Weekly Poll – Accessible Toilets

Each week Disability Equality Scotland send out a poll question to our members on a topical issue. For the week beginning 22 November 2021, we asked a question about accessible toilets.

Results

Question. Have you ever left somewhere or changed your plans because there were no suitable toilet facilities? 

  • YES – 95% (224 respondents)
  • NO – 5% (12 respondents)

Comments

We provide verbatim comments where appropriate to illustrate strength of feeling or personal experience.

Lack of Suitable Toilet Facilities

Access to suitable toilet facilities is a basic human right. The overwhelming majority of respondents (95%) have left somewhere or changed their plans because there were no suitable toilet facilities. This has resulted in disabled people being unable to access the same services and opportunities as non-disabled people. Respondents reflected on their experiences of being unable to access restaurants, cafés, retail outlets, theatres, community groups and live sporting events due to inadequate and inaccessible toilet facilities.

“If a place does not have an accessible toilet, then I don’t stay as being blind I am not comfortable having to find my way around standard toilets in restaurants, pubs, concert venues etc.”

“I’ve had to give up my crafting group as it’s moved to a venue without accessible facilities.”

“In my local coffee shop, I am unable to reach accessible toilets due to a very narrow passageway to access the toilet. I had to leave, go to an accessible toilet in the shopping mall and come back. The recent refurbishment of the coffee shop has done nothing to address the issue.”

“I have had to avoid or leave theatres as these tend to be older buildings and lack access. Although many older buildings facilitate access at the entrance, they seem to have overlooked the fact that customers need to move around inside, or god forbid have to use the bathroom.”

“We have had to leave in the middle of a meal to find a toilet then return. Also, I once turned up at a hotel to stay but left due to lack of suitable access into the building and in the en suite bathroom.”

“There have been some accessible toilets that I have used that have unsuitable lighting i.e., lights that are on a timer, they go out after a certain period.”

One individual commented on the lack of suitable accessible toilets on long-distance buses.

“The worst offenders are long-distance bus operators in Scotland. The toilets on those buses are useless. ScotRail trains do have accessible toilets, but train fares are unaffordable. I suggest the best solution would be for disabled people who already qualify for free bus travel, should also get free rail travel. This is particularly needed in rural areas of Scotland where a hospital appointment journey can take several hours.”

Wheelchair Users

There were specific concerns raised by wheelchair users who highlighted the challenges of finding a suitable accessible toilet that is spacious enough to turn and manoeuvre in a wheelchair.

“As a wheelchair user, I find a lot of places not too bad but making sure I’m near a toilet can become pretty stressful. I’ve found some disabled toilets are barely big enough to fit my powerchair in and I remember a specific experience where the staff member who showed me where the toilet was could not get the door shut without forcing it and after I had taken off my footplates. Quite ridiculous that that is considered a wheelchair-accessible toilet!”

“In the past I have had to rearrange meet-ups with other disabled friends or my parents who need access to accessible toilets. Particularly my mum and my best friend who are ambulatory wheelchair users. Some cafés, restaurants etc are unsuitable because their bathrooms cannot fit a wheelchair, or some do not have bathrooms on a floor level and may have steps or are too cramped and may be dangerous for them.”

“Most pubs or restaurants have disabled toilets but not always accessible ones. Often, they are too small for my daughter’s wheelchair and a carer to fit into. We often have to leave her wheelchair outside the toilet and lift her into the toilet. Sometimes we just have to leave somewhere early because the disabled toilets are so bad.”

“There was a period where my son was in a wheelchair and still in Queen Elizabeth University Hospital rehabilitation services. Several eateries in that area had downstairs toilets and could not accommodate us.”

“Why are there no mirrors in accessible toilets at appropriate height for wheelchair users?”

Journey Planning

Some disabled people highlighted the need to carefully plan journeys to ensure there are suitable toilet facilities nearby. However, despite making plans to identify places with accessible toilets, this does not always guarantee that the facilities will be to an accessible standard as described.

“After bowel and lung cancer l was left with incontinence issues. I constantly have to travel with an emergency equipment/supplies bag, and many times have had to rely on fuel stations or supermarket toilets. Not so easy when you’re in a rural area. It makes planning for an attempted journey all the more important.”

“Before going anywhere, my journey is planned, i.e., transport, rest stops, toilets. Unfortunately, there are always hitches, as in lifts out of order and no access to toilets.”

