A frightening number of ‘accessible’ washrooms are anything but…
Providing accessible washrooms is no longer as simple as adhering to dimensions and installing a few grab rails. A recent BBC news feature revealed only 9 out of 2,500 train stations has suitable changing places for severely disabled children, and last year the Department for Transport was ordered to improve disabled facilities following an incident where a Paralympian was forced to wet herself when the disabled toilets were inaccessible. This was compounded by the fact no one was able to help her off at a platform where alternative toilet facilities were alleged to have been.
But what’s wrong with a standard disabled washroom?
Your standard disabled washroom is perfectly adequate for your independent wheelchair user, or those with independently managed mobility issues, but many severely disabled users, including those that need carers, need more advanced facilities such as hoists, adult changing benches and a larger, cleaner environment in general.
Many parents and carers that have children with severe disabilities have become used to changing their children on dirty washroom floors due to a lack of appropriate facilities. A campaign group called Changing Places argues that more than a quarter of a million severely disabled people don’t have access to toilets that meet their needs, an issue that Communities Minister Jake Berry is trying to see addressed in government.
“There are only 12 motorway service stations out of nearly 100, only 50 out of nearly 500 shopping centres have them – that simply isn't good enough,” said Berry in the BBC article.
So what improvements can we make?
In new build developments such as shopping centres, motorway service stations, sports stadiums cinema complexes and airports, allocating more space for your accessible washroom is going to put you well ahead of the game and is a move that could become compulsory in the future.
- ceiling hoists -
Hoists are invaluable for carers as they allow them to lift large children and adults up out of their wheelchairs and across to the toilet and/or a changing bench should they be wearing adult nappies. Mobile hoists are available, but for security reasons, most sites like to have them installed into the ceiling. This option is not only easier to use and manoeuvre, but also means the hoist can't be removed from the premises.
- adult changing benches -
Baby changing units are all well and good, but the maximum weight load can soon be exceeded. Although adult changing benches take up a significantly larger footprint in your washroom, they provide a stronger, sturdier and wider surface for changing, which is both cleaner and safer than using the floor.
- RADAR locks -
The security of fully accessible washrooms may be of concern for site managers, particularly if the site is unattended for long periods of time. To ensure only those who need to use these facilities have access, you can choose to install RADAR locks. These locks can only be opened by those who have a RADAR key, and is a nationally recognised system. While it would be ideal for all washrooms to be left unlocked, some locations may have a concern over vandalism and misuse. RADAR keys are easily obtained at low cost, or free to those that need them, and the lock system is accessed by the same key wherever you may be. So a user who has a RADAR key can access 9,000+ disabled washrooms nationally that use this security measure.
- Hand dryers -
The noise from electric hand dryers can be disturbing for users on the autistic spectrum and those living with other conditions. For this reason, you might choose to install paper hand towel dispensers or opt for a hand dryer that kicks out little noise. The Biobot hand dryer has proved particularly popular in some settings such as nurseries, pre-schools and primary schools.
- Contrasting colours -
Contrasting the colour of your grab rails, washbasin and other fixtures is a great way to help the visually impaired. So if white sanitary ware is being installed, think about making sure the wall cladding, tiles or paint is a different colour. This ensures these items can be easily made out.
- Sensor taps -
There are many disabilities and conditions that could mean a user has impaired use of their hands. It’s standard practice in disabled washrooms that taps should be able to be operated with the elbow, but one of the most practical options is to offer sensor taps, which open when the infrared beam is broken. Sensor activated washroom items also improve the hygiene in the space significantly as users never need to physically touch fittings like toilet flushers, taps, hand dryers and light switches.
- Signage -
Sufferers of dementia can find themselves feeling lost and isolated in washrooms, particularly if they have entered alone. The importance of an exit sign can really help sufferers, and the addition of braille on the signage can also help visually impaired and blind users too.
Remember, not all disabilities are visible
Last year ASDA rolled out signage that read ‘Not all disabilities are visible’ to be located outside their disabled washrooms to put users at ease, especially those who through the first appearance may appear perfectly fit and well. By giving thought to mental as well as physical disabilities and conditions you'll be able to get a broader insight into what's needed in your fully accessible washroom.
If you would like further advice on how to improve the accessibility of your current washrooms or are planning a new build washroom or renovation project, get in touch today on 01202 650900.