Toilets have been in the news – and not in a good way.
Disability campaigners have been highlighting the horrendous issues faced by severely disabled people who need to visit the loo in places such as supermarkets, restaurants, and shopping centres, and are prevented from doing so because there are no “changing places” toilets.
A changing places toilet is a large accessible room (big enough for a wheelchair and 2 carers), which has an adult-sized, adjustable changing bench and a hoist which can lift the user.
Sarah Brisdion knows about the problems faced only too well. Her 7 year old son Hadley has cerebral palsy, and is a full time wheelchair user who cannot stand unaided. His condition means that he has to lie down to have his clothes and underwear removed before being transferred to the toilet. But while there may be disabled facilities there is usually no safe changing bench for him to lie on. His mother then has no option but to put him on an often filthy, urine-soaked toilet floor or simply to leave him sitting in his own bodily waste.
“This is a heart-wrenching thing for any parent to subject their child to,” Sarah says. “It is undignified, dangerous and painful for both of us and regularly reduces us to tears.
“We have to miss out on so many activities that most people take for granted because if there isn’t a toilet my son can use, we know we are likely to have to leave early or not visit at all.”
Sarah is pushing for businesses to “do the right thing” and install changing places toilets for their disabled customers. In support of her campaign, she started #LooAdvent just before Christmas. It was a unique type of advent calendar: for 24 days she posted a photograph of herself in the loo dressed in festive costume, with the aim of drawing attention to the plight of her son and others like him. #LooAdvent generated tremendous media coverage across press, radio and TV.
Sarah has now started a new social media campaign called #ShameOnLoo which will see her taking selfies on some of the worst toilet floors she has experienced in the hope that this will shame businesses into providing the facilities so desperately needed by disabled people.
Laura Moore, 41, is another Mum who is campaigning for proper disabled access facilities. Her 8 year old son, William, has quadriplegic cerebral palsy. It was while Laura was visiting her local Tesco in West Durrington, West Sussex, that he became upset because he needed to go to the toilet.
She took her son into the disabled loo but “when we went in the floor was soaking wet and dirty… there was no way I was going to put William on it. Instead I sat on the toilet seat with him on my lap and struggled to get his clothes off, then had to try and hold him while lifting the toilet seat to put him on the toilet. It was a disaster, he ended up hurt and I hurt my back in the process.”
Following her experience Laura has launched a petition calling on Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Asda, Morrisons and Waitrose to commit to providing changing places toilets in their stores within 18 months. The petition currently has more than 156,000 signatures and she intends to submit it to Parliament and to the supermarkets themselves in an effort to persuade them to adapt their stores.
Will big business listen? One small business, with a turnover a fraction of that of a major supermarket, is. Ye Olde Fighting Cocks, one of St Albans’ oldest pubs, is planning a £1m refurbishment which will now include a changing places toilet.
Landlord Christo Tofalli said, “There was not going to be a bench or a hoist. It was the furthest thing from my mind.”
Following Sarah Brisdion’s campaign, however, he has now altered his refurbishment plans to include them. He said, “It’s just horrible that people are struggling.
“Society should have catered for them (disabled people) years ago… I want to make this place as good as possible. I want to make it accessible and make a difference.”
Support Laura’s petition at https://www.change.org/p/tesco-supermarkets-department-stores-to-provide-changing-places-toilets-in-their-stores