“Many establishments claim to have accessible toilets, but on inspection these toilets are inadequate. There is seldom room to turn: one has to reverse out. The flush button is out of reach and the doors are difficult to manage.”

“Planning days around accessible toilets are a nightmare, and we often don’t go because of this.”

In certain cases, individuals stated that they would avoid eating or drinking before going out, because they did not feel confident enough to find suitable toilet facilities.

“I suffer from bladder and bowel incontinence, so this means I have to fast from drink and food ahead of and during any travel so that I don’t have to go through the challenge of finding a clean, safe, and available disabled toilet. This severely curtails my social life, but it’s better than the alternative.”

“If I have an appointment to go to, I don’t eat or drink before I go because I am afraid of needing the toilet when I am out. This is a very embarrassing illness which severely impacts my quality of life.”

Cleanliness

A portion of respondents commented on the condition and cleanliness of accessible toilets. In some cases, accessible toilets are found in an unsanitary condition.

“Often, I find disabled toilets are unsanitary. People are focused on shared toilets. However, disabled people have the right to use a clean toilet as much as everyone. It is undignified to have to draw staff attention to this.”

“How many times have you walked into a stall or disabled toilet room only to find you have to flush it first, and clean up after the last user?”

“In general, accessible toilets are very clean, but sometimes obvious bodily fluids are left behind by previous user and are no longer fit for use until cleaned.”

“Everyone has the basic right to use a clean, accessible toilet facility.”

Misuse

Some respondents commented on the perceived misuse of accessible toilets by non-disabled people who use them out of convenience. This results in disabled people, who genuinely require them, being unable to access the facilities as quickly as they need.

“I find a lot of people using accessible toilets because they are closer to a door or just that they are the first ones they see in looking. I do know and am perfectly aware that not all illnesses are visible, but I’m talking about the people who come out and apologise they have used it for the reasons I have stated. Reporting it to staff in a restaurant or something, yields no joy, as they always state they are not there to police the toilets. In other words, tough.”

“I am aware of people with hidden disabilities, but I’ve witnessed people, exiting the accessible toilet and smirking.”

There were a few comments from people who were concerned that some businesses will use the accessible toilet for storage purposes.

“Restaurants are especially bad for not having accessible toilets or using them for storage.”

“A few years ago, I left a pub because there was no wheelchair accessible toilet. We found another pub in the next street and as we went in, I could see the wheelchair sign on the door. However, when I went to use the toilet, I could not get in as the cleaner used it to store all the cleaning products in a shopping trolley. I asked a member of staff if they could remove the trolley which they did and then replaced it when I came out again. I did suggest that they find someplace else to store the trolley and a few months later when I returned it was still there. The venue closed down shortly after this.”

“Worst of all, disabled toilets being used as extra storage making them inaccessible to all.”

One respondent raised concerns about accessible toilets being vandalised, which can lead to closures and reduced provision.

“As someone with bowel disease, the lack of public toilets actually rules my life, and I totally despise the vandals who destroy the already limited supply.”

Radar Key

The National Key Scheme/ Radar allows disabled people to open locked accessible toilets across the country. It was introduced to prevent damage and misuse of accessible public toilet facilities. Respondents recognised the benefits of Radar keys for addressing the misuse of accessible toilets.

“Most of the time, the big hospitality venues have good facilities. Some small independent outlets are getting there. Fortunately, I got a Radar key from Perth and Kinross Council which helps immensely.”

“While I hate the need for things such as Radar keys it does mean that those that need the toilets can access them and they don’t get misused by other people.”

However, if accessible toilets are locked, this can be restrictive in certain scenarios for people who do not have access to a Radar key or if they forgot to take it with them when going out.

“Even with a Radar key, I am not able to access toilets in some venues independently as non-disabled people are. It feels a bit like being back at school having to ask a staff member if you can possibly pee!”

“I often change plans as I have bowel and bladder disabilities. If I forget my Radar key it’s a nightmare”

Changing Places Toilets

There were specific comments about the provision of Changing Places Toilets, which are different to standard accessible toilets. A Changing Places toilet provides sufficient space and equipment, including a height adjustable changing bench and a hoist for people who are not able to use the toilet independently.

