How many of you reading this think about the cutlery you might use when you go out for a meal? The chances are you’ll be much more interested in the menu, the prices, the people you’re eating with and the restaurant’s ambience.
A similar situation arises when considering going to the seaside on a gloriously hot summer’s afternoon. If you’re fastidious, you’ll check your car tyres, the oil, you’ll fill up the windscreen washer bottle, and you’ll make a list of things to take that will make the trip more enjoyable. I doubt that you’ll think to check on the availability of toilet facilities at motorway services on route or at your destination!
For many disabled people, particularly those with severe or complex mobility impairments, the exact opposite applies. The availability of appropriate toilet facilities will be uppermost in their minds, and the lack of certainty about whether the necessary facilities are available may be enough to prevent the trip to the restaurant or the seaside.
What’s ironic is that accessible facilities have not kept pace with the increasing availability of personal transport through programmes like the Motability Scheme. The motor industry and, in particular, mobility vehicle adapters have continued to design and develop all manner of gizmos that enable even the most severely disabled person to either own and drive an accessible vehicle or to be safely and comfortably carried in one as a passenger. The variety of electronic devices now available is mind-boggling. Vehicle tail lifts make it possible for extremely heavy powered wheelchairs to be lifted and secured; seat transfer systems assist people to move from their wheelchairs into the driving seat, electronic hand controls take the strain out of steering, braking and changing gear. All these innovations, of course, come at a price but what is the point of spending thousands of pounds on an accessible vehicle if you can’t enjoy an accessible environment on the route to and at your journeys end?
It’s not all bad news. Wheelchair users have seen significant improvements in the provision of accessible toilets. The National Key Scheme better known as the Radar key began in 1981. Since then, more than 400 local authorities and thousands of businesses have joined the Scheme. Some 9,000 toilets are now listed as being accessible via the Radar key, but the figure is probably much higher. Wheelchair accessible restrooms are far more common, most motorway services, mainline railway stations, shopping malls and theme parks have had these facilities for a very long time.
A study in 2009 by the University of Dundee found there were 250,000 people in the UK for whom a standard accessible toilet does not meet their needs. Accessible restrooms are great for those who can get themselves out of a wheelchair unaided. However, lots of people can’t do this, such as people with profound and multiple learning disabilities, motor neurone disease, multiple sclerosis, cerebral palsy, and some older people. John Lewis, the famous high street retailer, recently made headlines for all the wrong reasons when a mother complained that she had been forced to change her severely disabled child on the toilet floor. John Lewis defended itself by arguing that it didn’t have enough space to provide bigger toilets but promised to review this when it refurbishes or builds new stores.
The Changing Places campaign (http://bit.ly/2E9Dc8X) begun back in 2003 seeks to ensure that the most severely disabled person has access to appropriate toilet facilities thereby enabling them to do what most of us do without even thinking about. As a result of the Campaign’s activities, there are now well over one thousand Changing Places toilets across the UK. These toilets provide not only, as you might expect, a w.c. and wash basin but also offer a hoist, a sizeable drop-down table for changing purposes and plenty of space to enable carers or support workers to assist the person where necessary. It is becoming increasingly possible to plan a trip using the Campaign’s route planner to identify suitable toilet facilities on your journey. As an example, I plotted a route from Hertford in Hertfordshire to the Brighton Marina in Sussex and found at least seven facilities that meet the Changing Places criteria.
A more recent exciting innovation which began in 2014 is the development of the Mobiloo. (http://bit.ly/2H1JfQk) The concept is very similar to the Changing Places facilities, but with a significant difference. The toilet equipment is fitted inside a small van or lorry which means it can be located at just about any outdoor event, space permitting of course. Mobiloo is a social enterprise that now has a fleet of seven vehicles across the UK. The vehicles are for hire and come with a volunteer driver who shows people how to use the equipment onboard. The Mobiloo opens up all manner of fascinating travel possibilities; gymkhanas, craft fairs, sports events, music festivals, Glyndebourne and Glastonbury here we come!
We’ve come a long way since the days of institutional care for the most severely disabled people in our society. Independent living, autonomy, accessible housing, personal transport are not just pipe dreams; they are becoming the norm. We will know we’ve cracked it when those with the most complex disabilities can travel around the country without worrying about whether they can find and use the loo!
( This article 1st appeared on www.cartwrightconversions.co.uk website)