Non-disabled people seem to be drawn to accessible toilets. I don’t understand why. If I could jam my wheelchair into an ordinary cubicle I would. And yet they are often locked, apparently to thwart the attempts of drug-users and couples who can’t wait to ‘get a room’. Judging by the individuals who mumble an apology as they exit, some just sneak in for an exciting illegal pee.
Maybe the world thought it was helping when it created the Radar scheme? The key is the first annoyance, having to remember it (along with the rest of wheelchair-using paraphernalia: wet-wipes, gloves, cushion, etc.) I hate the way it interrupts me as I reach the threshold. It tells me that I am not allowed to live my life at the pace of my non-disabled peers. I wouldn’t mind so much if it guaranteed quality facilities but it doesn’t. I hate that I so often have to share with babies and toddlers, yet another time when I feel infantilised by society. I have come to despise the nappy bins and changing tables that so often prevent me from having a turning-circle.
I want to tell non-disabled people that it’s a personal triumph every time I make it to an accessible toilet. To state the obvious, it means that I have left the house. Experience suggests that, en-route, I will have negotiated several of the following: somewhere without functioning accessible toilet, someone pushing me without permission, obstructed, not really flush or non-existent drop-down kerbs, something on my hands that requires a wet-wipe, unhelpful camber, random unnecessary cobbles, being trodden on by phone-user and a cluttered route to my destination that means that I have to ask several tables of diners to move . By the time I find myself inside, I need beauty, surroundings that create an appropriate sense of celebration. So far it hasn’t been that way.
I would like music to play as the automatic door opens. The now defunct Museum of the Moving Image had Jaws and Psycho. I reckon that disabled people need a more extensive optional playlist to compensate for the lack of choice society affords us in other areas. I don’t want functional. We deserve colour, cutting-edge design, fun even. I want the accessible toilet to be envied. I want those non-disabled people who suspect that I am getting a better deal than they are to actually be right for once. I need gorgeous scents, marble, flowers, art-works and mirrors with light bulbs around the edges.
I consider myself lucky because I can usually access the nappy-filled, often cluttered, space with pee on the floor, no mirror and tied up emergency cord. If it’s out of order, as long as there aren’t stairs, or a queue, I don’t have to pee down my leg and can probably use the ‘ordinary toilet’. I don’t have to plan my life around the solitary Changing Places location, drink nothing all day, go home early, lie on the floor with the pee, wear a nappy (in spite of being continent) or have a catheter, just because of failings in the built environment. I have grown to despise the horribly mild ‘Out of Order, Sorry for Any Inconvenience Caused’ notice. It ought to say ‘We Know It’s an Utter Disaster’ or ‘Yes. It’s Broken but We Have a Workable Plan B So That You Don’t Have to Feel (Yet Again) That Society Doesn’t Care About You’. Experience has taught me that the state of its accessible toilet often speaks volumes about how a company, or organisation will treat me. I recently had a fabulous lunch at The Shard but the contrast between the glorified cupboard of an accessible toilet and the sweeping panoramic views from the Ladies sent me the message that functionality is all that I should reasonably expect.
A few months ago, I was in a station where the only working female toilet was the accessible one. It was a matter of minutes before a queue of apparently non-disabled women formed demanding that staff let them use it. It was an important reminder that anger is an understandable response to toilet discrimination. What I need is for those people, who had a tiny glimpse of what it can be like, every time a disabled person ventures out, to get angrier or, at the very least, to be less defensive when they encounter our frustration. I’m prepared to give up the marble and music for a bit more support and understanding.