I have to wonder whether architects who design facilities for the disabled have ever considered how their facilities are actually used…
As a disabled person myself, I often ponder on this. I know we speak about disabled people being ‘differently abled’ but we don’t have the abilities the architects seem to think we have.
My first and probably biggest bugbear is the overhead door closers that are installed on the doors of most disabled bathrooms. One needs a fair bit of strength to pull the door open and, if you are manoeuvring a manual wheelchair or steering an electric one with one hand and opening the door with the other, this can be an almost impossible task. No – we do anot have superman strength! Leave the door closers off – it makes our lives so much easier.
Let me tell you about some of the bathrooms I have had occasion to visit (I could tell you where they are but maybe this is not the place). In one cinema complex, there was no disabled loo so in order to sort this problem out the management decided to combine two toilet cubicles and put on a very large metal door that opened outwards . Picture this – the wheelchair enters the bathroom and the driver pulls the door open to gain entry, negotiates around the door to get inside and then must ‘drive’ out again to retrieve and close the door. Once inside you make your way to the loo and do what needs to be done, you then reach for the loo roll only to discover that whilst the loo is on the left side of the combined stalls, the toilet roll holder is on the right side. So super long arms required here! To exit the door, manoeuvre must be repeated in the opposite direction. By this time you are hot, sweaty and irritated and really need a shower...
Or the restaurant where the disabled loo is on a very steep slope. So you negotiate your way in past the door closer set at superhuman strength, holding onto your brakes so you don’t go speeding down the slope and into the toilet bowl. Once done you must negotiate up the steep slope and open the door to get out again. A manual wheelchair is not that easy to negotiate on a slope and even less so when trying to hold the brake with one hand and tug against the spring to open the door with the other!
And why is the disabled loo frequently considered a good place to keep the supply closet? As many of these doors cannot be locked I have, on a few occasions worried that the door will open and someone will emerge to collect the mop, soap or extra toilet rolls!
Most disabled toilets include a hand rail of one sort or another – but the placing often raises questions. Why, for instance, would one need a hand rail in the small of your back? Or set at an angle which makes it almost impossible to hold onto? Could I suggest that the planners of disabled bathrooms take a seat and try and visualise using the facilties themselves?
Then there is the shopping centre where once you are on the loo you have the basin basically on your lap. Is the idea that you wash your hands whilst still perched there – though this is a bit difficult as the soap dispenser is on the wall behind you and the hand dryer on the opposite wall?
Admittedly there are places where much thought has been put into the design of the disabled loo and there are wonderful assistive devices available today. However,
I would REALLY like to encourage people designing bathrooms for the ‘differently abled’ to get into a wheelchair and to try and negotiate the room/s they have designed. Might be a big eye opener!
And let’s not get onto the accessibility of buildings.....................