This post was going to be an information piece about disabled toilets, and the way we should build them. However, in my research, and chatting on Twitter, I have found there are standards (Irish Standards) in place. These even look well thought out, and the Irish Wheelchair Association has prepared a whole book (click here) on how to make a home or place of work accessible.
The issue I have is not about the standards, or best practice, but it is about the non-disabled community (the majority) not taking the time to read and implement the guidelines. On top of this the abled don’t understand, nor are they educated, why we need these toilets built in a particular way. I feel they think it is a luxury to have a spacious, isolated place to eliminate bodily waste.
It is not a luxury; it is a need
The reason we NEED disabled facilities is that in the standard toilet we are unsafe. My neurologists classes be as moderate-severely disabled, and I can walk a little. But someone who is severely disabled who needs a care assistant permanently has to have a room which can comfortable hold a wheelchair, hoist, and two people. This is a requirement.
Why am I writing this?
In my new place of work they have 3 toilet rooms on each floor. One is for females, the second is for males. In these rooms it is possible for several people to go to the toilet at the same time. The third room was once the disabled toilet, but is now for disabled, people who do not fit into the male or female gender stereotype, and it also seems academic staff, and perhaps people who just want more privacy. Yet in this third room there is just one toilet bowl and sink. It is for one person at a time.
I understand that people of a non-binary gender wish to have their own toilet, but it is a wish, and not (in my opinion) a safety requirement. There are times, because of bladder and bowel issues I have that finding a toilet, fast, is essential, and this place now has to cope with me not having the leg strength to move quickly, or to get off the toilet easily. Also, I need to bring my largish electric wheelchair into the room. If the toilet is occupied by a non-binary person, or a member of staff, I will end up going to the toilet sitting in my chair. Now I have a much bigger problem.
The able-bodied staff member, or non-cis person, does not have this issue. It may be uncomfortable, or even stressful, for them to go into a male or female one, but it will not cause them physical harm.
What can we do?
We have to let the world know the reality. Perhaps it will require advertisements being placed on the Internet, or TV, showing the reason we need this adaptation. It is the same with disabled parking, but at least with public parking fines are given to people who use these spaces without a blue badge.
What will I do?
The first port of call will be Disability Services and HR. They need to be aware this change in policy has more implications. Will it change? I don’t know, but when the general student body returns from their summer holiday I suspect this one convenience will be in very high demand, by lots of people.
The next two paragraphs were not easy for me to write, but it is my fear, read with caution.
If it isn’t resolved, then it could be very difficult for me to work in this place, as it might be unsafe for me. Or maybe they will require I bring a change of clothes, plastic bags for soiled trousers, a towel, soap, and a zimmer frame, so I can use the shower. And I will also need gloves, disinfectant, and maybe a very strong air freshener for the car on the way home. The psychological trauma this could cause on top of the embarrassment could be insurmountable.
Or it could also happen I leave my electric chair outside the men’s lavatory, and use an unsuitable toilet stall with no grab rails, and I fall because my legs refuse to le me stand, and I bang my head against the wall, or even the toilet bowl. The consequence of this accident, I do not want to think about, but it probably would cause lots of flashing blue lights, and weeks, maybe months, of recovery.
What will happen?
I really don’t know, and maybe I will not be heard, just like when I tried to find a home for my wheelchair. They will pass the responsibility to Buildings, or maybe Security. Really, I would love to say it is their problem, but it isn’t. It is mine, and our problem, and we need to make the authorities in our workplaces aware of the risks they are placing us under.