Human Rights and access to, and use of, a toilet.

Every human has rights and freedoms and the UK has a duty to uphold them.  They are minimum standards and rules agreed on an international scale – applying to everybody, equally.

Human rights protect people – they are a legal standard.

Our rights in the UK are protected by the ECHR (European Convention on Human Rights 1950) and the Human Rights Act (which makes the Convention accessible in the UK).

You can find out more about these from the British Institute of Human Rights. Our government has made a legal commitment to protect the basic rights and freedoms known as ‘Articles’ – and it is these Articles which we are familiar with, particularly;

  • Article 1: Obligation to respect human rights
  • Article 2: Right to life
  • Article 3: Prohibition of torture, inhuman and degrading treatment
  • Article 8: Right to respect for private and family life, home and correspondence
  • Article 14: Prohibition of discrimination.

These are particularly relevant to disabled people as our rights and freedoms are often compromised. Find out more about your Human Rights  here.

What has rights got to do with toilets?

Did you know that in July 2010, the UN General Assembly Resolution 64/292 adopted a groundbreaking resolution officially recognising sanitation – access to, and use of, excreta and wastewater facilities and services – as a human right.

Because denying access to sanitation is denying basic human rights.


Public bodies such as a council, school or hospital must follow human rights law and UK Disability Discrimination Laws.

Restaurants, shops, museums etc must comply only with UK Disability Discrimination laws.

Human rights and toilets

Public authorities must never torture disabled people or treat them in an inhuman or degrading way under any circumstance – a right which can’t be breached, restricted or limited.

This might include situations which impact human dignity where:

  • a disabled person is forced to self limit fluids (harming themselves) because of no toilet facilities they can use.
  • a frail elderly person who is left in soiled incontinence pads for several hours because of no changing facilities or assistance.
  • a person who has not had immediate access to facilities and who then urinates or has a bowel movement before they can get to the toilet (perhaps because it is kept locked or available on request only).
  • a person who has been abused by being withheld food or drink to reduce the need to assist them to the toilet as frequently.
  • a person who is refused a home adaptation and told to use a commode in their living room (also impacting social inclusion, dignity, privacy and family life).
  • feeding someone whilst strapped to a commode.

Some of the above have already been found by the court to be inhumane or degrading treatment.

The right to a private life includes privacy concerning a persons’ body. 

Choosing who sees or touches our body is recognised as being very important. A disabled person who normally maintains privacy and dignity using equipment such as automated washing and drying toilets may feel a loss of dignity when going to the toilet where these are not provided and other people need to assist with wiping. 

How the person perceives a loss of dignity is the key factor as to whether their rights have been breached, restricted or limited.

I notified the hospital I couldn’t sit on a flat based commode due to my impairment which affects my muscle tone and pelvic shape. When I arrived for an overnight stay, they said they had no alternative. I can’t use a bed pan neither because of the same pelvis problem.  I had no option but to use what was provided and the pain was indescribable.  I couldn’t relax, balance and the pain took my breath away. I had to go twice, hunched forward over my knees with my feet balanced on a suitcase.  I had nerve and pressure pain and bruising for a few weeks because of that. It was torture and we swore we couldn’t ever go through that again.

[Louise Watch, Kent]


The right to private life may be involved if a disabled person is unable to participate in the life of the community or access essential economic, cultural, social and recreational activities because there are no usable toilets.

It may be possible to challenge things like provision of a commode in a person’s living room for example. Whilst the council would have met a ‘toilet need’ as is their duty, it is likely to impact on privacy, dignity and family life. Imagine having to ask friends and family to leave your living room and go to another room every time you needed the toilet. How embarrassing to then invite them back into the room with a full commode. 

The right not to be discriminated against is protected by the Equality Act 2010.

UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities

The UK ratified this convention on June 8th 2009 and agreed to ensure the rights of disabled people.  A person’s health is compromised if they can’t urinate, defecate, maintain menstrual hygiene, lay in soiled pads/clothes or are forced to restrict food or fluid to reduce the need for the toilet.

“Countries must protect the physical and mental integrity of persons with disabilities, just as for everyone else (Article 17), guarantee freedom from torture and from cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, and prohibit medical or scientific experiments without the consent of the person concerned (Article 15).”

[Source: United Nations].


“On the fundamental issue of accessibility (Article 9), the Convention requires countries to identify and eliminate obstacles and barriers and ensure that persons with disabilities can access their environment, transportation, public facilities and services, and information and communications technologies.”

[Source: United Nations].


“Persons with disabilities have the right to the highest attainable standard of health without discrimination on the basis of disability.”

They are to receive the same range, quality and standard of free or affordable health services as provided other persons, receive those health services needed because of their disabilities, and not to be discriminated against in the provision of health insurance.” (Article 25)  

[Source: United Nations].

To ensure implementation and monitoring of the Convention, countries are to designate a focal point in the government and create a national mechanism to promote and monitor implementation (Article 33). 

Councils and the NHS, for example, must work within the Convention and Human Rights law with regard to sanitation facilities for disabled people. 

Are these rights being upheld?

It is clear from the discussions I have had with many disabled people that schools, councils and health care providers are not fulfilling their duties of preventing discrimination and looking at toilet provision from a Human Rights perspective.

We would like to see access to and use of toilets become a key part of Human Rights training for teachers, health and social care providers – because it is clear that we have a long way to go in the UK to ensure our rights.


Legal_requirementsOur booklet is free to download containing the above information and a lot more – take a look at the contents here.


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