Jan Brookes from Isle Access – the accessibility directory – shares this latest opinion piece. Guest opinion articles do not necessarily reflect the views of the publication.
I wonder how many local councillors, who, like me, very rarely use council-owned public toilets? We know the shops, bars, and restaurants we can use, and after a cheeky pint or a nice meal we pop into their loos instead of a public one. But many disabled people don’t have the luxury of choice to use a toilet up some stairs up behind the kitchen.
So, when the council is considering big decisions about council-owned toilets, we all must listen to the people who use them – especially the people with disabilities who have no choice at all but to use council toilets – and make the right decisions to help disabled persons be able to access the island.
Toilets can be the make-or-break reason
When many disabled people go on holiday, they are forced to choose destinations that they can access hotels, tourist attractions, restaurants, and, yes, toilets. Actually, toilets can be the make-or-break reason that they holiday on the Isle of Wight – or not.
To be the top-starred accessibility destination, one indisputably mandatory change needed is improving the accessibility of public toilets. This means:
- Opening times
Opening times must allow people to use toilets at night whilst the restaurants and pubs are open. If you use a wheelchair or a mobility aid, chances are you will need a public loo as you won’t be able to use the toilets in a bar or restaurant, as the toilets are often positioned up/downstairs, or are too small to fit in. All people are valuable sources of expenditure for local businesses and some people rely on the larger space in the council owned toilets. Why have accessible toilets if you then make them inaccessible by locking them when people want to be out enjoying themselves and spending money?
- Separate accessible toilets
Accessible toilets shouldn’t be inside ladies or gents toilets. There are many people caring for people of the opposite sex who need to assist people with disabilities to use the toilet. Separate toilets are necessary.
- Changing Places toilets (changing stations/tables to accommodate large children and adults)
It is now law that new public buildings should include a Changing Places toilet. Government money has been earmarked for councils to apply for funding to install these much-needed toilets in the community. However, it’s not just a case of plonking a Changing Places toilet anywhere within a town; careful thought should be put into the location. I live in a coastal area and a strategically placed toilet facility can be of benefit to beach goers, for example, as well as the town. Alongside the toilet facility there could be beach wheelchairs to hire, as well as firm surface on the beach for people to use. This would be a great inclusive environment.
A necessity, not a luxury
Public toilets are a necessity, not a luxury. They should be valued as an important facility, not a tax saving commodity.
Toilets are the difference between isolation and inclusion. A good provision of toilets can attract more visitors to a destination, and who doesn’t want more visitors?
Modest investment could render a massive return
This is an issue that the Isle of Wight needs to take very seriously, as an extremely modest investment could render a massive return in tapping a new market of tourists.
And, just as importantly, disabled Islanders actually can escape their homes in order to work, shop, socialise, etc. with the kind of access and freedom more similar to that which able-bodied Islanders are able to enjoy.
Make the Island more accessible to disabled people
If the Isle of Wight were more accessible to disabled people, we would have a whole new group of tourists to support our economy.
Island B&Bs and hotels with excellent access are booked out solidly years in advance. Whilst making modest investments in improving accessibility will help local Islanders with disabilities to be out and about more, a higher accessibility rating for the island would bring many new disabled tourists and their families to travel, stay, shop, and play here.