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FOUR FINGERS AND THIRTEEN TOES - The Definition of a Queue... for a "Disabled Loo" - RMS Consultancy

FOUR FINGERS AND THIRTEEN TOES – The Definition of a Queue… for a “Disabled Loo”

Correct me if I’m wrong but the definition of a “Queue” has always been waiting in line, taking your turn, a group of people waiting for something.

In this connection, one of our greatest British summertime traditions is the queuing for entry to Wimbledon … that most British of sporting occasions.

Only last week, we were treated to a television report on the delights of seeing people queue for Wimbledon’ opening games.  The camera then panned to another queue, and it all culminated with the sight of another queue where those avid die-hard Wimbledon fans could leave their tents and other paraphernalia before – yes you’ve guessed it, joining another queue before gaining entry to the hallowed ground.

What struck me about this report was the very British way in which, no matter whether in rain or searing heat, there was no pushing or shoving, but just patience.

So why is it that such restraint can’t be exercised when people queue to use what many quaintly described as a “disabled toilet.”

Before I go on, I have a bit of an issue with such a description, as it conjures up images of a toilet with a limp or some other obvious impairment(!), and so for the rest of this blog, I shall use what I, and most of the disabled peoples movement, consider is the correct terminology, and described such facilities as “accessible”.

I now have to interject again and emphasis the point that a full-time-wheelchair-users idea of an “accessible toilet”, is poles apart from most providers of so-say, accessible toilets!  They should not be any of the following:-

  • a regular toilet cubical with the door opening outward
  • the above, plus one grab rail
  • the above, plus a baby changing unit sticking out from the wall
  • a storage cupboard
  • a cloakroom
  • a bin collection point
  • an alternative for those too lazy to queue
  • for disabled wannabes
  • for a family trip to the loo (unless at least one member is a bona fide disabled person)
  • A stinking cluttered claustrophobic compartment!

Ideal “accessible toilets” are:-

  • Changing Places Toilets (Designed so that they are completely accessible and provide sufficient space and equipment for people who are not able to use the toilet independently. See – http://www.changing-places.org/ )
  • A truly compliant Accessible Toilet (The guidance in the Building Regulations Approved Document M 2010 & 2013 amendments, and in BS8300-2009 should be accepted, in my opinion as the bare minimum requirements. They are based on many years of research and need to be followed exactly because all of the requirements are important to someone.  What may appear to be a small and insignificant detail to some may pose a real element of difficulty or even danger to a disabled person.)


Anyway, over the last couple of months, we have travelled up and down the UK using, wherever possible, motorway routes.  They are generally quicker, traffic jams and Friday getaways permitting, and of course, we are afforded the opportunity to stop, if we need, and use the delightful facilities that are represented (or even misrepresented for that matter) as motorway service areas.

We’ve all been there … those oases of calm that purport to offer you rest, relief and food.  Well, yes they do allow you to rest – always assuming you can find a quiet spot in the car park, and you don’t stay more than 2 hours (otherwise you’ll get whacked with a bill for leaving your tyres parked in a stationary position for more than the permitted time); And granted, you can get food – if you can call pre-packed sandwiches (curling up at the edges) and overpriced coffee and muffins from a well known coffee chain, food.

However, what really gets my gander up is the so-called accessible toilet … If you’ve every ventured into one, you’ll know why I say so-called.  It should be more aptly named the accessible store cupboard.  Therein, you will find buckets, mops, and bins of all sorts … Sanitary bins, paper towel bins, nappy bins – I ask you, how many bins does a disabled person need to use to get rid of all their disposables when they use the loo?

So, when you’re desperate for the loo, and your PA has managed to re-arrange the bins, you then proceed to undertake that most precarious of operations by getting onto the toilet seat.  At this point, it is worth looking at the back of the door, where you will find a schedule of staff members who have inspected this facility during the day.  What I’d really like to know, is whether these staff members have undertaken a proper inspection, because 9 times out of 10 the loo seat is wobbly … Ahhhhh!

Having successfully negotiated the transition from the real world, to the world of the wobbly toilet seat, it would be nice to think you could achieve some inner peace for the duration of your stay, but no … then there comes a rattle, rattle of the lock and a light knock on the door … “Are you OK in there?” comes a voice (note, I don’t say concerned voice) from the other side of the door.  Now, just remember that it has taken a while to re-arrange the bins, making an attempt to secure a wobbly seat, and when all you want is sit in quiet contemplation, some impatient so and so from the outside wants to know if you’re alright!

The simple answer is NO … I am not alright.  Whatever I need to do, I need to do it without interruption.  But, in our usual manner (adopted by most disabled people) the response is “Yes, fine thank you.”  One would assume this reply should allay even the most concerned of traveller.  Sadly that is not the case.  Less than a minute later, comes another knock on the door – This time louder and more impatient than the last.  Now I have to raise my voice “OCCUPIED” … “Please be patient”.  I have to confess to more than a tinge of annoyance in my voice – but I think I’m entitled to sit on the loo in peace for as long as it takes to perform my ablutions!

