Dignity down the pan – does it have to be this way?


It might be a quaint way to describe a lavatory but how I wish bathrooms weren’t the ‘smallest’ room in the house. You can hardly swing a cat in most of them and if you have restricted mobility, then what are you supposed to do….

Time to do some myth-busting and explore the nemesis for wheelchair users that is The Loo.


1. Wheelchair users don’t need to pee (or poop).

They probably have catheters or something and pee into a bag or wear incontinence pads? Do people really think that is what happens – and they don’t need to provide accessible toilets? I was once approached by a complete stranger and asked ‘do you use a catheter’. It is bizarre, rude and ignorant – but it happens.

Yes some people do but not everyone – most of us pee and poop the way nature intended and need to get to the loo. Even people with catheters and bags that hold the urine have to be emptied – so we all need a toilet.

2. Disabled people poses super powers to hold themselves for several hours at a time and don’t need a toilet.

Daniel Baker
My friend Daniel Baker at MCM Comic Con – so maybe people do have super powers?

I certainly don’t poses this power and I doubt anyone else does.

If I drink, inevitably I will need the loo at some point. If I drink tea then you’d better have either a toilet or a mop to hand – your choice.

Seriously though, I can’t visit anyone’s house without resorting to only having a sip of water before I go, and nothing until I get home. I can’t risk needing the non-existent loo so my favourite cup of tea has to go on hold.

I use a small adult power chair – but bathrooms in people’s houses are either upstairs or too small to get into (or close enough the loo to transfer).

You know those times when you just know you will be up and down to the loo all day – they are the worst days. I don’t know if I will be able to wait half an hour, an hour or three hours before having to dash home. You sure do feel those pot holes – in fact the number of potholes you bump over directly correlates with the urgency of need.

3. All public places have a disabled toilet, don’t they?

Where do I start with this one! Some don’t have any accessible toilets – going out usually involves using the internet or phoning places to ask for specific details. Often staff do not know what type of accessible toilet they have and provide the wrong information – or leaflets do not specify. Very annoying.

In England the law doesn’t say the public have to have access to a toilet – so councils are not obliged to provide them to anyone!! [Public Health Act 1936].  Generally though, there are good practice standards that should be incorporated into the design of buildings to include flushing toilet facilities that are accessible to disabled people.

The reality, however, is that not even my local or national hospitals meet these standards – never mind the pub down the road or the multi million pound cinema and bowling complex in town!

4. What types of toilets are there and what’s the problem with them?

Well, let us say someone has looked at the building regulations (known as Part M) and chosen to have an accessible toilet on site.  What could possibly go wrong!

Ignore regulations…

10155072_10201673897397303_1686122137207154089_nMy friend Carole found a great example from the New Inn in Durham – the door has no handle. The metal part is for a Radar Key. Some have a step up to them or  display the wheelchair symbol yet are not big enough for many modern day wheelchairs! Others use strong sprung hinges so you can’t open the door … the list goes on and on and the regulations might as well not exist.

Did you know there are 3 types of accessible toilets?

Yes – three! However – this doesn’t make them automatically comply with UK equality legislation or mean they are accessible to everyone.

Type 1 – Accessible to people who can walk.

The first is a slightly larger cubicle with some grab rails or a higher seat for example – these are for people with restricted mobility but who can walk a few steps – ambulant disabled people.

Some venues say they have a disabled toilet – but don’t say it’s only for those who can walk.  Some of these wrongly display the wheelchair symbol. This happened to me at work once and I had to cross my legs for 8 hours! The venue then went and built a new toilet block with two ‘wheelchair’ accessible toilets – but still these were not big enough for even a manual chair. Sometimes you just give up and I refused to go to that venue again. Not having toilets within reach can prevent disabled people from working – this is what happened to Boots Opticians when they failed to provide a nearby accessible toilet for a member of staff.


Type 2 – Accessible to some athletic wheelchair users who can perform acrobatics.

The second type displays the wheelchair symbol and is a toilet that should meet building regulations for wheelchair access.  The sticking point with these is that the recommended space is only big enough for the length of a compact /short length chair – and not everyone has one of those.

WC_dimensionsHere is a scaled picture of a wheelchair accessible toilet according to building regulations. The green rectangle is the footprint of my NHS power chair. Next to it is the recommended (same scale) turning area the regulations use for ‘enough space’. As you can see it’s based on a manual chair, it’s a tight fit and it doesn’t mean there is available floor space by the toilet where you actually need it!


Throw in the difficulty caused by the addition of a baby changing unit on the wall and baby nappy bin on the floor – no floor space or room at all to turn!

To deny someone appropriate toilet facilities is a huge black mark in the book of human dignity and rights.


My husband has to stand me up and then hold me to try and swing round and move me backwards between the gap of the sink and my chair, to sit on the loo! You have to be a circus performer to pull that one off without falling and banging into things. Not to mention trying to maneuver your clothes off …. that’s when you say ‘sod it’ and stay at home.

Type 3 – Accessible to all and includes an adult changing bench and hoist. They are known as Changing Places toilets.

These are few and far between – only 600 in the UK – if you need to change a pad without these facilities you might have to lay on the floor of a public toilet like this child has to do.

