When you are out and about and rushing to find a loo, take a moment to reflect the state of our nation’s toilets.

There is much to be said about the great plumbing put in place by the Romans and Victorians. But modern day public ablutions are fraught with stress.

Visiting the loo often means you’re crammed in like sardines into the tinest of cubicals with no room for your bags, never mind your bum on that seat.

Disabled people make up about 18% of the population. We need more than just a bit of space for shopping. We need leg room, turning space, transferring space from wheelchair to loo, arm rests and the dignity of spending a penny without the door being open for the world to see us peeing because the so called ‘accessible’ toilet is too small to fit the wheelchair in, or even shut the door.

This blog is about accessible toilets. Or rather inaccessible accessible toilets.

Despite Part M of the Building Regulations to ensure the correct Standards, the DDA and now theThe Equalities Act 2010 often they aren’t properly accessible, and the ones that are, are usually made useless by thoughtlessness and disregard.

Disabled people cannot be discriminated or treated less favourably. It has been illegal to discriminate against Disabled and Deaf people since 1996. The law has been strengthened by  The Equalities Act to bring in together gender, race, sexuality and disability legislation.

Disabled people cannot be discriminated or treated less favourably – the reality is we are.

It is well worth reading a really useful guide The Equalities Act 2010: What do I need to know?

The following images are courtesy of David Colley a close friend of mine and member of Pesky People – who has taken to document the sort of situations he comes across on a daily basis from businesses, pubs, hotels, high street stores and transport companies –  that consider themselves welcoming and accessible to Disabled customers.

NEXT store within the Metro Centre in Gateshead is very welcoming.

Accessible changing cubicle fill of boxes, stands and bags.The wheelchair accessible changing room is – a store room. It’s is jammed packed full  of junk!

How anyone is supposed to get in with a wheelchair or on crutches. Was David or another customer to empty the room before using it to try on clothes?

NEXT’s website has an Accessibility Policy but has no information that advises about Disabled access to any of their stores, blue badge parking, lifts, induction loops or other facilities available.

Whilst you can find out useful things like whether they offer Personal Shopping, their product range and their opening times. NEXT are failing in their legal requirements to meet the needs of their Disabled visitors.

Their website very helpfully informs you that it will cost you 5p/minute to contact them to find out the facilities available in any of their stores. Why is this information not on their website.

NEXT website also fails to advise visitors on access elements of their site including how to navigate their site, change text and font colour/contrast or how to use it with screen readers. This clearly fails W3C guidelines even on a basic level.

It is not dated but the Accessibility Policy states:

” We are working to make the Next site as accessible as possible to be used by everybody. You will notice changes to the site over the coming months to help with navigation, reading text, colour schemes and use of screen readers.

If you have any questions relating to accessibility, please call our technical helpline on : 0844 844 8510.

Lines Are Open : 7.30 am – 11.00 pm Monday to Saturday, 8.00 am – 11.00 pm Sunday.

Calls cost 5p per minute from a BT landline. Mobile providers and other networks may vary.”

Would you want to spend your money in NEXT if this is how you are treated?

The Yard – in the heart of Newcastle upon Tyne’s Gay Village

Popular with Gay and straight people alike it is one of the few wheelchair accessible gay pubs availabile in the city (that has both ground level access and an accessible toilet).

There is a bar above up a flight of stairs but there is no lift.

It has an accessible toilet but one that has repeatedly used as a store room over the years for chairs tables, bar stock, mops you name it.

On this visit it is being used to store a 46″ plasma TV.

For many Disabled gay and lesbians the gay scene is out of bounds as many of the bars (and in Newcastle there are not many of them) fail to recognise that Gay people can also be Disabled.

This happened some time ago but a good outcome – The Yard pub took part in a reconciliation meeting with the Disability Right Commission (duties now taken over by the Equalities  and Human Rights Commission) to resolve the issue.

Central Square, Forth St, Newcastle upon Tyne

Home to a large number of cultural and commercial organisations, includes and well used for it’s conference and meeting facilities by the cultural sector.

Organisations based there include Arts Council England North East and ARUP an independant firm of Designers, Planners and Engineers who’s motto is to ‘Shape a Better World’. On the ground floor there is the Quadrata Cafe Bar

The irony is lost here –  the accessible toilet on the ground floor is stacked with toiletries on the small sink area, and clothes hung on the shower transfer rail.

The accessible toilet is the Caretaker’s personal bath room. Even the accessible toilet handrail is used as a clothes hanger!

It is unlikely that a building manager would consider inspecting the loos and wouldn’t be aware of this – leaving this to staff responsible.

This is not an unusual occurrence …

The Waterford Pub in Morpeth, Northumberland

The pub has an accessible toilet. Accessible toilets have hand rails that are used by a Disabled person to lean on to to transfer on and off the toilet .

It is hanging off the wall.

Its simply dangerous and a disgusting way to treat Disabled customers.

Many organisations get it wrong thinking a large bathroom is the place to store or stock things and because it is not used constantly that is is wasted space.

Another bug bear is the combined accessible toilet / baby’s changing room and the need to put not 1 bin but 3 in such spaces. The other is providing an accessible toilet inside but there is a flight of stairs to get into the building. There is no logic to that.

Theatre Severn, Shrewsbury

Theatre Severn in Shrewsbury is a great example  of a new building not providing toilet facilities properly.

Alison visited earlier this year to see a gig and found the  accessible toilet with a compliment of three bins (one on the left of the wall, plus the large grey one next to the baby changer). Not seen in the photo is a third bin – by the door.

The large baby’s changing stand is complete with wheels so there is no turning space. It is crammed tight. Most baby changers are fixed onto the wall and fold up when in not use (they should be provided separately but tend to be added to accessible toilets to save space.

This ‘accessible’ toilet is anything but. There is no room for a wheelchair user to get in, park up next to the loo and transfer.

Their website states that there is ‘Full access via a lift from the ground floor to all public spaces’

Shame it couldn’t be said about the toilets.

You may not be aware but Theatre Severn also has discounted ticket policy for Disabled and Deaf people – if you phone the Box Office – you can’t book online. No email or alternative contact details are provided. So what do Deaf people do? Good question.

East Coast Trains
A slight detour off from toilets to transport and this time East Coast Trains who run the mainline East coast route from London in the South up to Glasgow and Aberdeen.

We are at a loss to describe this one other than quote what David said: “This is the ‘seat’ that my companion is expected to sit on – except the seat is missing!”

We are not joking – look closely and you’ll see two black struts without a pull-down seat attached to them.

East Coast Trains helpfully provides helpful information on booking and traveling with them as a Disabled passenger including A Disabled Persons Protection Policy – which all train companies must follow by law (issued by Department of Transport in 2002).

So David was taken to his seat by staff – I’m not sure what happened next but can imagine being told to sit on a seat with no seat? Did he miss his train? Did they upgrade him to First class?

Their Disabled Persons Protection Policy under Section 8 (it’s not page marked) says:

“All our trains have designated wheelchair spaces in First Class and Standard accommodation with “assistance” buttons nearby and wheelchair accessible toilets with “assistance“ buttons. Wheelchair spaces are available in Coach L in First Class and Coach F in Standard accommodation.”

… “Our trains have “priority” seating near carriage doors with folding tables and armrests to make access easier. These are for use by disabled customers, pregnant women, those with impairments to their mobility or the elderly. If you book assistance, our staff will take you to one of these seats.”

East Coast Trains state in their policy that their staff “monitor these seats to ensure they are available for those who need them.”

Somehow I don’t think they do.