March 10-12, 2017 marks Disabled Access Day in the U.K., and March is Disability Awareness Month in the U.S. It’s a great opportunity to shout about all the great accessible places we know and love, but it also gives us a platform to highlight all the problems the disabled community faces because of inaccessibility.
The Cambridge Dictionary defines inclusion as meaning “everyone should be able to use the same facilities, take part in the same activities, and enjoy the same experiences, including people who have a disability or other disadvantage.”
Without accessibility, there is quite simply no inclusion.
Until I became a mother to a disabled child, accessibility wasn’t something I really thought of much. This isn’t something I’m proud of. In fact I’m quite ashamed. It just didn’t cross my mind because I never had to deal with it. A classic case of ignorance is bliss. But there are so many issues disabled people and carers face because of lack of access.
One issue that affects my family is a lack of accessible toilets, so I campaign for Changing Places toilets. For those who don’t know, a Changing Places toilet is slightly larger than a typical disabled toilet with an adult-sized changing bench and a hoist. My 5-year-old son Brody is still in diapers, and there is never anywhere I can safely change him when we are out now that he is too big for a baby changing table.
In Scotland where I live, a wonderful charity called PAMIS forms part of the Changing Places consortium. Thanks to PAMIS, campaigners around the country and of course mindful businesses who understand the importance of social inclusion, there are now 144 Changing Places in Scotland. And there are 938 in the UK in total.
However, while this is great, we need a lot more.
So on Disabled Access Day, I’d like to educate and make you aware of some typical scenarios faced by disabled people and their families simply because of a lack of Changing Places toilets.
- Loved ones changed on unhygienic toilet floors because there simply isn’t any other option.
- Children changed in cold and uncomfortable car boots (trunks) in front of passers-by, stripped of their dignity.
- Families leaving days out together because there is no fully accessible toilet facility.
- Children missing developmental opportunities to become toilet trained because they can’t use a toilet when they are outside of their home as they require one with a hoist.
- Disabled people avoiding places – the supermarket, their local shopping center, parks, places of interest – and staying at home because they cannot go to the toilet in a safe and dignified manner.
- Children missing out on play and learning opportunities that other children can access purely because there is no toilet suitable for them.
- Disabled people avoiding drinking while going out so they do not need to go to the toilet, risking dehydration and urinary infections.
- Disabled people medicating themselves in order to prevent needing to go to the toilet while waiting at hospital appointments (many hospitals don’t even include Changing Places).
- Disabled people who can use a toilet with a hoist needing to wear a diaper/adult pads because there are no hoist-assisted toilets.
- Children with feeding tubes and tracheostomies, which are supposed to be kept clean, being changed in unhygienic places.
- People who intermittently catheterize having to do so in unhygienic places when ideally they should be done in as sterile an environment as possible in order to minimize the risk of urinary infections.
- Disabled people being put at risk of pressure ulcers due to a lack of hoisting equipment.
- Risk of significant injury to the disabled person if they are dropped by their parent or carer.
Parents and carers sustaining back injuries due to moving a disabled person to change them or lift them onto a toilet without a hoist.
That’s a big list, isn’t it? All because of just one accessibility issue faced by families like mine.
While we listen to politicians and businesses boast about social inclusion, it simply doesn’t exist without these facilities.
I won’t give up campaigning for my child to have the basic human right of access to a toilet when we’re out and about. Why should he be excluded? Why shouldn’t our family be welcomed everywhere like all other families? But I must admit I find it draining.
I appreciate that it is not possible for smaller businesses to have these facilities, and sometimes it may just not be practical. But there is no reason why big organizations, like shopping centers, supermarkets, theme parks, airports and train stations shouldn’t have them.
The truth of the matter is that there is a cost to my child’s inclusion and a cost to his dignity. And there shouldn’t be.
It’s sad that in 2017, inclusion and dignity is something we still have to fight for.
Learn more at Changing Places.
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