Many people assume that an accessible toilet caters for everyone who has a disability that means they cannot use a standard toilet. However, people with profound and multiple learning disabilities, as well people with other physical disabilities such as spinal injuries, MND, muscular dystrophy and multiple sclerosis often need extra equipment and space to allow them to use the toilets safely and comfortably. These needs are met by Changing Places toilets.
Approximately a quarter of a million people in the UK cannot use standard disabled toilets. Sadly, the truth is that currently for many disabled people toileting options in public places are undignified, unhygienic and unsafe. Parents of incontinent children have told me that they are often left with limited options such as changing their child in the car boot or a public toilet floor, leaving them in a dirty nappy, cutting outings short or not going out at all.
Changing Places toilets are a twelve square metre room with specialist equipment such as a tracking hoist, a height adjustable changing bench and a centrally placed toilet with room either side for two carers. Changing Places toilets mean a great deal to disabled people and the families and carers – they feel included and welcomed. However, currently there is a shocking lack of provision, with just 172 Changing Places toilets in Scotland and only six in Edinburgh. The lack of appropriate toilets leaves many disabled people feeling Scotland is not an accessible place to live and visit or a place that promotes inclusion. It’s isolating, heart-breaking and the reality for thousands of disabled people as well as their carers and families who all face the same dilemma.
Going to the toilet is one of the most basic human rights and I believe that disabled people should not have to worry about the basic thing we all need to do. That is why I have lodged an amendment to the Planning (Scotland) Bill, currently being scrutinised by the Scottish Parliament Local Government and Planning Committee.
If the amendment receives cross-party support it would make it a requirement for any future planning applications for a school, college or university, hospital, sports centre and large retail development to have a Changing Places toilet. Progress has been so slow on this issue that I feel regulations do not go far enough.
Putting something in detail on Changing Places toilets in a Parliamentary Bill will place it directly into law and will mean the Scottish Parliament will have more directive control over what must be done. At the same time, we also need to see more existing venues installing Changing Places toilets now and raise awareness of where existing Changing Places toilets are located.
The status quo is not good enough. We can and should do better.
Jeremy Balfour is a Conservative MSP for the Lothian Region