Time for a Change.

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 person with 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.

Accessible Ethics.

It takes a special kind of idiocy to deny that being accessible is right, but WHY is it right? I could never explain this eloquently so I’ve roped in a little assistance from my fiance, who just so happens to have a philosophy degree.
PS: These should be useful for shutting people up who hinder accessibility and then defend their actions.

Image description: poster for Accessible Ethics trilogy reading "Guest writer Jarred Triskelion returns. Accessible Ethics: Deontology, Consequentialism, & Virtue Ethics. A philosophical exploration of why accessibility matters. Diary of a Disabled Person".

Disability Doesn’t Mean I Can’t.

On a recent visit to the GP I discovered that the lift into the surgery now needs someone to close the door behind me once I’m in the lift. This was a rather unfortunate discovery as I was visiting the doctor alone, as I usually do. After waiting in the lobby area for a few minutes anxiously watching the clock ticking ever closer towards my appointment, a receptionist appeared at the top of the stairs and came to my rescue. While I did say thank you for the help I received, I also challenged her about this turn of events. Her response was that I should have someone with me next time or leave enough time for someone to pass by; the idea that I might want to be independent like every other adult using that surgery was incomprehensible.

This is not an isolated case by any measure; many places have small, rickety platform lifts that require a specific key held by only one member of staff that you can’t contact because you’re at the bottom of the steps while they’re in an office upstairs. Similarly whenever the accessible entrance to work is either broken or locked I have to wait for the receptionist behind the desk to finish gossiping with her colleague, search for a key they never have to hand, and fold back the revolving door allowing me to enter my own workplace. This process then has to be repeated on the way out; I cannot enter and leave the building at my leisure as literally every other person can. Given that the revolving door is always unlocked with a steady stream of people entering and exiting the building, I asked that it be left folded back when the accessible entrance wasn’t in use. Apparently, this was a security risk despite the fact that this would save everyone a lot of time and effort. I was also told that being the only wheelchair user in the building essentially made folding back the door an inconvenience.

It seems like wherever I go the idea that I want to be independent is shocking and impossible. While I always appreciate people asking me if I need help, I often encounter people who just barge in to start helping without asking first. On one occasion this even lead to a scalding hot coffee getting poured directly into my lap which was incredibly painful and somehow it was my fault for trying to be independent. In other cases I have been asked if I need help and when I have politely declined, the “help” has been provided anyway. What I want or need doesn’t matter; if someone judges that I need help they’re opinion overrides my own. In addition I have received torrents of verbal abuse for trying to be independent, being called arrogant, ungrateful, and much more besides.

This isn’t a new problem. For the past few millennia women have had to fight relentlessly to be permitted to do things independently of men, and now disabled people face exactly the same problem. Sometimes I don’t know if my desire to be independent is shocking because I am a woman, use a wheelchair, or a combination of the two.

Independence is not something that should only be encouraged in able-bodied men. The desire to be independent is not a sin; it should be encouraged. Allow me to fail. Allow me to get hurt. Allow me to get up (figuratively at least) and do it all over again until I get it right. Look at the top of this page. Look at my arm. “Disability doesn’t mean I can’t”.

A Pub Roll

One of the most common aspects of student life is the pub crawl; going from one pub to the next and getting shamelessly drunk along the way. The most popular of these in Leeds is the Otley Run, which goes through 15 pubs and is usually themed.

My personal favourite of all the themes I’ve seen was a Donald Trump theme, where a group of approximately 20 men staggered through the door of a bar in the student union, dressed in suits with cheap red ties and false blonde wigs. The news was being broadcast on a television behind the bar, and when the president appeared on the screen, the entire group started roaring and jumping up and down in their drunken state. However, much as I would like to join in with such an event, there is one small but significant problem; over half of the pubs have steps into them, and wheelchairs cannot levitate like Daleks.

In contrast to my predicament, I am not prepared to sit aside and be excluded from this. I decided to take action and designed my own pub crawl, the pub roll. Jarred and myself started in the students union, in the modern bar called the Terrace, before heading down to the basement to sit in the cosy and traditional Old Bar.

Image description: A selfie of myself & my husband as students. I'm wearing a navy blue & white striped jumper & blue dungarees, & Jarred is wearing a black University of Leeds hoodie.

After a couple of drinks we headed out into the brisk Winter night, and wandered down to Dry Dock, a bar stylised to look like a boat beached on a mound of grass. Much to my surprise the bouncer held the door open for me, and did the same on the way out, wishing me well as he did so.

I would like to think that although I was a tad tipsy no one could tell, as I did not have to face the troubling task of balancing on two feet, and could rely on six wheels instead.

We crossed the main road and entered City Bar, which was in the union of the rival (and inferior) university, and then headed up to a branch of Wetherspoon’s called the Stick or Twist.

Image description: a similar selfie taken later in the evening at another pub.

When we were done there, we meandered slowly down to another Wetherspoon’s. By the time we were done there, I was seeing three of everything, so instead of progressing onto the Botanist as planned, we dragged ourselves home. Trying to drive my wheelchair in a straight line was something of a challenge, but the quiet streets posed no threat to unsuspecting pedestrians.

I was proud to have done something about the Otley Run situation, that being getting drunk in the name of social justice. It’s always good to know that with a little extra thought such issues can be overcome and it is worthy of note that the shops, pubs, and other venues that make themselves accessible are the ones to receive my money.