Accessible toilets are not only about extra space
For many of us who are disabled, the availability and accessibility of public toilets present a daily barrier. You will have heard about the ever growing popularity of Changing Places: a Changing Place is an evolution of an accessible toilet. A place where there are facilities within to support somebody who needs more than the basic facilities when going to the toilet. They provide facilities to get changed, to lie down in order to do so and to move seamlessly from wheelchair to toilet to the changing area.
Although not all facilities are yet in a position or have the capability to change their accessible toilet into a Changing Place – accessible toilets are still essential. Along with having these essential facilities for a disabled person to be able to utilise however and whenever they need to, championing these facilities in your venue will help disabled people to understand that they are welcomed and valued. And as we know, when customers feel welcomed and valued, they will return.
Celebrating Disability’s 7 top tips for accessible toilet facilities:
1. Clear signposting.
Surprisingly, it is not always easy to find the accessible toilet in a venue. Often, they are hidden around the corner or in a non-obvious spot behind the door. This can make it very difficult for a disabled person to locate. Think about your signage. Think about the different forms of signs. Providing visual signage as well as verbal signs can help somebody to quickly and easily locate the toilet.
2. Clear passage to and from.
It should seem obvious but accessible toilets are often in hard to get to places; behind several doors, at the far end of the venue, past the chairs and tables in a restaurant and sometimes even at the top of the flight of stairs (yes really). Ensure your accessible toilet is always accessible to get to for those who need it.
3. Ease of entry.
Accessible toilets are often locked. The thinking behind this is to prevent a non-disabled person from entering. However, this creates barriers to some people. People with limited dexterity as part of their disability may struggle with keys and locks. Having a locked accessible toilet prevents a person with this impairment being able to access the toilet unaided. A person in this situation must always make somebody aware that they are using the toilet. Therefore taking away entitlement of privacy that others take for granted.
Along the same lines, think about the door. A person in a wheelchair may struggle to open and close the door behind them. Large, heavy doors are especially difficult. The best accessible toilet doors are the ones where there is an automatic entry, lock and exit system. A bit like on trains.
4. The space within.
Ensuring that a disabled person has enough space to manoeuvre when inside is imperative. So many accessible toilets are too small on the inside and do not allow for turning space or access to the facilities within. Ensure that all the boxes and other items that we see stored in these accessible toilets are never there. This does not only create a health and safety risk but is completely unwelcoming for any person who goes to use the facilities and is greeted by a box and a vacuum cleaner.
5. Emergency call buttons.
Every accessible toilet has them: the facility to call out in an emergency. However, the emergency call button is often not accessible. Often in the top corner of the room or else, in one specific spot. Making it hard to access at the best of times.
The emergency call button must be located in an area where it is accessible to reach for the majority of people. As discussed above this is not often the case. This alone, renders the emergency call button useless; unless a person falls over a very specific area where the call button just happens to be, it will not be reached anyway.
“A person could shout” I hear you say “and we would hear them”. Imagine a busy restaurant: clattering cutlery, voices, music, glasses, a cocktail/coffee machine. Would you be able to hear somebody calling for help?
6. Help on hand.
Not every disabled person has somebody accompanying them for support and as we discovered accessible toilets are not always as they should be. Offering a discrete service to your disabled customers that will put their mind at ease if something happens in the toilet may be an idea. For example, a discreet service where a staff member knows to knock after a certain amount of time (agreed by the disabled person and the person checking). This would also help a disabled person who has problems opening and closing door behind them.
7. Procedure, procedure, procedure.
It is so important that you have the correct procedure in place to support somebody who has fallen over or in need of assistance in the accessible toilet. Not only will a procedure reassure a disabled person that your staff are competent to support if anything goes wrong, it will also reassure your staff.
Once you have the procedures in place, don’t forget to communicate it with all current and new staff. Update their awareness of the procedure on a regular basis with refresher training, seminars and talks.