Sarah Brisdion is a writer, designer and Changing Places campaigner. She is mum and carer to Hadley, age 12. Hadley has cerebral palsy and is a full-time wheelchair user. He requires the use of Changing Places to meet his physical toileting needs. Along with many others, Sarah’s campaigning focuses on raising awareness of the need for Changing Places toilets within the commercial and public sectors. Sarah talks to us below about her campaigning and where she sees the current situation in her local area and beyond.
Before I had children, it made me shudder at the thought of putting my handbag down in a public toilet when I was out. To the point where I would act like some sort of circus act, juggling my bag and coat whilst using the loo, when a cubicle didn’t have a simple hook. The last thing I would want was anyone else’s bodily fluids on my clothes! Gross! Eight and half years ago, when I realised I’d have to lie my disabled child on those exact same toilet floors to meet his continence needs, I was horrified! I literally sobbed and sobbed. I couldn’t believe that in our modern society, we were subjecting disabled people to something we wouldn’t do with an inanimate object. There were only around 600 Changing Places facilities in the UK at that time. None at all anywhere near where I lived.
Skip to current day, and there has been a gargantuan effort from so many people in the disabled community (many of whom were fighting for basic rights and Changing Places long before I was ever aware of the need!) and where are we? There has been some success, that is undeniable. Building regulations have changed and now include the mandatory inclusion of Changing Places in new buildings (over a certain size and footfall). Grants have been made available from central government to improve vital travel infrastructures and public facilities. But this is by no means a campaign that has been won. There are still only 1759 registered Changing Places in the whole of the UK. That might sound like a lot. But let me tell you, it’s just a tiny drop in the ocean. Wembley stadium alone has more toilets than that! That’s one single venue in London with more public toilets the average able-bodied person can use, than the entire UK has for those who need a bench and hoist! Let that sink in!
This means that disabled people, including my son, are still being forced to lie on toilet floors, changed in boots of cars, dangerously lifted without a hoist. They are restricting fluids to avoid needing a toilet break when out (this is incredibly bad for your health and highly likely to land you in hospital!). The truth is, people are still not going out at all due to lack of suitable toilet facilities!
Admittedly, some areas are better than others. I have been lucky and my local campaigning in and around the New Forest and Southampton has been quite successful. We can now visit many places that were out of bounds just a few years ago, from sports stadiums to theatres through to our local towns. But even just over the border in our neighbouring county, the landscape is very different.
So let’s look at Dorset (although it is not alone in having few Changing Places facilities!). Dorset is home to the stunning Jurassic Coast, boasting some of the best beaches in the UK. It has beautiful countryside. You can shop ‘til you drop in many outlets and shopping centres. There’s vibrant nightlife, hundreds of restaurants and incredible family attractions. Dorset has a population of around 380,000 people and attracts millions of visitors every year for day trips short breaks and holidays! Yet it only has 17 registered Changing Places toilets. I find this somewhat difficult to pallet.
I caught up with a fellow campaigner who lives in the county, to hear just how the lack of facilities has affected her and her family, as well as other disabled residents and visitors.
Lorraine is a wheelchair user and is neuro divergent. She works as a professional training consultant supporting disabled people and their carers.
She said: “While caring for my mum who had dementia, it was a real challenge finding places to visit that had the type of equipment you find in a Changing Places loo. Those challenges limited the venues we were able to visit and the activities we could do. This made my mum’s world dramatically smaller than it needed to be.
“Personally, I want to be able to spend time with family and friends, making memories and enjoying my local area, without worrying that I might soil myself and without restricting my fluids to avoid wetting myself. But that is a daily reality for many disabled people!”
The moral and social responsibility for businesses to include Changing Places toilets is incredibly powerful and it’s hard to see why that wouldn’t be enough for many businesses to make a commitment to accessibility. But if they need an extra incentive/reason, then the spending power of the disabled community is surely it!
Here are some thought-provoking stats*
- More than 1 in 5 potential UK consumers have a disability.
- Businesses lose approximately £2 billion a month by ignoring the needs of disabled people.
- 75% of disabled people and their families have walked away from a UK business because of poor accessibility or customer service.
- Nearly 1 in 5 working adults have a disability.
- The spending power of disabled people and their household continues to increase and is currently (2020) estimated to be worth £274 billion per year to UK business.
Lorraine added: “The bottom line is that our (the disabled community’s) money is just as valuable as anyone else’s, and businesses are turning away huge amounts of it by not catering for us.
“The hospitality and tourism industries need us to visit. If we find a venue that meets our access needs, we’re very loyal. News of a decent accessible venue also spreads rapidly through disability networks. People will book family and business events when they find an inclusive venue. Being accessible and inclusive can give any business the competitive edge in the marketplace throughout the current cost of living crisis, and beyond.”
If you have any questions regarding Changing Places facilities, please email email@example.com – we’re always here to help.