By Alison Beevers
You visit a Museum or Art Gallery. You may visit the museum café or the gallery shop. You may also visit the loos, after all you’ll be there for a while. In this time you may of spent a few bob or two!
The problem for our family is we are not able to ‘spend a penny’. My son has cerebral palsy and is a wheelchair user. He has difficulties controlling his movements and is unable to stand or sit unaided, because of his disabilities he is unable to use a standard disabled toilet. Due to a woeful lack of toilet provision in the UK for people with profound disabilities or complex health needs, visiting many places for us is limited, time restricted or simply unachievable. The by product of this is a feeling of increasing worthlessness, social exclusion and inability to participate in everyday activities that others take for granted. Although I don’t have a disability myself, through my son I’ve learnt what a huge barrier and disadvantage it is to not have access to a toilet, a basic human right. Often I’ve had to attend his toileting needs in degrading, dangerous and unhygienic situations, on baby change, on various floors, in the car boot. He is 15 years old.
This frustration and lack of toilets led me to the UK Changing Places campaign which seeks to highlight the need for accessible toilets with more space and extra assistive equipment such as a bench and ceiling hoist. I set up a local awareness campaign and was behind the 1000th UK Changing Place which opened in July 2017 in Retford Nottinghamshire. At the time of writing this, 1627 Changing Places facilities are currently registered in the UK but this figure is not anywhere near enough to meet the needs for over an estimated 250,000 people in the UK, their families and carers.
And while Changing Places toilets are increasing in provision at visitor attractions, football stadiums, supermarkets (Tesco has installed over 100 Changing Places toilets in their stores) there are only 55 Museums, galleries and arts centres, in the UK with Changing places toilets. The main reasons being lack of knowledge and awareness in this sector and issues relating to restricted funding. As a former secondary school teacher of art (I left the profession in 2012) all the venues I took my students to back in the day in London and elsewhere, still lack these vital facilities facilities leaving young and older students who need changing places toilets effectively locked out from interacting and experiencing important works of art and sculpture. No one should be left out from experiencing our wonderful heritage and culture.
On a positive, the sector has seen a distinct raise of Changing Places installations recently with access to different funding revenues and a wider awareness of need and we are seeing some of our larger and more prominent Museums and Galleries seeing the value of Changing Places provision.
In 2020, changes to building legislation now make Changing Places toilets mandatory in large new public buildings and an further investment of £30m currently open to Local Authorities it is anticipated we will see more of these facilities popping up across the UK. My hope is that it will encourage more Gallery and Museum settings to follow suit.
One of my best quotes as a teacher? The future starts today not tomorrow!
Start planning today for your new Changing Places toilet.