Imagine if every time you left the house you had to worry about whether you would be able to find a toilet that you could use. Imagine if your trips to the shops, evenings out with friends and weekend breaks depended on being able to find a toilet that was accessible. This is the situation that many people with a stoma face every day.
I live with a colostomy. This means my colon has been diverted through an opening on the side of my abdomen so that bodily waste can pass into a stoma bag. My stoma is due to bowel cancer but many people undergo surgery for one due to Crohn's and Colitis, childbirth, injury and other conditions.
In December 2015, I posted a picture on Facebook about how I had to change my colostomy bag in an accessible toilet. Because there was no shelf space, no cistern and no toilet lid - I was forced to change my bag knelt down on the floor.
Not many people know that much about what a stoma is, and even less understand the difficulties of using a public toilet with one.
Going to the toilet with a stoma means that I need enough space to be able to change my bag without having an accident. It means having some kind of clean surface that I am able to use all the accessories I need to change my bag. It means having somewhere to hang my clothes and luggage so that they don't get soiled.
Almost 1 in 500 people in the UK live with a stoma - yet most toilets in the UK do not meet their needs or requirements. Stories like mine are sadly all too common - the worry of going out and not knowing whether you will be able to find toilets that meet your needs limits many people with a stoma from being able to live a full and active life.
The Colostomy Association is currently campaigning to improve toilet facilities across the UK. The stoma support charity has released a list of simple recommendations on how to make loos accessible to people with a stoma.
The recommendations include a hook on the door for hanging up clothing and luggage, shelf space to change your stoma bag and a disposal bin so you don't have to go into a public area to get rid of your ostomy bag.
These suggestions are easy to implement and cost next to nothing. Yet they could make a huge difference for thousands of adults and children across the UK. For many people with a stoma, it enables them to go out and not worry about whether they will be able to find a toilet they can use.
When I posted the picture of me having to change a stoma bag on the toilet floor - I wasn't expecting a huge response. Yet within days my photo had been shared by over 13,000 people across the UK.
It is easy to overlook people with a stoma - you can't tell if someone is wearing a colostomy bag unless they tell you or show it to you. Yet clearly this is an issue that is affecting thousands of people.
As the stigma of having a stoma begins to disappear, hopefully we will have more companies and organisations come forward to accommodate the additional needs of the 1 in 500 people who have an ostomy.
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