Accessible public toilets are the bane of my existence and the same sentiment is felt among others with disabilities too. Considering that it is a basic human right to have access to a toilet, the difficulty many disabled people have in accessing a disabled toilet is abysmal.
In some places the disabled toilet, if they even have one, is little more than an enlarged cubicle with unsteady grab rails and a broken emergency cord. Sometimes these cubicles are nothing short of filthy, and sometimes they’re being used as storage cupboards. Sometimes they double up as baby-changing facilities creating a problem for both parents and the disabled, and on more than one occasion I have left a cubicle to be berated by an angry parent with a screaming baby for daring to use the toilet. Often enough the baby-changing facilities are not packed away properly after they have been used making it nigh-on impossible for a wheelchair user to enter the stall, and quite often soiled nappies will simply be left on the side instead of disposed of.
In most places there is also usually just one disabled toilet and should someone decide to use the disabled cubicle because it is nearer, or because they want to take a dump in peace (I’m serious, that happens a lot), that delays the someone who has a genuine disability from accessing the facilities they need. Sometimes people have invisible disabilities meaning that they can’t walk as far as the other toilets or they may have medical waste bags hidden beneath their clothes, so tackling people about misusing these facilities becomes a mine-field.
To combat the situation pro-actively, some establishments have taken to locking the disabled toilet and only giving the key to those who ask for it. However, as I’m sure you can imagine, trying to attract the attention of a member of staff in a busy venue is difficult and rather embarrassing. In the UK there is a scheme with a special key to unlock disabled toilets, providing they have the specific lock available. As I understand it having this lock fitted can be very expensive, so only the big businesses tend to have them.
However, if I have a tough time accessing a toilet in public, then for those who need full changing facilities it must be virtually impossible. I can count on one hand the number of places I know that have full changing facilities, and all of them are large shopping centres stocking exactly the same stock as every shopping centre in the country. The competition for a normal disabled toilet is definitely a problem, making full changing facilities little more than a myth. This forces many people to change on the floor of the stall, which as aforementioned can be cramped and dirty, making it down-right dangerous.
I admit that I can understand the concerns some venues express when talking about full changing facilities; not only do they take up a large space and need high maintenance, but they are very expensive, time-consuming, and disruptive to fit in the first place. They are also still subject to all of the issues disabled people who don’t need full changing facilities face. However, when you consider that access to a toilet is a human right, these arguments fade into futility. Western civilisation has worked so hard to provide the lesser developed countries with essential resources like proper sanitation and yet a whole portion of the population right here face a situation equally as grim.
If you don’t need to use a disabled toilet, unless perhaps all the other toilets nearby are in use, then don’t use it. If you need to use the cubicle to change a baby’s nappy, be considerate of other users including other parents. If you have an invisible disability, don’t be afraid or ashamed to stick up for yourself if you have to. And if, like me, you don’t need access to full changing facilities, try to use a disabled toilet without them if there is one available.