Did you know that sign causes a lot of problems? Not that people in need of accessible washroom solutions need any more problems. This writer can talk from a position of understanding. When I was 16 a close friend was involved in an accident. The details of that are too horrific as are the following 2 weeks of uncertainty we all suffered (not him, he was in a coma). The end result is that he has spent the rest of his life, to this point, on a wheelchair (careful distinction there!). I have witnessed and helped him, on his request, to solve many of those problems though, and I get this, he would rather not have people solve his problems. He’d rather not have the problems in the first place.
So, how does that sign hinder? It comes back to us. We think about a “Disabled” facility and what is the very image that springs into our minds? Yes, a wheelchair. Many facilities, therefore, are focussed on solving that problem. As an aside my friend would comment that this isn’t always done that well with many things being overlooked or not thought through. No, the big problem is that wheelchair accessibility is only 1 of many usage cases these facilities need to support. Imagine if every time you went out you had to check what facilities were available to you before you even set out. Can you get into the building? Can you access the things you need to? Can you look after yourself?
I remember my friend working through some of the basics as he got to grips with his new life. Getting back into the chair from the ground was a BIG victory! Toiletting was fairly simple for him. A variety of drugs to provide faecal control and a colostomy bag for urine. For women, however, this can’t work. Many feel that, without adequate facilities, surgery is the only option. For more on this read this link. Actually that link can let me get on with what needs should be met by every facility. Don’t let it lose that fact from your minds though. Having surgery just because you can’t find a toilet!!
The range of needs for an accessible facility are incredibly broad. To get a better understanding let’s quickly brainstorm the users. Wheelchair (tick), blind, elderly, obese, shortened height, bowel disorders, muscle or nervous disorders, autism, mental ill health and more. In fact the needs are so broad the room really needs to be rebranded as an “accessible washroom”. There are, understandable as I’m sure you’ll now agree, campaigns to change that sign!
Not all facilities managers can support all these needs. That is a given. Luckily for many we can discount many parts of that list. Business facilities managers may well not need to think through the mental health/autism list but those major needs remain throughout. These are commonly listed as:
- Space for modern wheelchairs, including powered chairs
- Hoist or height adjustable toilet
- Changing bench or, even more useful, changing bed with quick change paper covers
- Large hygiene waste disposal facilities (it is VITAL that these do not block access to the toilet)
- It is also vital to remember that there should be space for at least 1 carer and, for some people, 2 plus the chair!
- Paper towels, plenty of paper towels
- Sanitary bags
- Medical disposal unit
- Syringe disposal unit
A hoist is a priority. We are used to seeing support bars in these facilities and expect that this solves the problem of transferring. My friend who kept his fitness and strength from being a teenager is very capable of making the transfer. Millions of people in the UK aren’t. Millions. Not a random number but statistcs that include people with MD, MS, MND, arthritis, CP, paralysis, stroke, short limbs, learning difficulties, autism and anxiety.
As you can see many facilities support a very narrow array of users. If you are running a small facility such as a restaurant or shop then this may well be difficult for you to supply but larger facilities such as shopping centres, sports facilities, stadiums, museums, train/bus stations, etc will see the full range of life walking and wheeling their way through their doors. Most of these people, despite some difficulty for some, communicate in many forums (online and offline) about these issues. They share knowledge about where is a good day out with adequate facilities and support for their needs. This brings more and more people.
It leaves me to remind people of the lessons that I learned early on whilst adapting to my friend's new life. My friend demonstrated strength and resolve that you would find hard to believe. He fought through every challenge put in front of him. Found every angle that he could exploit and got back out there to challenge life. He simply discounts anywhere that doesn’t support him and they don’t get his money. His desire for life and upbeat attitude (his chosen response to his change) have taken him to some amazing places. He has appeared on your TV screens, become a Trustee for one of the leading spinal charities, travelled as far as he can, become a property investor, public speaker and has now married a stunning lady in a similar position to him with the same attitude. In fact he is as irritatingly nice as he ever was and the girls still swoon over him. I have words I use for him (to his face) but they are not for this place. He is one of the millions and he has, like so many of them, become successful and has plenty of money to throw about. Support him and he’ll support you.