Unpicking the news: Paul Vice, amputee, refused access to the toilet

So, a few days ago, this story appeared in the Plymouth Herald.


Summary of the story

Mr Vice went into a sports centre and requested to use the toilet. He was refused because staff said members of the public could not use it. He then requested use of the disabled toilet, receiving the same answer.

In the news article we are told that he lost his leg and experienced several wounds whilst serving in Afghanistan.

So this raised some questions in the comments section which we can look at below.

  1. Rules are rules

The majority of responses indicated that, disabled or not, if the rule is that toilets are only for people using the sports centre, then the refusal is appropriate. This is a valid point – but sometimes rules need to be broken for the sake of compassion – a human being was in desperate need of the toilet!

2. Disclosing impairment 

Staff did not know if a) he was disabled or b) what the nature of his impairment was. They had no way of knowing because the majority of impairments/medical conditions are not visible.

If they had asked ‘are you disabled’ or ‘why do you need to use our toilet’, that would also have been rather insulting and embarrassing – but lots of people do fake impairments just to get quick access to a toilet.

Staff are stuck in a no win situation – unable to ‘determine if he genuinely needs the accessible toilet on compassionate grounds and the need to keep toilets free for use by disabled customers using the sports centre.

Should he have explained he was disabled?

Mr Vice felt they didn’t need to know about his leg. If he had explained he was disabled, would that have got a different response? Well, possibly not – if we stick to the ‘our customers only’ rule. However, in terms of disability equality and human kindness – a disabled person might have very few toilets they can use compared to other people and have to resort to such requests. Others may have impairments which cause them to suddenly need the toilet without warning – and it would be inhumane to make someone pee in the street.

We know that Mr Vice can use toilets without adaptations – as these were the toilets he originally requested. Therefore he will have the same access to toilets in other locations as non-disabled people if refused entry.

We do not know whether his injuries have also caused bladder problems – but there are ’emergency’ cards which can be carried to discretely show to people to explain the need to quickly use a toilet.  People can then offer toilets on compassionate/medical grounds to those with urgency problems or similar.


The story highlights the dilemma of staff who have toilets for ‘customer use only’.  However, on compassionate grounds for human beings in need of the toilet, perhaps they should have let him go – because he is human and not because he is disabled.

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