By using the disabled toilet you're putting me at risk
It’s an age-old question: Should you ever use an accessible bathroom if you don’t have a disability?
I’ve lost track of the amount of people who have admitted to me that they – in fact – have. Even my close friends and family members.
I am usually met with a ‘sorry, not sorry’, a guilty look and some slight embarrassment by the fact they have just admitted this to someone in a wheelchair.
They’ve not seen the harm in it, the queue for the non-accessible stall was just so long and they assure me that they were quick!
They usually continue justifying their decision by saying something along the lines of, ‘I took a good look around and didn’t see anyone like you,’ i.e. wheelchair user.
But the truth is, using an accessible bathroom when you don’t need to can be very damaging to those within the disabled community.
The first faux pas people often make is assuming that only wheelchair users use accessible bathrooms.
The reality is that out of the 13.9 million people in the UK living with an impairment, less than eight per cent are wheelchair users.
Many impairments are invisible, and those who have conditions such as Crohn’s, colitis or have multiple sclerosis – to name a few – benefit greatly from being able to use accessible bathrooms.
And lest we forget those who are autistic, or have Asperger’s Syndrome.
People with these conditions can find using public bathrooms greatly overwhelming, whereas an accessible bathroom filters out the noise and is much more user-friendly.
Over 50 per cent of those who suffer from Crohn’s or colitis have been subjected to discrimination for using an accessible toilet, according to Andy McGuiness, campaigners manager at Crohn’s & Colitis UK.
Changes have been made. In 2017, many facilities across the UK rolled out new bathroom signs to replace the iconic ‘wheelchair’ symbol with a universal ‘Not Every Disability is Visible’ and changed the signage from ‘disabled toilet’ to an ‘accessible toilet’.
There is no law against using an accessible toilet, and nothing stating that only people with impairments get first dibs.
However, the simple fact that disabled toilets have been renamed as accessible toilets re-enforces the argument that those with impairments – visible or invisible – really should be the only people using them.
You may or may not have noticed that accessible bathrooms look different to non-accessible ones.
Granted, the plumbing works just the same but there are added features to make life a little easier, and most importantly safer, for those who need it.
Let’s start with handrails. I can often tell when someone who most likely hasn’t got an impairment has used the accessible loo, as the handrails are often pushed up out of the way.
The simple fact that disabled toilets have been renamed to accessible toilets re-enforces the argument that those with impairments – visible or invisible – really should be the only people using them.
They really are a nuisance right?
Well, for many it is a vital piece of equipment for safely transferring and supporting yourself whilst sitting on the toilet.
When I’m travelling independently, I rely on this adaptation to safely get myself on and off the toilet, and if it is pushed up I often struggle to lower it back down.
Without it, I lose my independence and put myself in tremendous danger. I’ve once slipped off a toilet without a bar and fractured my skull and broken my collarbone.
Even sinks are strategically placed very close to the toilet so that you can wash your hands before retiring to your wheelchair or mobility scooter, without transferring nasty toilet germs.
I’ve visited many bathrooms where the emergency cord and toilet paper have been moved out of reach. These may seem like minor details but can have a huge impact.
If you are still in the mindset that a toilet is simply a toilet and don’t really see what all the fuss is about, then I would like to direct you to campaign groups like Changing Places, who tirelessly fight for the freedom of simply being able to leave their home and have access bathroom facilities.
These projects are fighting for families to be able to plan a day trip or weekend away, safe in the knowledge that there will be the correct facilities to support them.
This would put an end to being changed in the back of the car or a dirty toilet floor.
So what is the solution? When discussing this issue with those who don’t have impairments, they have suggested to have some sort of identification or ‘proof of disability’.
The whole notion of some sort of disability marker sits very uncomfortable with me. It has some eerie parallels to Nazi Germany, making those who didn’t fit into society stand out by wearing triangles and stars.
A person’s impairment is very personal, and to be expected to divulge that to strangers just so you can use the bathroom is outright absurd.
You wouldn’t ask any other minority group to disclose their sexual orientation or religious belief for accessing day-to day-amenities.
While I would never reprimand someone for using an accessible bathroom if they had a bathroom emergency from eating bad sushi, or a child who has had an accident, and I doubt anyone from the disabled community would either, it is worth thinking twice before you use one.
Next time you head towards an accessible bathroom, stop and think how you would feel if someone compromised your independence simply for their own convenience. Or worse, their own laziness.
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