Two months into my first job, I realised I had a problem. As a trainee solicitor in my firm’s Birmingham office, I was chuffed to be asked to help represent an investor client at an important meeting in Manchester.
On the day, I got up at 6am, showered and used the loo. After an early train, I settled in my client’s board room for the 8 hour meeting. As the filtered coffee flowed, I declined any refreshments knowing that it would lead to wanting a comfort break which would be impossible to take. As a wheelchair user who can’t stand or transfer, standard accessible toilets have no hoists and are of no use to me. Instead, I quietly crossed my legs and hoped the man opposite me didn’t think I was trying recreate ‘that scene’ from Basic Instinct.
I didn’t get back home that day until 11pm and held my bladder together for 17 hours. Pretty impressive when the average person relieves themselves 8 times a day.
As the months went on, it became increasingly difficult to manage the lack of loo flexibility. I didn’t know how to tackle this taboo subject with my managers. I was also disproportionately disadvantaged being a disabled woman. When facilities aren’t appropriate, us ladies don’t have the biological advantage of a handy ‘appendage’ that can be whipped out and aimed. This is why facilities like Changing Places are so important.
In my 20s I was rather proud to have the nickname “the Ox” (as in ‘the bladder of a’) but it became increasingly painful to hold it in for 8-15 hours several days a week. To make my life easier, I became self-employed in 2010 and this provides the flexibility to optimise my health without compromising on productivity. I now deliver disability awareness training to businesses. Last year I won a contract to deliver 44 sessions across the UK and you can imagine my joy on days when I knew I could use a Changing Places in that business district.
Almost all of us need to travel as part of our jobs (even if it’s just to attend a conference) and so travel is as inevitable as bodily functions. There are hundreds of working disabled people who need to use Changing Places because they need a hoist to transfer or a bench to change on. I know so many people in my position who’ve left good jobs because of a lack of loos. Frustratingly, industry sectors are haemorrhaging talent…all for the want of a wee.
I strongly believe there is great potential for business communities to work together, strategically analyse existing stock and make a network of facilities available to hard working disabled people across the UK.