Now when people talk to me about disabled toilets I can’t help but visualize a buckled and bent toilet with its cistern lid crooked and flush handle hanging loose, either on crutches or in a wheel chair. The same goes for disabled parking except here I see a crooked pole with a walking stick, with the signboard askew. I know I am being difficult but if we called them toilets for the disabled I for one would see them in their correct shape.
We have found some beautiful ones, big ones, small ones, narrow ones, smelly ones, the odd dirty one, impractical ones, those placed to fill a space merely because it is a requirement to have them, but most of all ones with loose basins, damaged seats and lack of or broken soap dispensers, drying units, paper towels, toilet paper and the list goes on.
Talking about shape! I would like to know who in the greater scheme of things decides that the architect’s plans for facilities for the disabled, in public places, are acceptable and who has designed or set these levels of acceptance.
It seems that this group or person doesn’t have a wheelchair rider in their group, or they don’t consult him/her if they do. One of my many wishes is that the building industry controlling body would employ a disabled, wheelchair bound architect to pass all plans for new buildings and those undergoing alterations. AND ENFORCE THE LAWS.
My wife and I have toured every shopping mall in Cape Town because we find it easier than trying to negotiate pavements without slopes for wheelchairs at all the crossroads, shop entrances etc. While there are a few that come up to my requirements the majority don’t.
Let me start with the doors, ---- after one has found a security guard with the appropriate key. The doors are usually wider, out of necessity for chairs, but extremely difficult to pull open or push from inside while standing. Let alone when in a wheelchair. I think the designers forget that our feet protrude from our footrests in a lot of cases. How do you pull a door open when you are sitting in front of it with your feet practically touching the door? They are also usually heavier due to their size and not hollow core which would make them lighter. In a lot of instances the entrance walls “alcove” in front of the door do not allow for a person to hold the door open without having their toes ridden over. A push button electronic sliding door would be a true blessing. (Could this be so difficult to install?)
Then we try to get inside with the automatic door closer doing its best to sandwich us against the door frame. (Hey!!! Guys, we need our hands to propel the wheelchair or at least one of them to manipulate the joy stick) how do we hold the door open?
To turn around in some is impossible because of layout or pure lack of space. This requires careful maneuvering or leaving and re-entering backwards. Now try to open the door from that position!!!! ---------- Impossible!!!
To wash and dry hands is also a work of art as the soap dispenser is inevitably on one wall, the drier on another with the basin sometimes situated between them.
Wet your hands then maneuver to the soap then with soapy hand back to the basin then back to the drier. By then, in my case, I need CPR after running the marathon of washing my hands. Besides having to wipe the soap off the wheels or joy stick.
Sometimes the facility is situated inside the normal men’s or lady’s toilet area. This is a problem, when your care giver is of the opposite sex.
Cheap plastic, wobbly, seats or loose cracked and broken ones are a definite no no. “Try to jump up from a cracked seat that suddenly grabs hold of a small piece of your behind when your legs or arms cannot support you.”
I have lost a lot of muscle mass in my behind or rather it has turned to fat and moved to my belly (or so my wife tells me) so, trying to sit on a toilet without a seat is difficult, to nigh on impossible, with sometimes hilarious results. My behind is definitely not as wide as a toilet so when I forgot to put the seat down I ended up with my bony bum securely wedged in the maw of this man eating toilet, with my skinny knees up around ear level. I must have looked a bit like a praying mantis about to jump on some luckless insect. It is amazing how important a raised toilet seat can be in these situations.
My arms are as weak as my legs, so to try to lift myself out of the clutches of this malevolent toilet was impossible. I had to call for help from my family who duly helped to get me out of my predicament much to my embarrassment and theirs too, no doubt.
What we need is a star rating for facilities for the disabled. Something like those that apply to hotels. But we need a disabled, wheelchair person to set the requirements for each level or star. Maybe then we could decide on which shopping mall to visit based on the information displayed on a board outside the centre at the parking bays without getting out of the car. Rather that, than find out, too late, that the facilities will not meet our needs when they are required with some urgency.
We don’t only go to shopping malls to use their facilities. We do actually shop at some of them.
To all shopping centres, petrol stations on major routes, churches, restaurants and those that design and build them. If you are going to provide facilities for the disabled, give the design, situation, basic mechanics, and maintenance some thought. Don’t just add them on as an afterthought merely to satisfy the minimum legal requirements. It is pointless advertising that you are disabled friendly when you cannot cater for a wheelchair. To us a severe slope is as bad as a step. (Just as useless). Likewise facilities that are impractical might just as well not be there. You need to remember that not all people have the same way of getting into or out of a wheelchair. Grab handles in the wrong place force people to use the basin or other fixture for leverage or support, which in turn results in loose basins etc. Waste bins take up valuable turning space and get squashed by wheels of power chairs. Soap dispensers and drying units that are too high are useless to wheelchair users. Some of us have weakened arms and can’t reach them.
I would like to encourage all disabled people that have or have had a bad experience with bathrooms and facilities for the disabled to write to the centre managers of these malls, shops, shopping centers, restaurants etc and advise them as to the problems. Unfortunately it is a fact of life that most able bodied people have no clue as to our requirements. Let’s inform them and ease our struggle at the same time. Make enough noise and we will be heard.