‘A lack of toilets led me to choose surgery’
Paralympian Anne Wafula-Strike had to wet herself on a train journey, last year, because the accessible toilet was out of order. Now, she hears from others facing similar problems.
Marni Smyth has spinal muscular atrophy, and has used a power chair since she was three.
She needs a hoist to get on to a toilet, and says finding accessible loos that could accommodate her needs became a daily struggle.
“When I first went to university, I would avoid drinking as much as I could, because [otherwise] I needed to go home and leave a night out early,” she tells Anne Wafula-Strike, in the Paralympian’s report for the BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire programme.
“I’d need a hoist and plinth to get changed on, and they just weren’t [available].”
Two years ago, she took the step of undergoing surgery for which she had no medical need.
She had a suprapubic catheter fitted, so she does not have to get out of her chair to go to the toilet.
She says she knows others who have also had the operation, and it has “completely changed my life”.
“I’m so much healthier in general. I used to dehydrate myself. I wasn’t drinking all day to avoid having to use the toilet,” she says.
The operation, however, can cause infections and complications.
Marni says she “wouldn’t change [the catheter] for the world”, but still questions why it got to a stage at which she felt such an operation was necessary.
“I kind of wish I didn’t have to have it in the first place, if the facilities were there,” she says.
‘Crawl along the floor’
A 2014 government audit suggested as many as 40% of restaurants and a third of department stores still did not have appropriate toilets for people with disabilities.
This is despite businesses having a legal duty, under the Equalities Act, to make reasonable adjustments so their loos are accessible.
Anne Wafula-Strike doesn’t have to look far to find other athletes that have experienced issues over toilet accessibility.
“It happens day in, day out. What’s even worse is that some disabled toilets aren’t even maintained,” Emma Alexander says.
Gary Donald says he once went on a camping trip, only to discover the disabled toilet’s ceiling had caved in.
“I just got off my chair, crawled along the floor and climbed up on to the able-bodied toilet. I’m often doing that,” he says.
The lack of suitable facilities can also affect parents and carers, some of whom have had to change their loved ones on a toilet floor.
Lorna Fillingham – whose seven-year-old daughter Emily-May has severe disabilities – says: “There are people out there changing people on toilet floors all day, every day – in towns and cities across the UK.
“There are people with very low immunities at risk of catching infections on toilet floors.
“There are people with feeding tubes, tracheostomies, all sorts of things you do not want to get dirty, which could actually kill somebody if they got an infection into it.”
Lorna believes the answer lies with Changing Places toilets, which are designed for people with severe disabilities.
They are more spacious and contain specialist equipment, such as an adult changing bench and a hoist to help users out of their wheelchairs.
An estimated quarter of a million people in the UK require such facilities, but there are currently only about a thousand in place for public use.
A recent government committee recommended these toilets be made compulsory in large buildings that serve the public, but no legislation has been put in place to make that happen.
A spokesman for the Department for Communities and Local Government said “working with the disability sector, we’re helping to make sure facilities improve for disabled people.
“This includes reviewing building regulations so new buildings are more accessible. We’ve also recently funded a website to help people find the nearest suitable changing facilities.”
Read the full article online: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/disability-40849702
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