Access to an Accessible Toilet is a human right
Everyone wants to have access to a toilet when they need.
And usually, we want the access to be immediate.
It is a natural process: When we feel like going – we need to go. No matter where we are.
And when we have to wait, we get exasperated.
But all of us have the capacity to hold it in.
We don’t like to wait, but we could. If even for a few minutes.
But in reality not ALL of us have that capacity.
Bladder function and Spinal Cord Injury: the missing link
I, for one, no longer have control over my bladder since a car accident rendered me paraplegic almost 12 years ago. Bladder control goes through our Spinal Cord. And since mine was injured, I no longer have the luxury to be able to ‘wait’ in line for an available toilet.
Because for me, when my bladder is full, it empties itself, by itself.
To ensure I drink what is required for our body to function, yet to ensure my bladder never gets too full, I also COUNT and MEASURE what I drink. Every day. When I know how much I drink, I can predict WHEN I need to go, based on what I was able to evacuate in the previous toilet run.
And as an added precaution, I also time myself.
Five alarms ring at the same time every day for me.
Those alarms tell me: “it has been 5 hours since you emptied your bladder, you better go now”
Why it is important I empty my bladder regularly as a woman with Spinal Cord Injury
If I am late going to the toilet, I risk that my bladder empties itself out – outside of my control.
A full bladder also puts me at risk of Automatic Dysreflexia – an ABNORMAL condition that is characterized by a raised blood pressure and heart rate. It can trigger muscle spasms that can lead me to fall backwards. It can also make me sweat and clammy and provoke changes in the color of my skin (i.e. red dots).
➡️ Automatic Dysreflexia is DANGEROUS.
➡️➡️ So when I need to use the toilet – I ABSOLUTELY NEED to use it NOW.
❌ This is WHY you should NOT be using Accessible Toilets – EVER.
And although this is NOT something I like to share, it is important that I do.
Where are the accessible toilets?
At the Vancouver’s Convention Center where I was attending IPPA’s Congress, there are toilets on every floor.
Toilets for Men. Toilets for Women.
Sometimes there is one stall that is larger. This one is meant for someone with a disability.
Sometimes there is not.
On each of the floors, there is ONE toilet that is fully accessible. A toilet on its own, with a door that locks. These ones are THE Best Toilets as it gives me PRIVACY, SPACE and greater HYGIENE.
Here is on example of an Accessible Toilet
Accessing Accessible toilets is sometimes an inaccessible thing
On one of the days at IPPA, I went to use one of those Accessible Toilets and found the toilet overflowing. Hygiene being super important in my condition, I HAD to find another.
👍 I went to the upper floor. Waited several minutes for the elevator and made my way through the thick carpet.
❌ I went to open the door but the toilet was locked.
It said: when the door is locked it is because someone is in there.
So I waited.
Problem-solving doesn’t always work
I know approximately how much time it takes to use the toilet when in a wheelchair.
👍 And I had a few minutes to spare. Surely, the person using it has a disability…
I waited and nothing.
❌ No one came out and the door was still locked.
👍 So I tried the next best thing: a larger stall in the Women’s toilets.
❌ The door was also locked.
👍 So I went back to sit in front of the Accessible Toilet.
And I waited again.
Do you not have access to a toilet?
➡️ By then, it had been at least 30 minutes – half an hour later than my schedule.
So I start to be antsy.
A woman who passes by, SEES me. Like REALLY SEES ME.
She saw my back and forth between toilets.
My frantic press on the button to have the door open.
And she asks: do you not have access to a toilet?
I tell her both doors are locked, to which she replies: Let me go check the one in there.
She comes back to announce she fixed the door and I can go in.
I thank her.
Everything that is wrong even when a toilet is labelled ‘accessible’
❌ In the stall, there was no sink to wash my hands.
(if I wash my hands at the sink over there, and then use my hands to roll to the end of the toilet – it sort of defies the purpose, doesn’t it?)
❌ There is also no bars for me to hold on to. Or actually there are, but they are not placed where I need them to be.
❌ There is also no garbage cans for me to dispose of the material I need to pee with. This means I am stuck with soiled materiel in my hands, in front of everyone, once I am done.
Now… in my case, I am paraplegic, which means I have full use of my arms.
I also train so that I am strong and have good balance.
This has allowed me to maneuver for me to pee without falling or hurting myself.
Because I know I can only control what I do… I am also prepared and have little « dog poop bags » so I can dispose of my material when no garbage cans are available.
But one thing I have ABSOLUTELY NO CONTROL over… is my bladder.
And after 30 minutes of EXTRA wait, and an awkward position, my bladder emptied itself – on its own.
Why access to a toilet is important for everyone
When I go to Conferences, it is for work.
I try – just like everybody else to look professional.
❌ And now I am wet.
❌ Staying wet is also not great as it can cause sores.
I need to change.
I need to roll up that hill – to my hotel – up a bed that is too high and too soft – and change.
Only then can I then roll back down hill back to the conference.
In all, I have lost more than 2 hours.
Two hours of missed connections and missed talks.
Why you should NEVER use an Accessible Toilet as abled-body person
Using an Accessible Toilet as a non-disabled person means someone who actually needs it (and can’t use another one) will have to wait.
Waiting for an Accessible Toilet is like sitting on a Ticking Bomb – without knowing WHEN it will blow.
🙏 Please don’t make us wait.
What you should do instead:
1- Keep Accessible Toilets free for us to use – when our alarms go off.
2- When there is a long line to access stalls, Let us through. You can wait, we can’t AND waiting is dangerous for us.
3- Tell people NOT to go in.
** And when you see an accessible toilet dirty or with a broken door, inform someone – so that it can be fixed rapidly. In public bathrooms, there is usually very few toilets that are accessible. If that one is unusable, I have limited to NO options.
** And if you are a building manager – please make sure there are several accessible toilets in your buildings, and that they are built to code and to the needs of disabled people. Here are places you can get more information on accessible toilets:
Search for ‘Salles de Toilettes’ on Kéroul site: Accessible Toilets Diagrams
Check out: Building Better Bathrooms by Julie Sawchuk