today (November 19) is UN World Toilet Day. i know it’s to promote sanitation and health but, with your indulgence, let me “hijack” it to discuss some of my concerns about accessible toilets. it may be crass and gross to most but to me it’s a microcosm of how disability is viewed/treated by society at large: a few do it for the sake of compliance and to merely adhere to the law, while most are well-meaning but “misunderstand” the issues because “designers” have no lived experience (whether personal or ancillary) or lack proper awareness.

doors. some doors are “too” heavy without a spare set of hands. another “pet peeve” of mine is when there is another set of doors: this is extra effort because i’s another “obstacle” and there usually isn’t enough space unless you close the first set. moreover, my wife or son sometimes need to hold the door open for me to get in and out. furthermore, a few open the “wrong” way so that i need to position my walker to the side in order to open it (i always wonder how people with wheelchairs manage).

locks. some people no longer or aren’t imbued with the necessary dexterity to operate locks: i’ve used the facilities a number of times without engaging the locks or spent several minutes to unlock it (and it’s really bad for me as i have claustrophobia and can get terribly anxious).

space. i understand there are costs involved but sometimes i can’t turn and need to exit “backwards”. i also encountered a few that requires you to “park” your mobility aid elsewhere to use the facilities – there was even one with a wall separating a toilet. in such cramped quarters, how can people using wheelchairs safely transfer to the toilet itself.

handrails. there are a few with “misplaced” handrails or items (usually toilet paper) placed atop where you are safely meant to grab. i’ve even encountered some without any handrails – they just assume that everyone will just sit down but you may need to hold on to something to adjust your seating or help you get up.

toilet paper dispensers. i’ve yet to find one that’s easy to use. i can understand the intention but you have to be adequately nimble to get any TP: sometimes your fingers need to navigate a “small” opening to either get the first square or because after you tear a few off it goes back “in”. These are often sharp and is problematic for me as i’ve got co-ordination issues and occasionally involuntarily movements – i can’t even imagine someone with “severe” movement disorders.

lights. a few have them have the switches behind the door. automated ones are usually handy but i find they don’t detect you when you’re on the throne and cut-out after a certain time – i have to “furiously” wave my arms to get the light back on and even tried moving various body parts to no avail.

smell. unfortunately, i’ve got a keen sense of smell and most do double duty as parents’ rooms with nappy (diapers to you American-English speakers) and when there is something in the bin (or trash can) it can get a bit “whiffy”. Alternatively, the bowl isn’t flushed because it was hard to do by a previous user; they forgot or don’t care; the flushing mechanism doesn’t work or doesn’t function well enough – whatever the case may be, the result is the same: it stinks.

i’m sure there are other things i’ve missed as the topic gets me worked up. on second thought, hotel bathrooms need a seperate entry as my family and i like to travel a lot. i need to say this because the country by far with, IMHO, the “best” accessible toilets is by far Australia.

there are even chairs in a few toilets. you might ask: isn’t this a good thing? yes and no. for people that need support, it’s wonderful thing but it’s a subliminal indication that persons with disabilities can’t or shouldn’t participate in the community independently.