Most people would take the hint, back off and leave me to contemplate what I am going to say when I’ve finished, opened the door, and hopefully brought a little bit of contrition to those door knockers, when they see me emerging – all fours fingers and thirteen toes of me – with either a PA or Steve.  If it’s Steve, it should render them speechless, two wheelchair users coming out of an accessible loo … Sounds like a rather fun Paralympic game to me.  Maybe Sir Philip Craven could give it some thought in time for the 2016 games!

However, I digress.  I haven’t got as far as opening the door, to leave those outside oozing profuse apologies for rushing me … Sadly, there is a third prong of attack that will be used by those impatient travellers, and that is the Toilet Supervisor.  Oh yes, off they, or one of their entourage have gone, and found the Supervisor who apparently has the over-ride key, and I think you know what’s coming next.

Well, if you haven’t twigged, let me fill you in.  Ablutions satisfactorily performed, the reverse operation of moving back from a wobbly seat into wheelchair has been completed, and the final stage of getting ready to meet my audience is in progress … the adjustment of my lingerie … or as Steve and James would say – my Bridget Jones’s or for us rather well endowed females the good old fashioned control brief.   Just as this most personal of tasks is being finished the toilet door opens without warning.  “CLOSE THE B***** DOOR” come the screams from inside the loo!!

In fairness to the Toilet Supervisor, who probably wouldn’t know what Thalidomide was, let alone be able to spell it, it’s not her fault that she opened the door whilst I am in such a compromising position, but do people have to be so rude, as to not realise that if a person is using an accessible toilet, there is more than a distinct possibility that they will take a bit longer than the users of the regular facilities.  If only.

Door closed, and clothes suitably adjusted, I morph into Disability Champion mode.  With my haughtiest of demeanours, I leave the toilet determined to illicit even the slightest apology from those waiting to use the facilities.      Not likely … With attitude that would put the stroppiest of teenagers to shame, there is not a hint of remorse for the aggravation caused.  What makes it all the more galling, is that on a scale of 1 to 10, I would put their need to use an accessible toilet at -5!!  (Now before you start accusing me of being discriminatory, I am fully aware that accessible toilets are not exclusively there for wheelchair users, any number of disabled people might have continence issues, or may require more space, assistance, or extra time to use facilities (like myself).  But, someone who can walk, could actually use a regular toilet, wheelchair users do not have the luxury of this choice!)

Enough is enough, and with less than an hour to get to our destination, do I go straight back to the car … I certainly do not.  Powering off in the direction of the shop that sells everything your kids really don’t need for a long car journey, I find the site Manager.  I vent my anger at the indignity of what has happened, and I even make him lock himself in the toilet in question, whilst another member of his staff opens the door, for greater dramatic effect.  Tempting as it was, you will be relieved to know that I didn’t insist on him sitting on the loo with his trousers round his ankles just to prove a point!

The problem is, this doesn’t just happen on motorway service areas.  Only two weeks ago, Steve and I were in Devon, and having decided that the public loos were simply too gross to contemplate, we headed for the safe haven that is known as Debenhams.  Trading for over 200 years, surely we could use the loo in that giant of retail institutions in relative peace?  Alas no, our use of these facilities was marred by a perfectly formed queue of non-disabled people, who were just too lazy to walk around the corner to use the male and female facilities, banging on the toilet door, in an even more impatient manner than at the motorway service area; My gosh, did they have the wrath of my tongue after I had finished using the loo.

Most of the accessible toilets require the use of a key (The National Key Scheme (NKS) was developed because some public toilets designed for disabled people had to be locked to prevent damage and misuse. This has been countered by their being locked separately from other toilets.). Most permanently disabled people, like me, have one of these keys. However, there are an increasing number of people who don’t actually purchase one of these keys but borrow one from the facility provider (i.e. motorway service, cinema, restaurant etc).  When these individuals decide that you are taking too long whilst using the facility, they go and get a member of staff (yes… The Toilet Supervisor), who apparently has an override key!  Personally, I am not sure if there is such thing as an override key, or whether the lock in question is broken.

Either way, this ‘Catch a disabled person in a compromising position’ game is happening on a more frequent basis and all over the country, people are opening the toilet door whilst I am using it GRRRRRRRRRR.

Now I’m not usually in the habit of naming and shaming – but what the heck … Be wary, if attending a concert at the O2, or a rugby match at the Millennium Stadium, if you are travelling along the M4 motorway and have to use the accessible facilities at the Reading East Moto service area, or in the Debenhams Torquay branch, because visitors to these illustrious venues do not have any patience.

However, as luck would have it on the last occasion … I had the last laugh – and you’ll enjoy this …

I used up the last of the loo roll ……

Ah, divine retribution!

Writing this blog has inspired me to make a new notice, which I shall carry around with me and blue tack it to the door when I am using an accessible toilet – what you think?


Happy summer holidays.  Happy travelling, but beware the queue for the accessible loo.  You never know, you might find me on the other side of the door!