Considering our society in the Western World is so advanced, it baffles me that we’re so far behind both in something so basic as decent loo provisions, and in our views on disability. Not only aren’t there enough public toilets, but many aren’t “ostomate-friendly”, and when someone with a stoma accesses a disabled toilet it’s often with a look of disgust at seemingly jumping the queue when there’s “nothing wrong” with them that can be visually detected. There are two issues here : Ignorance and general stereotypes over ‘disability’, and many toilets being pretty ‘crap’!
Both Asda and Marks & Spencer have more recently announced changes to their accessible toilet signs to highlight that “not every disability is visible”. Some toilets around the UK are incorporating these signs already; other stores will roll out the initiative next year. Will other stores and outlets follow in the same footsteps?
Meanwhile, the Colostomy Association is running a fantastic campaign to make toilets more stoma-friendly. You can find out more about it here . Organisations the CA have endorsed as being stoma-friendly can be sent the stickers, giving those using the facilities peace of mind that they are indeed suitable, with essentials such as a door hook, disposal bin and shelf space.
Ostomates will be able to appreciate why this is so important and why things like shelf space are really very (very!) useful. Will anyone else?
So, the question is, are such signs a fad? I can appreciate that some may think so, that it’s just a throwaway kind of gesture that won’t catch on and won’t make a difference. I’d beg to differ. Of course, changing signs won’t in itself lead to a revolution, but it’s a small step in the right direction. By challenging the social perception of disability bit by bit over time, a new way of thinking will hopefully start to take hold. The ideas, stereotypes and beliefs that are ingrained can be questioned and opened up to appreciate the reality of ‘invisible’ illnesses and disabilities.
I would also like to raise the issue of “normal folk”, who wouldn’t classify themselves as having a medical condition or disability. Everyone needs to use a loo, and if you’re about ready to pee your pants or have an unfortunate tummy bug, it would be nice to think that there are toilets available and that, when push comes to shove, someone may let you go before them in the queue or use a private toilet in a store. That’s common curtesy and humanity. We seem to lack a lot of that in a society that is so pushed for time, sceptical and judgemental.
Campaigning for stoma-friendly toilets and ensuring ostomates have access to the facilities they need could be incredibly beneficial in a more practical sense. Campaigning to raise awareness that disabilities come in all shapes and sizes and aren’t always able to be ‘seen’ is more of a long-term, gradual approach. But this is a revolution I’m up for working towards. Are you?
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