I remember the very first time it happened.
We were having a lovely family day out at the zoo and Isla needed changing. I walked in to the toilets with her and that's when the realisation hit me like a ton of bricks. It had never happened before and I didn't know what to do. The baby changing unit was tiny, she wouldn't fit on that - she would break it. She can't use a disabled toilet because she's not toilet trained so that won't do either. Where do you change a disabled child when they get too big for a baby change? As the reality dawned on me I felt sick to my stomach, I felt deflated as as I laid Isla's pink blanket on the filthy toilet floor, head in my hand, heart sinking. I had to change our beautiful daughter on the floor, just inches from the toilet. There was a hook on the door for me to hang our things so they didn't get dirty but there I was on my knees, Isla's head right next to the toilet - the juxtaposition felt so bizarre.
I would love to tell you this was an isolated incident but it wasn't. We have almost broken numerous baby changing units due to Isla's height and weight and since that day I have sadly had to change Isla on many a toilet floor. Imagine as a parent having to do that. Imagine the heartache you feel as you lay your child on a dirty floor. I could actually cry as I type this it's so degrading for her.
There have been times that Isla's needed changing and the toilets were too filthy and we were quite close to our car and so we have changed Isla in the boot - that really makes me feel emotional. We try to be discreet and we try and maintain some dignity but we know people can see what we are doing. It's undignified, it's not private and it's just wrong. It's abhorrent that in 2017 Isla is even having to endure this.
You know Isla's autism isn't the hardest thing about her disability. Other people are. I often feel like Isla and children like her are seen as unimportant, insignificant, meagre and irrelevant. That makes my heart actually ache.
Well I'm here to tell the world they are wrong, very wrong!
Isla is very significant and important to us. Isla's dignity is important to us, Isla's needs are important to us. Isla is important, Isla is significant, Isla is relevant. Isla is a human being just like any other who deserves to have her basic needs met.
Because a proportion of our society hold the view that it doesn't really matter, unfortunately proper changing facilities are not high on the list of priorities for many places. Proper changing facilities aren't just important, they are vital for our disabled children and adults to live a 'normal' life, to be included in activities, to be included in society as whole. Denying children and adults who need these facilities isn't just wrong, it's immoral.
The most vulnerable people in our society, the people who can't ask for help for themselves quite often are the ones who are suffering over something so basic - the need for adequate changing facilities.
All that places need to do is fit an adult changing bench and a hoist for the children and adults that cannot move themselves. That's it! They aren't asking for the world. It seems so basic doesn't it, so why don't places have them?
Don't get me wrong there are places installing them, it makes a world of difference to families like ours. I just struggle to fathom and understand how Wetherspoons are providing these in some of their pubs but some huge retail outlets, zoos, theme parks, cinemas, whole towns and holiday resorts don't, and in some cases have said they won't.
So there's the reality for many. This page is about awareness and so here it is in black and white.
A serious post for me I know but one I feel is vitally important.
HuffPost UK Lifestyle has launched EveryBody, a new section calling for better equality and inclusivity for people living with disability and invisible illness. The aim is to empower those whose voices are not always heard and redefine attitudes to identity, lifestyle and ability in 2017. We'll be covering all manner of lifestyle topics - from health and fitness to dating, sex and relationships.
We'd love to hear your stories. To blog for the section, please email firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line 'EveryBody'. To flag any issues that are close to your heart, please email email@example.com, again with the subject line 'EveryBody'.
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