5. So what do you do then?

Stay at home, don’t visit family for long periods or spend lots of time finding out about the exact nature of the toilet facilities on offer – then decide whether to go or not.

Even more degrading for women.

Some men have the options of using a portable urine bottle – but women experience the most difficulty having to transfer to the loo every time and also deal with menstruation. Give yourself pins and needles so you can’t move your legs much, wear mittens and then try and change a pad or try asking your husband to help …. now try it in a cramped toilet on the first day of your period with the nauseating smell of baby poo lingering in the air. Not so nice is it?

Welcome to my world and hundreds of thousands of women like me – a part of our lives that goes unspoken about, unnoticed  – but it doesn’t have to be this way.

With proper facilities, assistance and good information, we can make informed choices and retain a level of dignity and hygiene that might otherwise be flushed down the pan.

Louise Watch, writing for Blogging Against Disablism Day 2014.  BADD2013

Blogging Against Disablism Day, May 1st 2014


  1. Maddy Fritch says:

    Hello Louise!

    I’m a bioengineering student at the University of Pittsburgh, looking to solve or improve this exact situation for wheelchairs users (particularly females). Do you have any new ideas or ways of coping that you’ve found helpful? We would love to hear some more of your thoughts on a device or method that can help others gain more freedom and independence back. And, great article!

    1. Hi, do you want to compose a message / description of your aims and project potential so I could ask a wider audience on our other social media networks? Perhaps with a contact or how people can feedback for you? Perhaps a bit more about the particular problem you are looking at? If you are on Facebook or Twitter perhaps DM me. Regards Louise

  2. Terri says:

    My very favourite “accessible” toilets are the ones where you can EITHER get your wheelchair in OR close the toilet door, but not BOTH. Yes, Warwick Castle, I’m looking at you! They are by no means the only offenders, but the entrance fee is hefty and so I checked on-line, double checked by phoning the “Help desk” and still had to cut short a very expensive outing with International visitors because neither of their supposedly “accessible” toilets allowed the door to close once my chair was inside and both were positioned in such a way that leaving the door open was not an option – well, not unless you like peeing in front of a huge audience! And when I complained and tried to get a re-fund, (with my legs crossed) they told me “It’s not our problem – you could transfer onto the toilet, then get your friend to take the wheelchair out and close the door” Really? This was last summer and my blood still boils thinking about the indignity and injustice of it all.

  3. Terri says:

    I loved your blog it’s so true. The worst disabled toilet I’ve ever had the displeasure of using was at my local Department for Work and Pensions Assessment Centre. I was there for a work capability assessment the other day. I’m 46 years old, disabled with Degenerative Disc Disease, a benign tumour on my spine, nerve entrapment syndrome and chronic pain. I haven’t had to resort to a wheelchair yet but I do use a stick. The first obstacle was opening the door, it opened outwards and needed the strength of a bodybuilder to open. 2ft beyond that was another door which opened inwards so I had to let go of the first door to push open the second, but the light wasn’t working so I was plunged into darkness. It wasn’t till I’d closed the second door that I realised the lock was on the first door. Eventually when I got in to use the toilet it was too low, had no hand rails, skid marks in the toilet and no toilet paper. Thank goodness for tissues. The soap dispenser was almost empty and the single cold tap was dirty. I didn’t use it!!! Thank goodness for anti bacterial hand gel. The distance between the toilet bowl and the door was too small to allow transfer from a wheelchair but there was about 6ft to the side of the toilet. When I eventually escaped I had to check for hidden cameras just in case it was a set up. Totally disgusting and it will be going in my letter of complaint. Terri. x x x

    1. That sure is a rubbish toilet – would be interesting to see how they respond to your complaint!

      1. Terri says:

        I will let you know, and by the way I was only awarded 6 points and found fit for work. I will also be appealing that. The whole thing caused me so much stress and pain I ended up spending the weekend in hospital! x x x

  4. Excellent blog entry! The types of bathrooms is wonderful. The idea of compliance and the usefulness of the “accessibility icon” has long been an issue when it comes to accessibility planning, and is something that our tool (www.planat.com) has been trying to tackle — we’re trying to get venue owners to start thinking “how accessible” instead of “accessible”/”inaccessible.” Your blog post demonstrates just exactly why that approach needs to be more commonly taken. Great stuff!

  5. The Goldfish says:

    Fantastic post – thank you! It’s also worth mentioning that many disabled people have particularly weak bladders. So it’s not just that we need the loo like everyone, but some of us need it with greater immediacy!

    The worst disabled loo I ever didn’t use was in a branch of Littlewoods in York, where the disabled sign was literally pointing up a full flight of stairs (this was years ago, hopefully things have improved).

    Just yesterday a friend was visiting the Crucible to watch the snooker, and photographed a massage table in the disabled loo. Not a baby changing table, but a full adult massage table…

    Brilliant blog, well done.

    1. I’m guessing the massage table was an attempt for an adult changing bench? Or did it have a head hole in it? Yes – urgency is another issue which is why accessible toilets really should not be hogged by people who don’t need them! Glad you liked my blog.

  6. kdub155 says:

    Toilets that require acrobats are the worst. It’s like, “Haha, just kidding, you can’t really pee here after all.”

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