Published: 7 May 2022

Toilets

I'll start with a confession: I have a bit of a thing about toilets. It might be bordering on obsessive, but it's because toilets pretty much rule my world.

I can't go anywhere unless I know there will be an accessible toilet. My bladder capacity is on average around 45 mins to an hour... better in the afternoon, worse in the morning. I can't hold it. When I need to go, I go, regardless of whether there's a toilet. And for a middle-aged woman, toilet accidents can be extremely distressing and humiliating, even if nobody else knows it's happened. Being a wheelchair user makes no difference to the emotional impact of not getting to the toilet in time.

What is an accessible toilet?

A few weeks ago, I phoned a pub and asked if they were wheelchair accessible and had an accessible toilet. The conversation that followed was utterly surreal! He started off by saying Yes there are no steps in to the pub or toilets. I followed up with further questions about whether there are grab rails and enough room for a wheelchair, etc. The upshot was, they didn't have accessible toilets but the fact that he went to the trouble of measuring them and sending me photos, made me think that he genuinely didn't know what it meant.

A single cubical ladies toilet with barely enough room to stand and close the door but certainly not enough for a wheelchair. There is a grab rail on the wall next to the toilet.

So, at the risk of stating the obvious, an accessible toilet must have sufficient space for a wheelchair user to wheel in, turn around and close the door. It must have grab rails on both sides, usually the type that raise and lower. For me though, that is the absolute minimum.

Features of an accessible toilet

Here is a list of things to think about when putting in an accessible toilet:

Additional considerations

Catheters

Not all disabled people go to the toilet to sit on it and have a wee/poo. There are many people who use various types of catheters. Some catheters are inserted and stay in for most of the time and the wee goes into a bag. Some people (like me) self catheterise so they pop it in, empty the bladder and then take it out and put it in a bin. Of those, some do it on the toilet, whereas others do it in their wheelchair (the catheter has a bag). Especially in the early days of learning to catheterise, it is helpful to be able to see where you are putting it. Add in a tremor and that is even more important. So a big low mirror can make that whole process much easier. And don't forget the bin.

Changing Places

Some people need lots of space for a carer to change and clean a disabled adult. Doing this on a dirty floor is difficult and disgusting! If you have space, please consider a Changing Places Opens in new window facility. These have proper equipment for changing. They have a bed, hoist, privacy curtains... sometimes even a shower.

Toilet fails

I thought it might be fun to share some examples of accessible toilet fails. At some point, I might add in some appropriate photos too.

Layout

I recently visited a restaurant in Scarborough where the accessible toilet was a really good size AND very clean. However, everything was laid out in the most illogical manner.

The toilet was in the back right corner. The sanitary bin was in the back left corner (underneath the baby changing station) and the normal bin was in the front right corner (diagonally opposite the changing table). From the toilet, you couldn't reach any bin. If you were changing a baby's nappy, you would have had to leave baby unattended on a raised table to put their dirty nappy in a bin.

The sink was next to the toilet (very convenient) but the hand dryer was on the opposite wall. I don't think the hand dryer was working though, as somebody had brought in an ornate but quite large coffee table, upon which was a solitary pile of paper towels.

On the plus side, there was plenty of room to swing a cat!

Inward Opening Door

A few years ago, I visited a college to attend a work meeting. I had rung in advance to double check that they had an accessible toilet, and had been assured they had. On arrival, after a long drive, I asked where the accessible toilet was. Two male builders were instructed to escort me there. They opened the door into the ladies toilets and told me the accessible toilet was at the back.

It was tight but I wheeled myself through, commanding my assistance dog to walk backwards in front of me. It was only as I entered the cubicle, I realised the door opened inwards and it wasn't a very big space. In fact, it was so small, it wasn't possible to close the door. To make it worse, sitting on the toilet gave a prime view of the door into the corridor. That meant that if someone walked in, they would have a prime view of me, and so might any passers-by.

I was a little taken aback and initially assumed they'd brought me to the wrong place, so I quickly went outside and called them back. I showed them the situation and asked to be taken to the real accessible toilet. They radioed reception to check but the upshot was that this was the only accessible toilet (only it really wasn't). So eventually, they agreed to guard the door for me, to prevent anyone walking in. To be fair, they were really nice chaps and were as baffled as I was, as to who thought this was an acceptable situation.

Later, I asked if they had any students who were wheelchair users. Apparently they often get enquiries and people looking round but they never end up studying there. I wonder why?!!

Thank you!

Finally, I just want to say a massive thank you to all businesses, organisations, and other places that have a good accessible toilet. Thank you especially to those who let non-customers use them. You contribute to making it possible for people like me to go out and do normal daily stuff, knowing that this basic human need will be accommodated.


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