Disabled actress Samantha Renke, who is a wheelchair user, tells us why accessible toilets are vital for people with a range of access needs.
Hey AccessAble readers, my name is Samantha Renke. I’m an actress, activist and all round loud northern bird currently living in central London. I was born with a rare genetic condition Osteogenesis Imperfecta or more commonly known as Brittle Bones, I’ve never known life without a wheelchair.
Lots of us disabled folk have a strange and complex relationship with to going to the loo.
I’ve lost track of how many inanimate objects I’ve used as a potty. I often joke not to ask for a cup of tea when you come over to my home because chances are, I may have peed in the mug you are about to drink from. In my defense this happens out of pure desperation, not when I come home drunk - it’s when I end up fracturing a bone in bed, a common occurrence when living with Brittle Bones. The empty coffee mug on my bedside table from the night before has at times been the only way to relieve myself until an ambulance or my PA comes to assist me. I’ve subsequently invested in a slimline bed pan that I tuck away behind my pillow every night.
Then there was that family holiday to France when my mother decided a hovercraft was the mode of transportation we were going to use to cross the channel. Trouble was the toilets were up a flight of stairs and the water was so choppy I couldn’t safely be carried so I found a cup, wrapped my jumper around my waist and went to the loo right there and then in front of passengers.
Once when we were America when we couldn’t find an accessible toilet, so my mother squeezed us both into a standard stall and the lack of room meant that she accidentally cracked my arm on the toilet roll dispenser, and I fractured my arm.
I’ve invested in business class on a flight so I could use my she-wee from my private seat as aircraft toilets aren’t accessible to me.
How about the accessible loo being used as a storage cupboard, or the non-disabled couple wanting to use the accessible loo as their own personal love shack, or that teenager who wants to use it as a changing and make-up room.
I could go on….
Although, some of these incidents are humorous looking back, at the time they were traumatic, dangerous and downright degrading, so much so I went through a phase of not going anywhere.
I like many of the 13.9 million disabled people living in the UK find accessing toilets that truly meet my access needs is a daily struggle and ultimately can impact our well-being, mental health and independence.
AccessAble are working to end toilet anxiety. If you take a look on www.AccessAble.co.uk, or the AccessAble App, you'll find accessibility information for over 16,000 accessible toilets. They have a dedicated section in AccessAble’s Detailed Access Guides, where you can find over 200 pieces of information. That’s right, 200 pieces of information just about the loo… including location and access, features, dimensions and fixtures, colour contrast and lighting, and baby changing facilities.
Charities out there fighting our corner including the Changing Places campaign, which has in the past few years highlighted this long standing frustration with loos to the non-disabled community who are horrified about the idea of people laying on public bathroom floors or wetting themselves on trains.
It’s important to remember that not only wheelchair users use accessible bathrooms. The reality is that out of the 13.9 million people in the UK living with an impairment less than 8% are wheelchair users. Many impairments are in fact invisible and those who have conditions such as Crohn’s, Colitis or Multiple Sclerosis, to name a few, benefit greatly from being able to use accessible bathrooms. Lest we forget those who are autistic or have Asperger’s Syndrome who have expressed that using public bathrooms can be greatly overwhelming whereas an accessible bathroom filters out noise and is much more user friendly. With invisible impairments in mind many facilities across the UK have rolled out new bathroom signs to replace the iconic ‘wheelchair’ symbol for a universal “Not Every Disability is Visible” and changed disabled toilet to accessible toilet.
We may not want to talk about our bodily functions but actually it’s one of the things we all have in common and therefore surely everyone has the right to be able to go anywhere and at any time.
Don’t forget to download the free AccessAble App from the Apple Store or Google Play Store. The App has Detailed Access Guides to over 70,000 venues across the UK, including over 16,000 accessible toilets. Giving you factual, reliable accessibility information in your pocket to use on the go.