Parents, could you imagine changing your child on a dirty floor in public bathrooms? I imagine you are probably cringing at the potential thought of having to do that but for some people they simply have no choice. A lot of disabled adults and children require more than just a bigger bathroom with handrails and a low sink, they need a large changing table and a hoist, that is their basic needs and yet this country and other countries are denying people that. It is estimated that around 250,000 people in the UK could benefit from toilets with such facilities, these toilets are called Changing Places and there are currently only 915 of these places in the UK. That might sound like a lot but just remember how big the country is, how many towns and cities there are in it. Could you imagine having to plan every trip out the house around where you could use the bathroom?
There are some incredible people out there trying to change things though as well as some great charities and organisation supporting the campaign. In 2005 the Changing Places Consortium was set up, it's a group of organisations who are working to support the rights of people with profound and multiple learning disabilities and/or physical disabilities. They campaign for Changing Places to be installed in all big public spaces and is made up of: Centre for Accessible Environment, PAMIS, Mencap, Nottingham City Council, Dumfries and Galloway Council and Scottish Government.
There are also thousands of parents across the country spending their own precious time campaigning though and what an amazing job they are doing. They have created a growing interest in the campaign and Penny Morduant, the Minister for Disabled People, has shown a lot of interest in it thanks to their persistence. She recently called upon Premiership football clubs to have Changing Places toilets installed by the end of the 2016/17 season, a very reasonable request. There are currently only 7 premiership clubs with such toilets installed, just 7. There are children and adults across the country who are being denied access to so many places, including very family orientated places, all because people aren't installing these toilets.
WHAT EXACTLY ARE CHANGING PLACES TOILETS?
Changing places toilets contain the right equipment such as a height adjustable adult-sized changing bench and a tracking hoist, or if this isn't possible then a mobile hoist.
Changing places toilets have enough space with adequate space in the changing area for the disabled person and up to two carers. They have a centrally placed toilet with room on either side and also a screen/curtain to allow for privacy.
Changing places toilets are a safe and clean environment with a wide tear off paper roll to cover the bench, large waste bin for disposable pads and a non-slip floor.
WHO ARE CHANGING PLACES TOILETS FOR?
Research has found that over a quarter of a million severely disabled people do not have access to public toilet facilities that meet their needs. The number of people with complex disabilities is growing as well and we are also living longer meaning that more people will likely require access to a Changing Places toilet in the future.
WHERE ARE THEY NEEDED?
Changing Places toilets are needed in all big public places to allow all disabled people the opportunity to go out, go to the shops, attend hospital appointments, enjoy community life, socialise and travel with the same dignity as everyone else. Changing Places toilets need to be installed in city centre, shopping centres, hospitals, arts venues, transport hubs, leisure complexes, sporting stadiums and arenas.
WHY ARE CHANGING PLACES IMPORTANT?
To answer this one I'm going to pass things over to someone who has a child that requires these toilets and without them she is forced to change her child on the floor, so I think they are best equipped to explain the importance of them.
My name is Samantha Buck and I'm a Mum to 3 children aged 17, 13 and 10. My youngest son, Alfie, was starved of oxygen at birth and suffered Hypoxic Iscaemic Encephalopathy Grade 3. He was born full term and should have been fine but the midwives did not monitor him or me for 12 hours on the birthing suite and so was neglected. When we left the hospital 1 month later he was diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy, Alfie has quadriplegic cerebral palsy Grade 5 (most severe) and also has severe Dystonia and Epilepsy.
When I could no longer fit Alfie on a wall mounted baby change to change his nappy at the age of 5 we were given a radar key for disabled toilets by our local council in Horsham West Sussex. However, inside a disabled toilet is just a toilet. There is no changing table or hoist to help me lift him out of the wheelchair and back in, these are necessary pieces of equipment now he is 10 years old and very heavy.
We were changing Alfie on the urine soaked floor of the disabled toilet, we had to clean the floor with wet wipes first and then lay him on a blanket but leave the wheelchair outside the toilet as there is no room for Alfie to lay on the floor and have the custom expensive wheelchair inside too. This meant that my husband or Alfie's siblings had to pass the wipes and nappies through the open door for all passers by to see. I was so annoyed at the fact that no one had any suitable equipment in public places in my home town and that everyone just expected you to just go home and be isolated, so I started an online petition and contacted the newspapers and TV channels.
We need a hoist and a wall mounted adult sized changing bench to safely lift Alfie out of and back into his wheelchair. Being changed on a toilet floor is degrading, embarrassing and unhygienic, we spend a lot of time in hospital because of his low immune system and catching many and varied bugs which makes Alfie ill. There are over 77,000 germs and viruses on the floor of a disabled toilet.
Alfie is non-verbal but can communicate with eye gaze and his communication book, he has made it quite clear that he no longer wants to be changed on the toilet floor and if necessary will sit in it until we get home which is unpleasant for him. Campaigning has since become a family affair, Alfie's brother Lewis has made a Lego Changing Places toilet, which you can see above. My husband can be seen in one of the photos and Alfie's sister helps with personal care when we are out and about now. We also started the #barefootchallenge on social media to raise awareness!
Thank you so much to Samantha Buck for sharing her experiences and explaining why these toilets are so important. I think you can all probably agree with me when I say that these Changing Places need to be in every big public space, not just hospitals or clinical buildings either because disabled people have fun too and want to go shopping, to events and travel places. Basically everything that able bodied people do! No one should be forced to be changed on the floor and it's about time that things changed and people were given what they needed, a basic disabled toilet is not enough.
If you want to help then please sign this petition, everyone deserves the right to safely and hygienically use the bathroom.