THE BLOG
14/04/2016 13:12 BST | Updated 15/04/2017 06:12 BST

We Need to Make Loos Accessible to People With a Stoma

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.

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.