We all do it, up to eight times a day - many of us more - and yet it is still taboo to talk about our need to go to the toilet. It is a problem that we are all facing - there are not enough public toilets. However, it is a problem that the elderly, disabled, chronically ill and parents with children are facing all the more frequently - there are not enough accessible public toilets.
I suffer from Crohn's disease, a form of inflammatory bowel disease, that causes inflammation and ulcers throughout the intestine. During a flare, I can 'go' up to ten times a day. When I was first diagnosed I developed severe anxiety, mainly surrounding the idea of going out. I feared getting 'caught short' due to a lack of public toilets. It is something that I have now been battling since diagnosis - planning outings around toilet stops. However, more often than not I have had to ask to use private toilets, and many other times have abandoned my plans due to the lack of public toilets. I know that this is a cause of heightened anxiety for many more people than just me, and a reason for us to not go out.
A couple of weeks ago I attended a public event in Blackpool. The anxiety came flooding back as I realised that there was only one public toilet where we were. Crowds of thousands of people, and one public toilet that required twenty pence or a RADAR key. Luckily, I have a RADAR access key, but the long queue, and twenty-minute interval of the toilet mechanically cleaning itself meant that if I had the familiar 'urge', I would have certainly been caught short. Despite its attempt at cleaning itself, there were still pools of urine on the floor. The toilet was supposed to flush itself upon cleaning, and there was no way to manually flush it yourself. This meant that the toilet had begun to get blocked at the start of the day, so I dreaded what it would be like later on. The uncleanliness of public toilets makes using them a very unpleasant experience, with added distress for those who have to use them more frequently. There were no shelves in the toilet, and with the floor almost flooded - anybody with the need to empty a stoma bag or to inject themselves with intravenous medication, would have had an even worse ordeal.
When returning to the crowd to try and enjoy the event, I overheard a young girl telling her mum she needed the toilet. They left in search of them, and after around twenty minutes they returned. The girl was telling her mum that she didn't want to be wet for the rest of the day, and the woman explained to her partner that she had wet herself whilst waiting in the queue. This shouldn't be something that is a frequent occurrence at a public event. With thousands of people - every single one of them requiring toilet facilities - it is absurd that they are not provided.
But it didn't end here. When I arrived at the train station to travel home, the women's toilets were locked. They had specific opening hours - because of course, toilet needs have opening and closing hours too... As the men's facilities were open, and I was desperate, I had no choice but to go in those. Luckily, they were empty but I was terrified of a man coming in and reacting badly to my presence. I tried to do my business quickly and get out quick. Of course, I left the toilets to a busy train station and a few looks of disgust.
And I haven't just been subject to looks of disgust when leaving the male toilets. I have also previously faced discrimination, tuts, and comments of "not waiting my turn", when leaving accessible 'disabled' toilets. Due to instances like this, Crohn's and Colitis UK are running the Accessible Toilet Signs campaign, and have sent more than 16,000 emails to the bosses of major supermarkets, who have since put up signs to show that 'Not Every Disability is Visible'. These campaigns are invaluable to raising awareness of the necessity of accessible facilities for many.
Image from Crohn's and Colitis UK.
My experiences with public toilets, or a lack of, aren't unique. A BBC investigation found that we are rapidly losing our public toilets - with 1,782 closures across the UK in the last ten years. This is a result of local government budget cuts, with 43 councils cutting by more the 70% - but as a need of all humans, why are we not prioritizing the hygiene, accessibility and overall existence of public toilets? Bill Gates once said that there are not enough smart people working in sanitation. This is evidently true, and needs to change. Cuts to our public toilets are cuts to our civil rights, and we need to start talking about it.
First seen on Anna's blog Chronically Learning.
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