10-12th March 2017 marks Disabled Access Day in the UK and whilst it's a great opportunity to shout about all the great accessible places that we know and love, it also gives us a platform to highlight all of the problems the disabled community face because of inaccessibility.
The Cambridge Dictionary defines inclusion "as the idea that everyone should be able to use the same facilities, take part in the same activities, and enjoy the same experiences, including people who have a disability or other disadvantage".
Without accessibility, there is quite simply no inclusion.
Accessibility wasn't something I really thought off much until I became a mother to a disabled child. This isn't something I'm proud of. In fact I'm quite ashamed. It just didn't cross my mind because I never had to deal with it. A classic case of ignorance is bliss. But there are so many issues that disabled people and carers face because of lack of access.
One issue that affects my family is a lack of accessible toilets and so I campaign for Changing Places toilets. For those that don't know, a Changing Places toilet is slightly larger than a typical disabled toilet with an adult sized changing bench and a hoist. My 5 year old son Brody is still in nappies and there is never anywhere that I can safely change him when we are out now that he is too big for a baby changing table.
In Scotland where I live, a wonderful charity called PAMIS form part of the Changing Places consortium. Thanks to PAMIS, campaigners around the country and of course mindful businesses who understand the importance of social inclusion, there are now 144 Changing Places in Scotland. And there are 938 in the UK in total.
However, whilst this is great, we need a lot more.
So on Disabled Access Day, I'd like to educate and make you aware of some typical scenarios faced by disabled people and their families simply because of a lack of Changing Places toilets:-
• Loved ones changed on unhygienic toilet floors because there simply isn't any other option.
• Children changed in cold and uncomfortable car boots in front of passers-by, stripped of their dignity.
• Families leaving days out together because there is no fully accessible toilet facility.
• Children missing developmental opportunities to become toilet trained because they can't use a toilet when they are outside of their home as they require one with a hoist.
• Disabled people avoiding places - the supermarket, their local shopping centre, parks, places of interest - and staying at home because they cannot go to the toilet in a safe and dignified manner.
• Children missing out on play and learning opportunities that other children can access purely because there is no toilet suitable for them.
• Disabled people avoiding drinking whilst going out so that they do not need to go to the toilet, risking dehydration and urine infections.
• Disabled people medicating themselves in order to prevent needing to go to the toilet whilst waiting at hospital appointments (many hospitals don't even include Changing Places).
• Disabled people who can use a toilet with a hoist needing to wear a nappy/adult pads because there are no hoist assisted toilets.
• Children with feeding tubes and tracheostomies, which are supposed to be kept clean, being changed in unhygienic places.
• People who have to intermittently catheterise having to do so in unhygienic places when ideally they should be done in as sterile an environment as possible in order to minimise the risk of urinary infections.
• Disabled people being put at risk of pressure ulcers due to a lack of hoisting equipment.
• Risk of significant injury to the disabled person if they are dropped by their parent or carer.
• Parents and carers suffer back injuries due to moving and handling a disabled person to change them or lift them onto a toilet without a hoist.
• Parents and carers are unable to use a toilet themselves if the disabled person they care for requires full-time, round the clock care.
That's a big list isn't it? All because of just one accessibility issue faced by families like mine.
Whilst we listen to politicians and businesses boast about social inclusion, it simply doesn't exist in a UK without these facilities.
I won't give up campaigning for my child to have the basic human right of access to a toilet when we're out and about. Why should he be excluded? Why shouldn't our family be welcomed everywhere like all other families?
But I must admit I find it draining.
I appreciate that it is not possible for smaller businesses to have these facilities and sometimes it may just not be practical. But there is no reason why big organisations, like shopping centres, supermarkets, theme parks, airports and train stations shouldn't have them.
The truth of the matter is that there is a cost to my child's inclusion and a cost to his dignity. And there shouldn't be.
It's sad that in 2017 inclusion and dignity is something my friends and I have to fight for.
Brody at the wonderful Changing Places toilet at Kirroughtree Visitors Centre, Galloway Forest Park courtesy of Forestry Commission Scotland.