Accessible Toilet at Risk of Being Flushed Away in Council Cutbacks

Disabled people’s access to play provision and outdoor space is under threat as a council tries to balance its books, leaving the future of a flagship ‘Changing Places’ public toilet in jeopardy.

Kirklees Council, the local authority responsible for the districts of Huddersfield and Dewsbury, is facing its funding from central government being cut by £194 million by 2020 (figure quoted by Cllr Kath Pinnock, February 2017), which is putting many local services used by the borough’s 388,500 strong population at risk of being axed.

One service under threat is the Crow Nest Park Adventure Playground. The facility, in Dewsbury, provides free play access, a chance for young people to meet with friends or seek help and advice, within a safe enclosed environment, supported by a team of volunteers and trained youth work staff. The Playground prides itself in being as inclusive as possible, and boasts one of the two Changing Places toilets in Dewsbury (the other being within the town’s branch of Mencap).

The ‘Changing Places’ toilets differ from the more common ‘disabled/accessible toilet’. Yes the facilities include the usual handrails, lowered sink and widened door, but they go a step further in terms of provision to include a hoist, an adult sized changing platform, and enough space for mobility equipment and personal assistants, plus contain vital extras for carers such as sanitiser, disposable gloves, wipes and refuse bags for adult nappies/pads. The presence of these additional features means that people with complex needs can access leisure opportunities without being restricted to locations near their home, and without needing to do too much pee math – figuring out how much you can safely drink without needing to go before you get home.

In terms of the Crow Nest Adventure Playground, the presence of a Changing Places Unit means disabled children and family members aren’t forced to cut visits short and can access the wider park during the Playground’s opening times without needing to return home for toileting needs. This therefore breaks down a barrier to play and creates a more inclusive community.

Paul Heaton, a support worker at Active Social Care, who works with children and adults with physical, learning or behavioural difficulties says “Changing Places toilets are essential for disabled people to have the freedom to get out and about-and not feel housebound.” He adds “These facilities should be viewed as necessities for people.”

These thoughts are echoed by the Changing Places Consortium, a body linked to the charity Mencap and created to better represent the needs of those living with learning or physical disabilities, their families and carers. The Consortium is campaigning for all large organisations or service providers to incorporate Changing Places toilets into their range of facilities in order to promote a disability positive ethos.

The Changing Places Consortium encourages local authorities not to indirectly discriminate against people living with disabilities, citing The Public Health Act 1936. The Act highlights the powers local governments have regarding the provision of public toilets. Whilst many cash strapped councils are cutting back on this provision, it can be argued that these policies impact to a greater extent on disabled people, as alternative accessible toilets can be harder to find and particular health conditions can increase the frequency with which toileting is required.

The Consortium further highlights the role of the Disability Discrimination Act 1995, whereby all organisations including local authorities are encouraged to remember their ‘duty’ not to discriminate by promoting equality through equality of access and opportunity. The Crow Nest Adventure Playground Changing Places toilet ticks these boxes and promotes a cohesive and inclusive community.

There is currently a campaign running to encourage Kirklees Council not to axe funding from the Adventure Playground with its integral Changing Places facility As of 25th March, over 1,200 people have added their signatures to the paper and online petition, available here

By Sam Heaton

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