Thanks to the provision of public toilet facilities, most people can leave their house, visit a shopping centre, attend a concert from their favourite artist, watch a cricket match live and enjoy the outdoors in a public park knowing there will be toilet facilities nearby.
However, what if there were no appropriate public toilet facilities available, leaving you no choice other than to stay close to home or require you to leave a concert, cinema or a shopping centre earlier than planned?
These are some of the issues and choices people with a severe or profound disability face every day.
Standard accessible toilets built today are not suitable for all people with a disability. People with a severe or profound disability and their carers require accessible toilet facilities that have greater circulation areas and additional access provisions in order for them to use the toilet safely and comfortably. This may include people with multiple learning disabilities, as well as spinal injuries, spina bifida, motor neurone disease, multiple sclerosis or an acquired brain injury
Due to the lack of adequate toilet facilities for people with a severe or profound disability, people with a disability and their families are left no choice other than to stay close to home. Families desperate to leave the house find themselves with no choice but to change their loved one on the floor of a public toilet facility. This option is unhygienic, undignified and presents health risks associated for the carer due to heavy lifting (e.g. back injuries).
In response, the Changing Places concept was introduced to Australia in 2012. The Changing Places concept is an initiative that was successfully introduced in the UK in 2006. The 550 Changing Places constructed in the UK today have transformed the lives of hundreds of thousands of people, enabling them to be far more engaged in their own local communities.
Changing Places toilets are different to accessible toilet facilities. A Changing Places toilet is an accessible toilet facility with greater circulation areas, a height adjustable adult sized changing bench and a tracking hoist system.
Adequate provision of these Changing Places toilets in Australia would allow people with a severe or profound disability to leave their house and to enjoy day to day activities without having to worry that there will be no appropriate toilet facilities available. The provision of Changing Places toilets would also improve the carer’s physical wellbeing by negating the need to lift the person with a disability and remedying the everyday stress of planning around the bathroom needs of the person they are caring for.
Although Changing Places toilets are not required under the Building Code of Australia and the Disability (Access to Premises – Buildings) Standards 2010, the provision of Changing Places toilets should be considered to enhance the accessibility and daily experience for people from our communities who have severe or profound disabilities.
In particular, Changing Places toilets should be provided in main public buildings such as shopping centres, premium train stations, aquatic facilities, major sporting and recreational complexes, major cultural facilities, civic centres, airports and hospitals. These should be provided in addition to the standard accessible toilet facility.
The Changing Places information kit (http://changingplaces.org.au/build-a-toilet/designs/) made available by Association for Children with a Disability is a comprehensive document providing developers, architects and builders clear information on how to successfully build a Changing Places toilet facility.
The information kit shows three typical design options of a Changing Places toilet as shown below.
The website link also provides access to other information including personal stories of people who benefit from the provision of Changing Places toilets in our built environment. In reading these personal stories one can get a good understanding on the importance of these toilet facilities and how these facilities would transform their lives and enables them to be far more engaged in their local community.
The first few steps of introducing Changing Places to Australia have been made. It is great to see that there are already a few Changing Paces toilet facilities in Melbourne and its surrounding suburbs. However, so far there is only one Changing Places toilet facility (that is registered with Changing Places) in the whole of NSW. Campaigns are underway to introduce a Changing Places toilet facility in Circular Quay and Sydney Olympic Park. However, that is not enough.
Councils, developers, designers and facility managers will have to take on some responsibility in order to make our built environment and our communities accessible for all.
Stefan van Vliet