Vicky: Lots of you will have read about the appalling situations where the accessible loos are full of boxes or have been turned into the manager’s office (nice but some accessible loos that are free of clutter still really aren’t accessible and definitely not to all.
A lot of companies assume that the accessible toilets need to be accessible solely for people in wheelchairs – great if they are, but not their sole purpose.
And why do people insist on just putting mirrors at the suitable height for someone in a wheelchair? When the wall is blank above, do people not think it would be sensible to put a full length mirror in - an easy way to make it accessible to all.
For us working together, and for Dave when he’s out with his wife, accessible loos are (usually) great as I can just open the door and describe the layout and any unusual features from the door before leaving Dave to it – for want of a better expression. This saves Dave having to feel his way around in the men’s to find the urinals or cubicles (imagine that for a second – gross, or if you’ve had to experience this, sorry for making you relive this experience) or getting funny looks if he accompanies us into the ladies (something we as business partners have always managed to avoid). It also helps to be able to describe any unusual tap types, dryer types, flush types etc., yes there are loads!
And so now for the times when the use of the word accessible is not an accurate description…
A while ago, Dave and I were out on a visit to a different office and went to find the loo. We found the accessible toilet along a corridor, and I opened the door ready to describe the layout. However, on this occasion, I looked in and said, ‘Oh hang on, I can’t actually see the toilet’. We agreed we’d need to do a joint recce and in we went. The room was quite long by narrow and, right at the far end, neatly positioned behind a wall was the toilet. Having described the area, I beat a hasty retreat. As I got back to the corridor, someone was about to go in to the loo. I quickly explained there was someone in there, at which point I got a raised eyebrow and an ‘Oh, ok’! The person quickly walked off and I was too busy chuckling to bother to call after them and explain.
On another occasion, and this time providing sighted guide to an older man I don’t know so well, we were at a hotel conference venue. I looked for the sign for the accessible toilet and we followed this to find it was the ladies. We turned around and retraced our steps at which point I saw the sign for the men’s and an accessible loo in the other direction. Having followed this however, we were then just faced with the men’s toilets – I looked around but all the other doors in the corridor were either locked or cleaning cupboards. It was then that I realised that the accessible toilet sign was on the same door as the one for the men’s. My only course of action was to open the door (with some trepidation) and do a quick recee. Thankfully not a urinal (or man using it) in sight - but the accessible loo visible – just a bigger cubicle in one corner, apparently with its own basin and hand dryer – fine I guess but not if you’re supporting someone of the opposite sex. Having quickly described what was going on to the man I was supporting, I then gave directions (as best I could) from the door although obviously I couldn’t describe the cubicle layout. Not ideal or empowering!
And then the moment of going to another conference, back with Dave this time, to receive directions to the accessible toilet which was supposedly just through some double doors. Through the doors we went, to find a lift, a cleaning cupboard and a ‘do not enter’ area. No accessible toilet here. Back out we went and I looked around but no accessible toilet in view. At this point we came across a husband and wife also having the same problem. We chatted for a bit and then I suggested that, as the man was sighted and the lady vision impaired, maybe we could swap partners if everyone was in agreement? I then sight guided the lady to the ladies, and Dave went with the husband to the men’s. Really not ideal but any port in a storm!! At the end of the conference, we did find out that there was an accessible toilet through those doors – but you had to go up in the lift to get to it – seriously!!
On a positive note – there is now an item called a RoomMate - which is an electronic, wall-mounted device, which offers people with vision impairment a bespoke audio description of the layout of an accessible toilet. We have it listed on the Disability Equipment Service website – https://disabilityequipmentservice.co.uk/for-sale/9390
But you can go direct to the ADI Access website - http://www.adiaccess.co.uk
Whilst this device won’t overcome all of the problems we’ve mentioned above, it would still be a really useful thing to have for any accessible loo.
Dave: Vicky has captured things very well, I find it one of the worse things about sight loss. As you’ll appreciate, going in to a public toilet and using your other senses, mainly touch, isn’t great – it’s horrendous! I’ll just share one quick story which highlights this…
On the way home from a holiday in the South West, we stopped off for a quick toilet break. It wasn’t a large service station, more of a car park with toilet block, even so, I still needed sighted help to find the gents (no accessible loo in sight – if I can use that pun). As we approached the door, my wife said in an alarmed voice “There’s a notice on the door that warns of sharps and needles”… Imagine what could happen if I had gone in alone and started to feel around!!!
We’re sure other people have their own tales to tell, please share these and comment on our blog. We’d love to hear from you. And if you’re a company reading this or a designer, architect, builder, please, please, please think a bit more deeply about the word accessible.
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