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Changing Places - accessible toilets

A campaign to build more toilets adequately equipped for changing adults with severe disabilities will help address some of the inequalities they face daily.

Have you ever wondered how parents of grown children with severe disabilities change their children when they’re out and about?

More often than not, they have to take their young adult out of the wheelchair, lay them on the floor of a disabled toilet, change them and lift them back into the wheelchair. It’s a difficult task and it gets trickier as the child grows.

But it’s not just the physicality that’s the problem. Often the disabled toilet isn’t big enough to accommodate the wheelchair once the child is on the floor. Sometimes the floor is wet. Often it’s dirty.  It’s an onerous and stressful task and gives a whole new meaning to the word “accessibility”.

This dilemma spawned the Changing Places movement in England in 2006 after a consortium of like-minded organisations campaigned for fully accessible toilets equipped with full-size change tables with hoists attached. Now there are about 540 Changing Places toilets across England, Wales and Scotland.

The Australian chapter of Changing Places is in its infancy; securing only a handful of Changing Places toilets to service the 200,000 Australians with disabilities who require help with toileting.

The Australian campaign is being led by The Association for Children with a Disability (ASD), which recently joined the Maroondah City Council in celebrating the opening of a fully-accessible toilet at Ringwood Park Lake in Melbourne.

ASD has also been instrumental in securing Victorian state funding for the construction of six more Changing Places toilets, which will be located at the MCG, the Melbourne Zoo and Rod Laver Arena. The locations of the other three are yet to be determined.

Debby Conlon, community education coordinator at ASD and mother of 17-year-old disabled son Michael, said that outings had become particularly difficult for her and Michael after he underwent scoliosis surgery three years ago. He is no longer able to be lifted manually and requires a hoist to be put into and taken out of his wheelchair.

Debby said the Changing Places project in Australia would help address some of the inequalities faced by people with severe disabilities every day.

She said that Michael, who has spastic quadriplegia and cerebral palsy, is denied many of his favourite activities, which include going to the football and other sporting events, due to the length of time he can be away from home.

“I couldn’t imagine being told I couldn’t go to the toilet all day.  Some people with a disability have to be on a set schedule, or they’ve got to leave the event early. They have to plan how far they can travel,” Debby said.

“To go to the football it takes an hour on the train, then we spend a couple of hours at the footy, so five or six hours later we’re home. It’s a long time to go without a change.”.

There have also been occasions when Michael has had to be left wearing a soiled or wet nappy because the disabled toilet floors were too wet, dirty, or not large enough to accommodate his body which now measures six feet.

Debby said the Changing Places project was also making inroads into major shopping complexes. Centres such as Eastland and Fountain Gate are leading the way, with management recognising the commercial benefits as well as the obvious benefits for their patrons.

Visit the Changing Places project website for information about the Australian campaign.

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