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Embracing the rewards of creating inclusive accessible environments

It’s reasonable to expect to be able to use a toilet when you’re out and about, whether for a football game, concert, show, public gathering, a visit to the shops and, well, for any everyday activity. If you agree with that statement, it should follow that there are a range of toilet facilities that meet everyone’s needs at all the above-mentioned venues. For why should a wheelchair user or any disabled person be denied this basic facility?

At Habinteg, we have not only always passionately and relentlessly beaten the drum about the need for accessible homes for all, we’ve also always championed the need for the provision of accessible environments that allow everyone to be a part of their community. The Changing Places Consortium campaigns on behalf of the over a quarter million people who can’t use standard wheelchair accessible toilets. These CP toilets allow people with disabilities to get out and about and enjoy the day-to-day activities many of us take for granted.

Local government minister Rishi Sunak MP recently announced proposals to make Changing Places toilets for severely disabled people mandatory in new large public buildings.

This was followed by care minister Caroline Dinenage confirming that 100-plus NHS hospitals are to build Changing Places facilities backed by a £2m fund.

These are welcome developments in the provision of suitable accessible toilets across the UK and we applaud the advances made by the CP consortium to this end. But the promotion of creating accessible environments doesn’t end there. The government has taken notice; we now need to get this message to more building owners, facility managers, architects and developers so they will embrace the rewards of creating inclusive accessible environments from the outset of every project they embark on.

Changing Places facilities meet the needs of nearly a quarter of a million people who require personal assistance to use a toilet. This includes people with profound and multiple learning disabilities, head injuries, cerebral palsy, motor neurone disease, multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophy, spinal cord injuries, stroke survivors, people living with dementia, injured veterans and more.

It’s important to point out that a wheelchair accessible WC does not meet everybody’s needs. Changing Places uses a standard suited to children and adults with more complex care needs. For example, they use a larger minimum space of 12m2 (please see illustration). One of the many reasons for this is to allow people with a disability (or their personal assistant if they have one) using larger wheelchairs to fully turn in the room, enabling practical ease of use.

It’s argued that a wheelchair accessible toilet as designed to the Building Regulations meets the majority of needs of independent wheelchair users, people with mobility impairments and people with other physical conditions. Most wheelchair accessible toilets in public buildings are designed for independent use with a corner layout design.

Venues and public spaces that provide wheelchair accessible toilets are fulfilling their legal requirements to provide accessible environments that are inclusive of everyone. But the real argument is that perhaps we should be doing more than this minimum standard – like offering CP toilets with their larger space and equipment like ceiling hoists and height adjustable benches.

It’s also vital they are maintained properly and highlight to customers and staff the fact they have these facilities.

Kerry Thompson, a Habinteg resident, CP campaigner and disability blogger, reinforces the idea that we should be doing more in promoting CP toilets: “I suffer with a rare form of Muscular Dystrophy and using a standard accessible toilet doesn’t work for my needs. Either they are undersized, used as a storage cupboard or dirty. I risk my health every time I wheel out my door as I have to limit my fluid intake to just a few sips of water even if I’m only out for the few hours, for those ‘just in case’ moments.

“To have access to more Changing Places toilets means I would have more freedom – not just how long I’m able to stay out but the amount of fluids I’m able to have, the freedom to do what normal people do so you could say in a way ‘living my best life’.”

Disabled people like Kerry often plan their journeys meticulously to ensure their access needs can be met. Toilets are critical to travel both during the journey and at the destination and therefore every effort should be made to communicate up-to-date information. Communication could include; visitor apps for smartphones, information on WC facilities on their website, electronic displays, audio announcements and face-to-face communications.

Muscular Dystrophy UK co-chairs the Changing Places Consortium. The charity’s chief executive, Catherine Woodhead, explains: “Having access to Changing Places toilets increases independence and improves quality of life, and by investing in facilities we can tackle the exclusion many disabled people face on a daily basis.

“We, along with our wonderful campaigners, have long pushed for changes to legislation to make Changing Places toilets mandatory in new large public buildings and it’s fantastic that we are now one step closer to that reality. We are also greatly encouraged by the investment being made in hospitals and motorway services. It is essential that fully accessible toilets are available here; without them, disabled people may struggle to attend important appointments or visit family and friends.”

At Habinteg, we wholeheartedly agree with MDUK’s sentiments because, going back to my initial question, why should anyone be denied this basic right? We are pleased the government is making progress with the provision of CP toilets, but more still needs to be done by all. And that includes architects, building owners, developers, the government and organisations like ourselves to shout out the case for providing accessible environments that include all of the UK’s population.

Click here if you would like to know more about accessible toilets and Changing Places accessible toilets.