By Ann Allan
Did you know that one quarter of a million people in the UK need Changing Places facilities to enable them to get out and about and enjoy the day-to-day activities that many of us take for granted?
Because of this the Changing Places Consortium in 2006 launched its campaign on behalf of those who cannot use standard accessible toilets. Fourteen years later and Northern Ireland is still lagging behind and is, in fact, the second worst region in the United Kingdom. Urgent action is needed before we fall further behind.
One person who has been pressing for changes to the Building Regulations is Christine McClements from Aghadowey, Co Derry, whose daughter Lilia, aged 12, is severely disabled due to a rare genetic condition.
I spoke to Christine to find out what is happening in Northern Ireland at present and what progress, if any, has been made. She explained that there is a huge lack of Changing Places toilets across Northern Ireland. Failure to provide this facility is denying severely disabled persons to fully inclusive access to education, employment, leisure, health and wellbeing opportunities.
This results in denying full equality, inclusion and active citizenship right across society. Not only does this affect the disabled person but it has a knock on effect on families. Recent figures indicate that there are only 1.4 fully accessible changing places toilets per 100,000 in Northern Ireland.
‘I have no other option but to lay my lovely daughter on an unhygienic public toilet floor in order to change her. This means that she is susceptible to infection and it also puts me at risk of injury when I try to lift her off the floor’
‘My daughter Lilia needs a Changing Places toilet that includes the additional facilities of a height adjustable adult sized changing bed and hoist. When I take Lilia out and these are not available I have no other option but to lay my lovely daughter on an unhygienic public toilet floor in order to change her. This means that she is susceptible to infection and it also puts me at risk of injury when I try to lift her off the floor. I feel it denies my child and other disabled persons the same standards of public service afforded to others.
“Lilia is a very sociable child. She loves getting out and about. She has two sisters Grace, aged 15 and Cassie, aged eight, so family activities are very important to us.
“We like to go to tourist sites and and all the places that families love to go to; such as museums, the zoo, open farms and aquariums but with Lilia becoming a young adult this is becoming a big problem. Lilia also likes swimming but without facilities in leisure centres and swimming pools this will no longer be an option.”
I asked Christine what the current Building Regulations ( NI) 2012 say regarding Changing Places toilets.
‘They do not make it mandatory for changing places toilets to be provided in all new or refurbished public buildings. As a result many organisations, including our public bodies, are using the minimum standards as an excuse for not providing dignified, hygienic and convenient toileting arrangements for severely disabled persons. It is important to note that the provision of a bed and hoist would cost about £12000 per build, a small percentage of the overall costs of most building projects.’
Christine has written to MLAs asking them to support a change in the NI Building Regulations that will incorporate mandatory standards for the provision of changing places toilets in large public buildings and developments as set out in current BS8300/2018.
This currently prescribes that Changing Places toilets should be provided in larger buildings and complexes. New builds should be moving us forward towards equality and provision of suitable toileting facilities for all members of society. This is particular relevant since the unset of the recent pandemic.
I hope by highlighting Lilia and Christine’s story, and also those in the disabled community, our public figures will use their influence to address the problem.
Toileting is after all a human need and a human right.