Sunday, January 21, 2007

Accessibility, Equality and the Need To Pee

If I'm feeling well enough to, say, go out for dinner, then I'm probably feeling well enough to walk (with my stick, but nevertheless walk) from the carpark to the restaurant, rather than use up a load of energy assembling and dismantling the wheelchair. I'm extremely lucky to have that option.

I do still need to use some of the concessions available for disabled people though. I need to park in a space close to the restaurant, for instance, with enough room for Steve/Pip/whoever to open the car door wide and help me to get out. I don't use my blue badge frivolously, we even usually pay for a parking token at car parks in which we could park for free - but I have no qualms about using it when it is necessary.

And I generally use the disabled loo. At first I wouldn't unless I was actually in my wheelchair - the disabled loo, I felt, was for people in wheelchairs who needed lots of space to maneouver, and I would not want to be taking up a resource I had no real claim on which other people needed. What changed my mind was that I kept falling into the flimsy chipboard from which the cubicles are constructed. This was upsetting other toilet users in the vicinity, particularly since the Inside-the-cubicle-view was "someone just banged on the partition and oh my god, now there's a hand coming through the gap between partition and floor, some pervert is trying to get into the cubicle with me!!" (although in fairness, when that particular woman saw that the hand and wrist she was stamping on wasn't moving, she investigated further and was very helpful as I regained consciousness). I decided to start using the disabled loos, with solid walls and useful grab-rails.


Within a few months I had changed my opinion entirely. The disabled loo is NOT for people in wheelchairs. The disabled loo in the majority of establishments is there to meet a requirement. If I had no legs, or my legs had no movement at all, it would be taking my life in my hands to attempt to use the facilities.


Toilets that wheelchairs can't get to.
"Where is the disabled toilet, please?"
"Just up those stairs... oh."
I wish I was joking.

The other version of this is:
"Just up those stairs, but we have a Stannah stairlift, hang on."
(Much faff trying to remember how the stairlift works)
"Right, that's me up to the top of the stairs, now what about my wheelchair?"

Seats you can't sit on.
Or more specifically, seats which aren't fixed to the loo and slide out to the side if your weight isn't perfecly balanced. To pull oneself sideways onto a seat like this from a wheelchair seat is asking for trouble.

Grab rails you can't grab.
Places buy a standard set of assorted grab rails. I have seen several loos where you cannot reach the grab rails from the seat. They have been put where it is convenient to put them rather than where they are needed. Even better is when the rails are not fixed to the wall. I saw many forms of vandalism in The Ladies, but it takes a very special vandal to go around with a toolkit and undo all the bolts they can find.

Emergency Assistance cords you can't pull.
Disabled loos are required to have an emergency pull cord in case anyone is hurt or injured in the disabled loo - for instance, if the floor is wet and slippery (as it usually is) and your wheelchair, despite having the brakes on, goes skidding out from under you when you try to transfer. These cords are supposed to be bright glow-in-the-dark orange, with a plastic circle or triangle so that you do not have to be able to grip a string in your fingers to pull it. They are also supposed to reach all the way to the floor, since the floor is where a disabled person is most likely to be if they've just had a nasty accident and need assistance.

I see a lot of them looped up high out of reach ("so that people can't pull them" apparently, which rather defeats the object), or dangling in the corner behind the loo, so pulling them either means being able to stand and lean into the corner, or, from the floor, cuddling up to the porcelain trying desperately to reach past the pipework. I've also seen some where the fitting is there, but no cord, "because the orange didn't fit in with the decor."

Even if the establishment isn't actively trying to maim you in one of these ways, they're still likely to try and get you on disgust or embarassment that an able-bodied person wouldn't put up with - and isn't asked to put up with either. "These facilities are checked and cleaned regularly." I really, really have trouble believing that.

