It’s the most basic of human needs but if you suffer from chronic pain, the availability or otherwise of suitable toilets can greatly affect your freedom of movement. If you are wheelchair dependent or attempting to protect a CRPS-affected limb, the last thing you need to be faced with in attempting to answer the call of nature is a cubicle the size of a small wardrobe with a narrow door and no grab rails.
For this reason, the availability of suitable toilets both en route and at their destination is high on the checklist for many people before they will contemplate any journey. Of course, this will be of particular concern if, perhaps as a result of CRPS, you also suffer from bowel and/or bladder dysfunction.
Duties originally introduced by the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 have now evolved into strict regulations which require all public access buildings to provide disabled toilets. “Public access” means just that; any building where the public have access, including (but not limited to) government and local authority buildings, shops, hotels, restaurants and cafés. Not having a compliant disabled toilet can result in a fine and closure of the premises pending compliance.
Of course, the size and layout of a building may mean that building work is required to accommodate a compliant disabled toilet. This can result in a significant financial outlay for the occupier, although in certain circumstances government grants are available.
What size must a disabled toilet cubicle be?
With wheelchair accessibility particularly in mind, a disabled toilet cubicle must be a minimum of 1,500 mm wide and 2,200 mm long. The door, which must open outwards, must be at least 900 mm wide.
What facilities must a disabled toilet include?
The height of the toilet seat must be suitable for ease of transfer from a wheelchair and there must be room inside the cubicle to accommodate a hand basin.
Light reflecting hand rails of a contrasting colour to the walls (to assist the visually impaired) must be correctly fitted in a particular pattern.
There are a couple of common misconceptions about disabled toilets.
First, there is nothing preventing able bodied people from using a disabled toilet; the requirement is simply that, to avoid discrimination, the disabled facilities must be available. However, many disabled toilets can only be opened with a Radar Key.
Second, there is nothing in principle preventing a charge being levied for using a disabled toilet as long as the charge applies to all toilets available to the public, not just the disabled one. This is, understandably, controversial and there have been some well publicised cases where charges for using disabled toilets have ultimately been suspended.
Do I have to be a customer in a shop, restaurant, café or bar to use their toilet?
Businesses are perfectly entitled to restrict the use of their toilet facilities to their customers, disabled or otherwise. Indeed, many display signs stating “Toilets for the use of customers only.”
However, in practice most will allow you to use their toilet if there is a medical need and (of course) you ask. People understandably feel less awkward asking if they have some proof of their need and a number of organisations provide cards to produce which explain the nature of the relevant condition. For CRPS sufferers, Burning Nights produce CRPS Awareness Cards.