments are already going to be costly. Other toilet facilities are being included without being specifically requested by anyone.
Finally, a Changing Places toilet does not need a “special” toilet or basin. Ones from regular suppliers will do. Nor does the ceiling track or changing table need to come from a specific supplier. Many businesses sell them, a huge variety are available. People across the country have this equipment in their own homes, which shows that it can be easily sourced.
I am sure that this MP is a decent, kind and caring person.
But we have to remember that MPs are involved in many issues and they don’t have the time to really immerse themselves in finding out all the details about every issue. So we need to give them the information in an easily accessible format.
I have amended my previous template letter in the post ‘What can YOU do?‘ to add a little more information for MPs. Please take a look and contact your MP. Give them as much information as you can by adding your own story to the template if you can.
But do remember that MPs are only human, and they don’t understand every issue, or how every Act works. We need to be kind to them and help them by making sure that they have all the information needed so that they can improve the world and show everyone the depth of their humanity.