It’s amazing how often we hear this old chestnut:
“But all disabled toilets are the same though aren't they?”
This has become a pretty standard reaction when we first meet people and, as we’ve said before, totally understandable if you’ve never had to think about the disadvantages of being Visually Impaired in a Visual world.
In previous posts we’ve also mentioned the Disability Discrimination Act and, subsequently, The Equalities Act 2010 which, in theory, protects everyone in Britain from discrimination, harassment and/or victimisation and is designed to help organisations design and build facilities that comply with the Equalities Act.
A set of guidelines, The Doc-M (Building Regulations Approved Document M), was thus compiled to ensure continuity and standardization.
The image below shows distances and measurements that must be adhered to and serve as the standard for Disabled Access design and planning.
Figure 1: Doc-M Accessible Toilet Layout
They’ve been quite thorough haven’t they!
So this means that every accessible toilet is the same then, yes?
Unfortunately, not even close!
If you think about it logically, even when following the above diagram, the chances of even two toilets being identical are slim to none for a number of very simple reasons:
- Plumbing and electrical access differs from room to room
- There are literally hundreds of permutations of taps, dryers, flushes, door furniture and soap dispensers for the architect or owner to choose from.
- Not all facilities have hand dryers and towels, some have both while others choose one or the other.
- The Doc-M doesn’t specify exact distances for everything, for some it specifies heights from the floor, others, distances from a corner, but very few get both.
- Emergency pull cords, assuming one is fitted, can be located pretty much anywhere.
- Not everything is specified as fixed, soap dispensers, toilet rolls and sanitary boxes are the biggest culprits for this.
- Things break down and get replaced.
- Facilities get refurbished.
I could go on but the point is a simple one, Visually Impaired users have either very little or no idea where anything is when enter a facility, even ones they may have visited before.
Why is this an important point?
It’s all about trust!
It would be dangerous for a Visually Impaired user to assume that things haven’t been changed or moved, which leaves them little option but to run their hands around and try to identify the layout.
That’s assuming they are alone of course.
It’s a whole different ballgame if they have someone there to explain the layout but once that’s done and the helper has gone let’s hope their instructions can be remember for finding the way out again….
So, it’s easy to make the false assumption that all toilets are the same if it’s not something you’ve ever considered but what if it’s your profession?
We recently introduced the RoomMate to an architect working for, in their words “an award winning disability and inclusive design consultancy” who “also deliver expert disability equality training” and the response included this:
“I would add that accessible WC’s are probably less of an issue in a way though, as the standardised layout should immediately tell someone where everything else is in relation once one element has been identified”
“I think it likely to be more useful in completely unique spaces, but obviously can enhance the user experience elsewhere”
Now, we can understand a normal member of the public thinking this was true but were left staggered that people who are actually involved in designing the things hadn't a clue!
Look at the picture again, now close your eyes and imagine trying to successfully navigate a “standard facility” without any help… Ethan Hunt and his Mission Impossible mates would struggle!!
Not entirely convinced yet?
The following images show 4 disabled access toilets in the same building which is just 3 years old, all built and fitted out at the same time, probably by the same firm. All follow the directions of the Doc-M, especially using the dark blue bars as a good contrast, but can you spot any mistakes?
Did you spot anything?
Take another look:
1: Look at the hand driers in relation to the sinks.
If you were Visually Impaired what would be your chances of knowing the driers are nowhere near the sinks and you now have wet hands…
Of equal importance, if you were in a wheel chair could you reach any of the driers to dry your now wet hands without having to touch your wheels? Thought not…
2: Bizarrely, there are no toilet roll holders, so how do you find the rolls?
3: The soap dispensers are also shop bought and in random places.
4: None of the toilets are the same layout and the 2nd floor toilet even has its drier in a different place to the others.
5: The 4th floor toilet would be hellish for someone in a wheelchair to enter if the interior door was closed.
6: The 1st and 2nd floor toilets don’t have emergency pull-cords but the 3rd and 4th do, Heaven alone knows why they did that.
They all have some things in common though:
7: Everything is the same ‘light’ neutral colour, so, with the exception of the blue bars, a Visually Impaired person would struggle to perceive where everything was, an absolute no no if you’ are designing with the Visually Impaired in mind.
8: They’re all different!
This facility, on the other hand, though not perfect, had a bit more thought put in to it by using contrasting colours to help a Visually Impaired user.
Related: The World of Accessible Toilets Blog
We mentioned earlier the amount of choice designers and planners have when building their facilities and we weren’t kidding.
Just look at these door locks for example:
So, are you still under the impression that all toilets are the same?
While you’re out and about have a look yourself and you’ll soon see for yourself how random these facilities actually are. In fact, take a picture and we’ll add it to our gallery!
On a final note, we love this image of a facility in a well known, local, supermarket.
High five to the person who can find the flush...!
If you would like to talk to us about how you can make your ‘wheelchair’ friendly facilities more accessible to the 2miilion + Visually Impaired residents of the UK (not to mention the 39million worldwide) please feel free to contact us.
We’d also welcome any comments.