Thu | Jun 24, 2021

Make bathrooms usable by the disabled

Published:Saturday | August 2, 2014 | 12:00 AM


Having just returned from a visit to New York City where, as a disabled wheelchair user, I was able to experience the advantages of a community well provided to serve the needs of the physically challenged, I am particularly encouraged by the news of the recent passage of a progressive Disabilities Act.

While not having any detailed knowledge of its provisions, this initiative will, as the agreed steps are implemented, make welcome improvements to the modest measures that are already in place.

While recognising that, depending on the areas being addressed, there will be costs to be borne by the public purse or by owners of premises used by members of the public, there are some small, inexpensive provisions that can be of great immediate benefit. I direct attention here to one of these.

Clause 37 of the new act requires that any public or commercial premises being constructed must be readily available and USABLE (my emphasis) by a person with a disability. Bathroom facilities are an obvious priority, and there are already public buildings, hotels, restaurants and various places of public assembly that claim to have met that requirement as there is usually a cubicle indicated to accommodate the disabled and, in particular, the wheelchair user.

However, there are, in many (most) instances, no provision to actually facilitate the use of the toilet. Space to accommodate a wheelchair but with no provision of grab bars which offer support for standing or allow safe transfer to the toilet makes the facility completely unsuited for safe use by a disabled person.

As someone who has had the unfortunate experience of having to be helped from the floor by considerate strangers when I failed to manage the transfer on my own and who, given the inadequacy of the supposed special area for my use, has on occasion opted to use a regular stall where I have held on to the sides of the walls but had to proceed with the door only partially closed, I think I can speak with some authority.

I am proposing that no bathroom be approved/certified as 'accessible to, or usable by, the disabled without the simple, inexpensive provision of one or two grab bars in the specially reserved cubicle. This one measure requires no special planning but merely the enforcement of a simple regulation.