As one brave mum gets set to take her PantsDown4Equality, UCan2 magazine is getting behind the Changing Places campaign to help boost the availability of accessible facilities. Along with carers, parents and disability rights campaigners, we are calling on public places to offer fully accessible disabled toilets, with equipment including adult-sized changing tables and hoists.
On Twitter, the campaign #changingplaces has long been highlighting inadequate toilet facilities. Firms who have invested in the right equipment to ensure people of all abilities can change without being embarrassed – and so that carers can lift and handle without putting themselves at risk – use the hashtag to show off new facilities and equipment.
Fed-up of having to change her seven-year-old son on urine-soaked floors, one frustrated mum has taken her camping Pants Down For Equality to the next level. Sarah Brisdion, a mother of twins, will demonstrate in the window of Baker Street’s Bathstore – sitting on the toilet with her knickers down for a full day. She wants to highlight the loss of dignity and issue of inequality surrounding changing youngsters and adults in public without the appropriate facilities.
We caught up with Sarah – whose son Hadley, seven, has cerebral palsy and is a full-time wheelchair user – to find out more about her campaign:
What kind of toilet issues do you and Hadley face when out and about in public?
When we are out and about in public we are usually terrified if Hadley needs the toilet because more often than not there will not be a toilet that Hadley can use safely. So we sadly avoid going out much because the stress and danger of trying to manage in a standard toilet is just too much at times. If there is not a Changing Places toilet for Hadley to use then we have to do one of three things.
1) Lie Hadley on a disgusting toilet floor to remove his bottom layers and lift him onto the toilet – repeating the process afterwards to redress him. The lifting alone is so dangerous, but the germs that he and I are both exposed to when lying and kneeling on a toilet floor are even more petrifying.
2) Take him to the car and lie him in the boot to sort his underwear and continence items and use a commode – all in view of the public and in freezing conditions during the winter months.
3) Let him relieve himself in a nappy and sit in his bodily waste until we can get somewhere safe to change him. This is at times hideously painful and can really damage his skin.
What’s your worst experience of changing and how did it affect you and Hadley?
We have sadly had so many hideous experiences now it is hard to pick just one. But I think the time we went out bowling with friends and stopped to give the kids a treat in McDonalds really sticks in my memory. Unfortunately Hadley had a bowel movement during his meal and so we simply couldn't go home and change him. We struggled into what is possibly the smallest disabled toilet I've ever been in, the floor was absolutely disgusting and the smell as bad. So, leaving the wheelchair outside the door (as it wouldn't fit in the toilet with my husband and I) we attempted to change Hadley on the baby changing drop down table. Hadley is twice the size of one of these units so I had to rest my knee under it to take the weight, his legs were wedged against the door and my husband tried to clean him up. All the while he was sobbing and begging us to get it finished as quickly as possible. I don't know how I kept the tears at bay. I guess I just don't want him to see how much it upsets me too. I don't want him to blame himself for these situations. I am genuinely so scared about his mental health. He knows he is not a baby. He knows this is not fair and he knows that this is not what his sister or any of his friends have to endure. How unvalued he must feel? It literally breaks my heart. All he and we want to do is to be able to go out as a family, enjoy a day out and a treat and not have to put our child through this dangerous situation just because he needs a bit of extra help going to the toilet. He deserves so much more than a toilet floor.
What does the Pants Down for Equality campaign entail?
On May 11th, I will be taking my loo selfie stunt to a whole new level…. by sitting on the toilet in a Bathstore showroom window on Baker Street, London, in full view of the public, pants down, for a whole day! My mission is to raise awareness of the dire conditions that Hadley, and hundreds of thousands of other disabled people, face when using the toilet away from home.
I will be joined in the window by special guests from around the country, including: actress and disability rights campaigner Samantha Renke; Fraser and Friends’, Shelley Simmonds: Department of Ability creator Dan White; The Mum on a Mission Laura Moore and self-confessed loo lady Emma Spagnola to name just a few.
It’s shocking that in 2018, disabled people still have to endure this. We need to put a stop to this inhumane situation and encourage venues to upgrade their facilities and become more inclusive.
Toilets are not glamorous. We shy away from talking about pee, poo and periods, so as Changing Places campaigners we have to go to extreme lengths to get our cause noticed. We will all be sitting, pants down, to try to get the full attention this human rights issue deserves.
How are you feeling in advance of your Bathstore demo?
I have lots of lovely special guests taking part, with probably between 10 and 20 other people taking it in turns throughout the day. I am weirdly excited. Not about baring all for the public, I'm trying not to worry about exposing more than I should but it is a worry! But excited about the stir it is going to cause and the prospect of potentially more Changing Places toilets being created as a result. I also feel hugely supported. This event has brought so many people together to fight as one for our loved ones. I have made some more great friends through campaigning this event means I will get to meet many of them that I've only chatted with online so that's a wonderful thing. They are my toilet family!
Ideally, what would you like public toilets to offer?
There are currently only 1093 Changing Places toilets in the whole of the UK (which sounds a lot until you appreciate that Wembley Stadium alone has 2,618 toilets!).
London is one of the worst cities in the country for disabled residents and visitors that need help accessing the loo, with just a few Changing Places toilets in the West End and most only available if you are specifically visiting a building, such as the Houses of Parliament. For many disabled people, London is a no-go zone!
‘Changing Places’ toilets need to be available in all large public venues and places. A decent facility should be a minimum of 12 square metres and include a ceiling hoist, height-adjustable, adult-sized changing bed, peninsular toilet with space for a carer either side, and where possible, a height-adjustable sink. These facilities should be available in the following places and should be additional to any standard accessible toilets:
- Educational establishments – schools, universities etc
- Health facilities, such as hospitals, health centres and community practices.
- Travel hubs such as train stations, airports, bus stations and ferry ports
- Sports stadiums and leisure facilities
- Cultural centres, such as museums, concert halls and art galleries
- City and large town centres
- Large supermarkets and restaurant chains
- Shopping centres
- Major motorway service stations
- Key buildings within town centres, e.g. town halls, civic centres and main public libraries.
But we also want to help smaller venues and businesses who are restricted by space and building constraints. When a Changing Places genuinely is not achievable, all is not lost! Providing a disabled/accessible toilet needs 7m2 or more, an adjustable changing bench and a ceiling hoist can be fitted into an existing space – instantly adding essential kit for families like mine, without having to build an extra facility.
Sarah’s important facts to consider:
BS8300:2009 The Design of Buildings and their Approaches to Meet the Needs of Disabled People – Code of Practice was published in 2009. It recommends that Changing Places toilets should be provided in larger buildings and complexes. But we believe that instead of being a recommendation, they should be compulsory for modern public new builds in order to not exclude anybody who may wish to use them.
Equality Act 2010: The Equality Act 2010 replaces the Disability Discrimination Act. Under it, service providers are required to make reasonable changes – including to the built environment – where a disabled customer or potential customer would otherwise be at a substantial disadvantage; previously, such changes were only required if it would have been impossible or unreasonably difficult for the person to access or use the service. Surely having to be changed on a dirty toilet floor is a significant disadvantage? So we are simply asking businesses and venues to do something that they should already be doing aren’t we?
The Equality Act 2010 also requires “that service providers must think ahead and take steps to address barriers that impede disabled people. You should not wait until a disabled person experiences difficulties using a service*”
*Government Equalities Office Equality Act 2010 Disabilities Quick Start Guide