Today we were at the Zoo and I needed to change Cameron. I was with a girlfriend which meant neither of us could take Cameron into the men's toilet to change him.
My immediate reaction was to find a disabled access toilet. These days disabled toilets are common and we quickly found toilets with disabled toilets however there was a problem. The disabled toilets were inside the normal toilets. There was a disabled toilet in the men's toilets and a disabled toilet in the women's toilet. What was I to do?
I couldn't go into the men's toilet to access the disabled toilet which was obviously where Cameron was supposed to go and Cameron couldn't come into the women's toilet. He is fifteen years old and the size of an adult, it is no longer appropriate.
We stood there and contemplated our problem for a moment and then my friend went and asked at the information desk if there was a separate disabled toilet. Apparently no one had asked this question before and yet the Zoo was full of people with special needs, we could hardly move without meeting another group or individual with special needs.
The staff were very nice and clearly understood the problem. There was a toilet we could access but it was on the other side of the zoo. The staff member who spoke to us was very helpful and decided we should access the toilets we were at so she came around, checked the women's toilets, which were empty and then stood guard alerting people who walked in after us that there was a young man in the toilets. She stood there until we were finished which I really appreciated.
Once inside I had another problem. In order to change Cameron I needed to sit him down to take his shoes off. Toilets don't come with chairs. Thankfully this toilet had a lid which I was able to sit Cameron on to take his shoes off but quite often there is no seat.
People seem to think that everyone goes to the toilet to use the toilet but there are lots of us who need to change our special needs person. Disabled toilets need rails to hold for support, surfaces to put your bag and change supplies down on so everything isn't on the floor, bins for used nappies and chairs or benches.
An alternative is using the baby change room and we contemplated that today but the room was three walls with the fourth wall being a frosted glass sliding door. We would have been on full display and besides why should Cameron have to use the baby change room, that's not fair. Plus it's not fair to the parents with babies who need to use the room.
The other problem nobody thinks about is the parent or carers needs. I needed to go to the toilet today but I couldn't go when I was in the disabled toilet with Cameron because he had clear access to the door and would have unlocked it while I was on the toilet. I was lucky today and took him outside to my friend and then went back inside to the toilet. I know this is a tricky problem but with a little thought a disabled toilet could be designed so the carer/parent could go to the toilet too.
We have come a long way in providing facilities for people with special needs but sometimes people forget that not all people are the same. Imagine today if I had been a father with a young adult daughter. It certainly wouldn't be acceptable for a father to take his daughter into the men's toilet or for him to go into the women's toilet.
Lately it has been on my mind a lot about facilities for people with disabilities and how things have improved but need to improve more.
Because of Cameron's difficulties with walking up and down stairs we will usually find the ramp, unless there aren't too many stairs, they are safe and we have plenty of time. Last week when we visited the aquarium we went down to look at the outdoor shark and ray display. - Stingrays, Manta rays, etc. There was no ramp but instead two long flights of stairs. It took three of us to help Cameron go slowly down and up the stairs. As we slowly made our way down we discussed how someone in a wheelchair or even a mother with a pram would not be able to access this exhibit.
In some buildings a ramp is provided but it's at the back or side of the building or the person is expected to enter the building through a back entrance. Some buildings have separate entrances for the person who can't walk in like everyone else but someone has to unlock the door or gate for them to get in. That's not exactly equality, is it? How would everyone else like to have to find someone to help or have to ask permission to access a building that everyone else is walking freely in and out of? Food for thought.
The staff today were very considerate and at least there was one toilet on site which was accessible for us but it made me stop and think about how far we've come and how far we still have to go to make all facilities truly accessible for everyone. .