The festive season means work parties, Christmas meals, time off socialising with friends, shopping, pantomime, perhaps even a chance to get away on holiday. But for hundreds of thousands of disabled people and their families, the lack of Changing Places toilets (with changing bench and hoist) means this social time of year often highlights just how society still disables and excludes them.

23-year-old Luda is sitting in front of a Christmas tree decorated in white baubles and bows and covered in artificial snow. Luda has dark, shoulder length hair and is wearing a white sweater with New York written on the front.

Luda Balan, is 23 years old and lives in East Riding of Yorkshire. Luda has a condition called Arthrogryposis that affects her mobility. She cannot weight-bear so uses a hoist to transfer from her wheelchair and has 24/7 assistance from her PAs for all aspects of her life.

Luda says: “I’m just like any other 23-year-old. I love to be out and about with my friends clubbing, having meals and enjoying the festivities, while we all have time off. Unfortunately for me though, I have to plan my outings a lot more than my friends. Before agreeing to go out, I have to check if places are accessible and what the toileting arrangements are like. Due to lack of Changing Places toilets, I have had to train my bladder to go for long periods without using the loo, which is really bad for my health. Despite this, when a venue doesn’t have a Changing Places available (which is most of the time) I still have to limit how much I drink so I don’t end up getting caught short or having to leave the party early to get home to use the loo. It can be very frustrating, seeing all my friends around me enjoying a drink and having the best time, while I’m having to sit there sober, just so I can last the whole activity through. Fortunately for me, I don’t need a drink to get on the dance floor, but for many people, not being able to join in completely, would stop them going out at all.

“If there were more Changing Places it would mean people like myself could enjoy their partying like all of their friends and just be able to go to the toilet whenever we needed to – something most people simply take for granted.”

Ella age 19, in a bar holding a glass of wine, smiling at the camera. The lighting is ultraviolet making everything look purple in colour.

Ella, age 19 and her mum Nina, find the lack of Changing Places toilets in their hometown of Sheffield, equally challenging. They recently attended a Christmas party, hosted by a local charitable organisation, along with some other friends with varying disabilities. The lack of a Changing Places toilet meant that one of their group could only stay for just over an hour.

Ella age 19 is wearing a sparkly silver skirt and black glittery top. She has wheeled herself in her manual wheelchair into a small disabled toilet. You can see the sink, toilet, hand dryer behind her. The floor looks wet.

Ella has Spina Bifida and uses a wheelchair full-time, she said: “I can self-catheterise, so I was able to stay a bit longer at the party, but for many the lack of suitable toilet facilities made it really difficult to be there. Sadly this is the norm when we go out. We have to work around what’s available, always having to plan ahead and make adaptions to our bodies and lives, when it should be businesses and venues that make reasonable adjustments to the environment to ensure we are included. We have money to spend, so it makes business sense to accommodate us!”

Brody (age 10) is stood in front of a free-standing changing bed in a Changing Places toilet. He is laughing and hugging his younger sister. They both look really happy.

Of course, it’s not just young adults that this issue affects. Disabled children also have plenty of activities to look forward to over Christmas. The provision of Changing Places toilets is vital for children like Laura Rutherford’s son, Brody, age 10. Brody has many health conditions, including incontinence. Laura tells us what the facilities mean to her family.

“Changing Places toilets are life-changing. They mean my family can spend time somewhere without having to worry about changing our son on a toilet floor or in the car boot. They mean we are welcome and included and most importantly that Brody is treated with dignity and respect. Just like he should be. Not just at Christmas, but all year round!”

Claire Haymes, Changing Places coordinator at Closomat, said: “There are still so many places in the UK that are unaware that they are discriminating against disabled people and their families, by not providing suitable toilet facilities. We will keep sharing the stories and voices of our customers to raise awareness of the need for Changing Places, until they are everywhere!”

If you have any questions regarding Changing Places facilities, please click here to contact us – we’re here to help.