I often encounter access barriers when trying to use disabled toilets. This impacts me every time I go out.
Only a few of the latest mall toilets are actually accessible. In other public buildings and in private buildings the rules for access to accessible toilets are mainly ignored or quietly disregarded to fit the owner's plan or the architect's dream.
I want new access laws to ensure that all toilets - both public and private - not be signed off until a rigorous code compliance certificate is issued.
Here is my latest incident report:
Desperation in the Loo!
I was in total panic. I was in the toilets at Auckland Hospital and was unable to pull the heavy door and negotiate myself outside and a manual wheelchair. Not only was the door too heavy for my weak hands to pull but it slammed each time I moved it a few centimetres before I could get both hands on the wheels to push my manual wheelchair to try to jam it open. I had been on the toilet for three quarters of an hour trying time and time again to open that door and yelling for help but no one came. I missed my physio appointment and did not get out until a cleaner arrived to clean the toilet. By this time, I was crying shaking wreck.
This was just one of my terrifying toilet experiences. Public toilets everywhere should have slide doors which can be easily opened by disabled people. Heavy smoke doors only serve to trap the disabled person, who is unable to negotiate the way out of the door and use their hands to push the wheelchair at the same time. These doors should be illegal on disabled toilets.
But the saga of disabled toilets does not end there. The Council should be indicted for the non-compliant toilets they sign off as 'accessible' in buildings everywhere. Last week I went to Ascot Hospital. I was on the ground floor where the general public can gather. I was desperate to go to the toilet on arrival. The only disabled toilet was in the men’s toilet and none for women! On a follow-up visit, my appointment was on the second floor and I tried to go to that toilet but that was out of order, so had to go off to another floor. There the toilet was so small that there was no room to turn around to back in beside the toilet for transfer, and the height of the toilet seat was so low very few disabled people would ever be able to get on and off it. As a general rule, in the toilets, a disabled person will find a sanitary disposal bin beside the toilet, or the odd compressor stored in there for the owner of the building, or frequently a baby-changing table blocking the way, or failing that at least a large plant in the road, so there is nowhere to place a wheelchair beside the toilet for transfer. Baby-changing tables have no place in a disabled toilet and need their own space.
Council officers have no idea of ingress and egress rules. Another case in point. I went to a Council-led meeting at the brand new Ormiston Senior College. The disabled toilet was the first toilet in the ladies room. I opened the door on the right side wide to enter, simultaneously slamming another lady in the face who was trying to exit the another of the other four toilet cubicles beyond the disabled toilet. This saga will occur every time a disabled person enters or exits that toilet, especially if they’re backing in on a power chair where the danger is obvious to anyone trying to get past. The architect was actually present at the meeting being praised for his wonderful designs. I cornered him and showed him the difficulty. He was astonished and had not thought of any problem like that before!! This shows that not only our Council, but the architects working for private companies, need a huge amount of accessibility training to understand not only the rules and regulations, but the basics of ingress and egress in disabled toilets, and the practicality of their designs.
I can add 100 more examples of this type of thing. There is just so much education that needs to be done to allow persons with disabilities have access to an acceptable toilet which is really accessible and caters for their needs in every way.
Just a few more examples: size of toilet space too small to negotiate in a wheelchair; toilet seat height nonconforming; soap dishes and hand dryers way out of reach; nonconforming taps making it impossible to wash the hands; obstacles and barriers placed in disabled toilets; automatic flush mechanisms such as that it Auckland airport that only flush if the woman sits on the toilet but will not flush if a disabled person is emptying a urine bag or standing to urinate through a catheter. The urine emptied from a catheter bag will leave a disgusting urine smell, leaving the next person to gag as they enter due to the stale urine which cannot be flushed away because emptying the bag does not entail the person sitting on the toilet at all, so the flush will not activate.
It is not lack of money but total ignorance of the needs of disabled and wheelchair-bound people, which causes these troubles.
No toilet should be signed off by Council without the input and inspection of a considerably disabled wheelchair-bound person, preferably a woman, attached to Council.
This is a story about the barriers many face. We're sharing it because we want a law that puts accessibility at the heart of an inclusive Aotearoa New Zealand.