The Baby-changing Room.
Anyone who has kids knows that on a regular basis they produce real humdingers of nappy-contents. If they do one of these poops at home, then the parent generally scrapes off the nappy, cleans the child with babywipes, puts all of this into a scented and sealed nappy baggie and THEN immediately runs with it to put it in a bin with a lid at the far end of the yard, and this is only because they lack the facilities to seal it in lead and concrete and dump it in the North Sea.

In a disabled loo/baby-changing room, they leave it sitting on the opened-out change table (which is usually just the right height to hit the head of anyone in a wheelchair, and also can't be folded back up by anyone who can't stand). The reason they leave it on the change table is because the nappy-bin is full of, and wedged open with, similar offerings. Nice.

The Love Shack.
How anyone can want to have sex in a toilet cubicle is beyond me. It's hardly comfortable, or romantic, is it? What is even further beyond me, is why people who enjoy having sex in toilet cubicles would leave the used condom in the sink. Ew.

Please Miss, can I go to the bathroom?
Sometimes, in a bid to stop it being used for babychanges, illicit sexual relations, able-bodied people who simply can't be bothered to walk the extra steps or wait thirty seconds for the Gents/Ladies, etc, the disabled loo is locked.

The correct way of doing this is with a RADAR lock. Disabled people may obtain a RADAR key from the RADAR website (you only pay something like £3.50 postage), or from local disability organisations which may be able to provide them free of charge. These keys are also used for assistance bells (when, for instance, a pub in a listed/inaccessible building doesn't want passing kids ringing the assistance bell, they can fit a bell which can only be activated by a RADAR key).

I'll explain why having a RADAR lock is important.

If an able-bodied person wants the loo, they excuse themselves from the table, find the Ladies or Gents, open the door, do what they do, and come back to the table.

If I want the loo, I excuse myself from the table, find the disabled loo, flip the lock with my handy RADAR key, do what I do, and come back to the table having locked the door behind me.

If the lock isn't RADAR though, it goes more like this: Excuse self from table, find the disabled loo, try key, swear under breath. Find member of staff. Say "Please miss, I need the loo (a phrase I thought I wouldn't have to use any more after primary school), can I have the key please?". Have minor debate about whether I'm "really" disabled and "can't you just use the regular loo? Why not?" before being told the key is kept at the bar and I will have to ask there. Get to bar - did I mention walking is painful and difficult for me? Queue for attention - did I mention that standing for any period of time is painful and difficult for me? Ask for key. Ask for key again, louder, upon which everyone's attention is drawn to the inevitable debate about my level of disability and toilet needs again. Finally get handed a key attached to an "anti-theft device", generally a large yellow rubber duck, the idea being that I won't then be able to walk off with their precious key. Traverse restaurant with big bright duck in tow. Unlock door, do what I do, return to table (I tend to leave the door unlocked and the duck in there - save some embarassment for the next disabled sod who comes along).

This is not equality.

I'm going to stop ranting about toilets now, but if anyone reading this works in a public-use building, perhaps you're the cleaner or perhaps you're the owner or perhaps, heaven help you, you're in charge of Health and Safety, please just think about things like this for thirty seconds.

Also, let me know if you find any places which don't have ANY of the above problems. I promise to be impresssed.


jen said...

Where I last worked was a bookshop with a cafe up the stairs, because the cafe was upstairs the toilets were too.
Handily, we had a lift. A well signposted lift. It was enormous too, because we used it to get deliveries upstairs.
The lock on the disabled loo was a radar one, and they kept a spare in the cafe, which was attatched to attatched to a keeper (keeper being a big plastic thing that stops people nicking CDs). The only reason it was attatched to that was so we didnt lose it.
Maybe the rubber ducks are also so they dont lose the keys?

Mary said...

/is impressed as promised.

Yes, the rubber ducks are so they don't lose the keys, and I can imagine how annoying it must be to keep losing keys because people don't bother to return them.

That doesn't make it any less embarassing to have to walk - slowly - across a crowded cafe drawing everyone's attention by cuddling a rubber ducky.

The point is that the non-disabled people don't have to encounter that kind of belittlement, so why should the disabled?