“Although Changing Places toilets are supposed to have a regulated design, many don’t meet the Standard and are too small, have missing equipment and incorrect signage. Unfortunately, architects don’t understand the needs of people with complex conditions. Although incorrect, we know of colleges and hospitals who have wrongly modified accessible toilets to make Changing Places toilets out of them. The Scottish Government has allocated £10 million for the construction of Changing Places toilets next year and this should see a welcome increase where there are none or only a few.”

“Changing Places toilets are fantastic and make such a difference not only as a toilet but as a changing area for my kid. I cry every time I need to use a toilet floor with a sheet, I carry laid over it for some hygiene. Would you want to lay your kid on the floor of a public toilet to change them? Please, please, for the sake of my kid’s dignity and for others who need it – more Changing Places toilets please. Badly needed.”

“There are very few areas that have Changing Places facilities.”

Baby Changing Facilities

Respondents reflected on how some accessible toilets also double up as baby changing facilities, which has resulted in disabled people queuing alongside parents. It was suggested by one individual that baby changing facilities should not be integrated with an accessible toilet.

“These toilets are also the baby changing areas and so you have to wait in a large queue with parents. I feel particularly strongly that accessible toilets should remain separate from these facilities or only be used by disabled parents. We have almost missed shows starting back after intermission because we have to wait so long. We have to deal as well with the ire of parents who can get impatient with waiting for my friend or mother to vacate the bathroom. This pressure shouldn’t be put upon them.”

“Often there’s no child changing facilities and I’ve saw guardians using the toilet with the child. I’m assuming this is for extra room, however many younger children will be attracted to a red hanging string. Which leads me to believe it is often pulled unnecessarily, which can lead to staff not treating it with the urgency it may require.”

“There needs to be a larger provision of accessible toilets in easier to access areas and they need to be separate from baby changing facilities.”

Toilet Closures

Disabled people raised concerns about the closure of public toilets in local authority areas across Scotland. It was suggested that councils have closed public toilets in order to cut costs. As a result, disabled people reported that they are unable to partake in everyday activities that support independent living.

“It is appalling the number of councils that are closing public toilets as it is not a statutory requirement to provide them – an absolute disgrace. Toilets are required for a human need and councils forget that is how Town Councils first started – to provide public toilets.”

“Nowadays local authorities often only open the public toilets in the summer months, therefore in late autumn, winter and early spring there is often no toilet facilities open which means the disabled people like me are deprived of her independence because we can’t go anywhere because there is nowhere to go to the toilet.”

“I have to plan journeys around accessible toilets against a backdrop of most public toilets now being closed to save money. This makes journey planning and planning days out so hard and near impossible”

“In recent years councils have removed most public toilets as they don’t want the cost of maintaining them. it is now difficult to find a toilet in common areas and journeys have to be carefully planned.”

“I can now no longer do my own shopping because there is now no local, accessible toilet. This is due to the direct consequences, ignorance, greed, and considerations of our Local Authority! Quite frankly, their discriminatory behaviour has denied me my rights of independence.”

Concerns were also raised about the closure of public toilets during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The pandemic removed access to the usually accessible toilets available in Stirling shopping centre and the café shops. I had to curtail my time away from home and not drink. This is only one incident as usually; I tend to avoid places I am not familiar with.”

“COVID was hell during lockdown, even access to disabled toilets was shut. I have to say that M&S were kind enough to let me use their toilets on a number of occasions.”

Conclusion

An overwhelming majority of respondents (95%) have left somewhere or changed their plans because there were no suitable toilet facilities. Disabled people shared emotive comments about the impact this has had on their ability to access the same services and opportunities as non-disabled people. Wheelchair users identified concerns about the lack of space in accessible toilets, which often makes them unsuitable for use. Disabled people will often have to carefully plan for journeys to ensure that appropriate toilet facilities are nearby. However, this is dependent on whether the facilities are as accessible as described. It was highlighted, that accessible toilets can often be found in an unsanitary condition or vandalised. There is a perceived misuse of accessible toilets by non-disabled people, which restricts access for disabled people who genuinely need them. The National Key Scheme/ Radar aims to address misuse, however, this in turn may restrict access for disabled people who do not have access to a Radar key. Respondents reflected on the overall provision of Changing Places toilets and concerns were raised about integration with baby changing facilities. In closing, disabled people were left anxious by the growing trend of public toilet closures in local authorities across Scotland, which creates further barriers to independent living.