Maggie Ellis, WSA
The Cross Party Group Disability in Holyrood (CPG) and the All Party Group Disability in Westminster (APPG) have both been debating the topic of accessible toilets and working with a wide range of others on the topic.
Because I spend part of my year in Wester Ross and part in London, I am a member of both committees. These committees have linked with many others who are concerned about accessible toilets, or rather the lack of the facilities. Sadly, this seems to be a particular issue in parts of Scotland and in places like service stations on motorways in the rest of the country.
The recently pushed Route N500, which runs from Edinburgh to Glasgow, all around the north coast, has many miles where there are few toilets. Facilities under the responsibility of the Highland Regional Council feature locked ‘accessible toilets’. Users are expected to purchase a key costing about £5!
During our work we have gained a range of information and one thing we appreciate is that the Equality Law requires that providers offer similar or even the same facilities to all users. We infer that those who only offer locked ‘accessible toilets’ are failing to comply with Equality Law.
There seems to be a misconception that people will deface the accessible toilets if they are not locked. So far, we have only had one report of such action, while many of us using the general facilities are frequently confronted with defaced locks and fittings.
This just seems to be overlooked as part of everyday living. Another theory is that anybody might use them. Fortunately, some supermarkets chains are now adding an excellent notice outside facilities that reminds us that not all disabilities are visible.
The convenor of the Cross-Party Group in Holyrood was so concerned about the locked facilities that he has since managed to get the planning laws in Scotland changed so that planning permission will prohibit any future locked facilities. That is a beginning with new toilets, but it is not the only solution.
Some work has been done recently to develop Changing Places toilets. These offer a wider range of facilities, usually with a hoist and changing plinth. The Scottish Government has been undertaking a review of such facilities and we wait to hear the outcome.
The UK Government has funded a £2 million review, alongside the Multiple Sclerosis Society, of some motorway Changing Places toilets.
Similarly, the publication about the Edinburgh Fringe this year identifies many Changing Places toilets across venue sites.
Recently, the Science Museum in London had an excellent exhibition about bugs. It emphasised that the next pandemic will be caused because we do not wash our hands. Some work is now being done by Sport England, Sport Scotland and the Royal College of Nursing across the UK.
The Stage Magazine recently published an excellent item about the poor facilities in many London theatres and noted that one theatre did not have even one accessible loo, offering to push your wheelchair up the street to another theatre nearby!
Even ordinary toilets are very limited in many theatres with lengthy queues, especially for women. The Old Vic only has four female toilets in the whole building. Since the report they are now building four more! By contrast, the SOHO Theatre offers ‘facilities for all’ with cubicles of different types located together.