OPINION: Time to slam the door on ill-equipped toilets

Most of us take it for granted that when we’re out having a coffee or a meal, we can find a toilet. But for up to 14 million people, that’s not the case. They need more space and more equipment than is typically found in a conventional accessible toilet, ambulant or wheelchair.

Without any or all of these, they can’t undertake their intimate care when away from home. So their business at the location is lost, in effect shutting the door on a group that spends a large part of the £249 billion-plus — and accounts for up to 20% of the average business’ customer base — represented by the purple pound.

‘Changing Places’ toilets were developed by a consortium, which includes Mencap, to address the situation. Changing Places were initially devised for people with profound and multiple learning disabilities, and other people with physical disabilities such as spinal injuries.

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The facilities offer more space (a minimum 3m x 4m under British Standards), and extra equipment — at very least a height-adjustable, adult-sized changing bench, ceiling track hoist and privacy screen, in addition to the WC and washbasin that are standard fixtures in a toilet.

Changing Places toilets offer additional space and more facilities for users.

Changing Places toilets offer additional space and more facilities for users.

Under British Standards (BS8300:2009), and the latest Building Regulations Approved Document M 2013, Changing Places are ‘desirable’ — in addition to wheelchair-accessible toilets — in any building to which the public has access. The list includes shopping centres, schools and hospitals.

In our experience, as suppliers and installers, and that of campaigners, the allocation of that 12m² in addition to existing toilet facilities often stops a venue being able to provide a fully compliant Changing Places.

“I have been to sites to install and found that plumbing has not yet been piped to the room, there is no electricity to power the ceiling track hoist and support rails have been mounted to a stud wall”

Space is often the primary limitation while available plumbing, wiring, strength of supporting walls and ceilings on which to mount equipment all play a part. This is not so much of an issue in new-builds, as those considerations can be included at the design stage, but it is more of an issue in refurbishments. Campaigners therefore devised an ‘inbetween’ solution, which still addresses their need for extra space, an adult-sized bench and hoist, and opens the doors of the facilities to all manner of people who need any, or all, of the additional benefits; people with a stoma, for example, benefit from the extra space and bench to deal with cleaning and changing their bags.

‘Space to Change’ bridges the gap between conventional wheelchair accessible toilets and the supplementary Changing Places. Space to Change builds on the regulatory requirement that says even when only one WC is provided, it should be a wheelchair-accessible toilet. Space to Change asks that just 5m² is added to that standard wheelchair-accessible facility to enable inclusion of an adult-sized changing bench and hoist.

Already it is being positively received as a viable solution to their ability to accommodate specific customer needs without majorly altering existing outlets and/or facilities.

From a contractor viewpoint, in a new-build, if at all possible, a full specification Changing Places would be the ideal and, as I said earlier, is easier to provide in a new-build as it can be planned in at the outset. However, it is easier to provide a Space to Change in refurbishment projects.

A Clos-o-mat toilet installation in Portsmouth.

A Clos-o-mat toilet installation in Portsmouth.

Many wheelchair-accessible toilets already have the required space, so in effect you are just adding to what is already there, without the need for additional plumbing or drainage. The bench does not have to be fixed to the wall; the hoist can be any mobile or track hoist.

If it is possible to create the additional space to install a Changing Places, we would always advise that this is done; it may be that there is a spare cupboard or an adjoining cubicle that can be knocked through to achieve the m² required. Logically the space needs to be by existing toilets, partly for ease of access for users, but also for tapping into water supplies, drainage and electricity.

If a wall-mounted bench is to be installed, the wall needs to be strong enough; a brick or block structure is required, not a stud wall. The bench needs to be able to take a 200kg load, after all, so the wall should be able to support the corresponding weight!

I have been to sites to install and found that plumbing has not yet been piped to the room, there is no electricity to power the ceiling track hoist or height adjustable bench or basin, and adult-sized changing benches and support rails have been mounted to a stud wall.

I have also seen a height-adjustable unit installed with the cover to protect the plumbing and wiring fitted behind the very flexes that it is supposed to be covering. The key is to use quality contractors and workmen, and have the location properly surveyed first, ideally by a party who fully understands the legalities and practical considerations in providing either a Changing Places or Space to Change toilet, and how they interface with conventional accessible toilet provision.

That way, the end result will be appropriately compliant — and meet the needs of the millions of people and their carers who can’t use conventional wheelchair-accessible toilets.

Kelvin Grimes is project manager for away from home toilets at Clos-o-Mat, a leading accessible toilet solutions provider www.clos-o-mat.com

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