I have a Radar Key, which is a tool – in theory – to help make my life easier when out and about, giving me access to disabled toilets. But over the years I have found the reality is far from this theory.
Toilets being used as cupboards is a daily encounter. Toilets which have been crammed within the smallest legal space, which would make a direct transfer impossible. Toilets used as cloakrooms for staff, toilets where there are two individual doors to get through impossible to use in a chair without help, toilets ‘only’ for baby change despite the big blue wheelchair sticker. Negotiating disabled toilets is a nightmare.
I have a mental list of every good disabled friendly venue in town. Equally, I have one of every wheelchair friendly toilet. Just because something claims to have a disabled toilet doesn’t mean it’s actually usable.
And how on earth is this okay? The whole point of having a disabled toilet is so it can be used, not so it can be filled with highchairs (yes, disgusting, I know, but happens everywhere – parents, carry anti bac wipes with you. Ew.). If a restaurant decided to fill ‘healthy people’ toilets with boxes because “we are running low on space”, there would be an uproar. If a leisure center put its floor polisher in the gents because “our storage cupboard is full”, things would kick off. If the ladies cubicles were halved in size so you couldn’t turn around because “well that’s the legally required size”, complaints would be made.
So why do this to disabled individuals? Once again it’s almost as if society is sending a casual punishment. The reality is more brutal: people simply haven’t thought. People have been unable, even for a moment, to put their minds to consider what life might be life, if you’re not privileged with health and a functioning body.
Maybe it’s because of my family, but even before I was ill, I had empathy for those who were differently abled. My grandmother had a massive stroke before I was born, and was semi paralyzed, and unable to speak (apart from the words yes, no, tea, toast, and once – hilariously – “bastard”), so all my life, time with her gave me the reality that life isn’t perfect. I grew up finding different ways to communicate with her, and disability equipment such as wheelchairs, walking frames and commodes were simply every day, where as people just confronted with these might be unsure as how to process it at first. In growing up with this, and the matter of fact attitudes of my family regarding it, I was taught that disability is nothing more than a difference in the way that everyone is different from each other.
So maybe I had a better starting point than other people when it comes to understanding and empathizing, but that doesn’t really excuse things such as floor polishers in toilets. Because all of the examples I’ve given are genuine circumstances I’ve encountered. Real people have said and done these things. Real people have put active, concious thought into it and decided that boxes can go in the disabled toilet because there isn’t much space in the kitchens, and that because ‘not many disabled people come in here’ a disabled toilet makes a great cloak room, and that “high chairs take up a lot of room on the restaurant floor” so they should be stacked in a toilet. I mean really. How is this ever logical? Ever? People piss and shit in toilets. Why would you want to store anything in there other than toilet roll?