Whenever nature calls, wherever we are, we must answer it. This is obviously the case regardless of whether you are able-bodied or disabled, but as some of you will know from “The Sixpence Test” – which I wrote last year – I have had a number of wildly different experiences where toilets are concerned. When said experiences are not so good, I am sadly reminded that society still has so much more to do before it can be truly accessible to the disabled, and I was unfortunately faced with yet another one just last night. It came in a local restaurant, which I was eating at for the first time. I found it easy to get into, thanks to a ramp the staff folded out for me, and the meal was to die for. The establishment would, however, lose crucial marks when it came to me needing to spend a penny later in the evening.
Having been told by a fellow diner that the toilets were just around the corner from where we were sitting, I excused myself and left to look for them, confident that I would be able to cruise into the disabled cubicle with ease. Imagine my surprise, then, when I discovered that there was no disabled toilet at all – and that neither of the others could accommodate my wheelchair. I initially wondered if there might be another one located elsewhere in the restaurant, but they promptly indicated that this was not the case. Hearing this both angered and frustrated me. I had assumed that it was a legal requirement for public places such as restaurants to provide such facilities for disabled customers, but it would seem that either I was wrong, or there is a loophole allowing proprietors to avoid including them. Either way, people like me were clearly going to be in for a nasty surprise if they wanted to do their business in this particular eatery.
The lack of a toilet did, of course, make the situation at hand more desperate for me. By the time we had established that there was definitely nowhere I could use in the restaurant, I really did need to go, and the only alternative was to do so in the pub across the road. Just getting to that involved a short detour, since there was no dropped kerb in front of the restaurant, and that meant another unwelcome prolonging of my discomfort. Having crossed safely, though, we got in, and I weaved through the throng of drinkers to reach the toilet door. I grabbed the handle and frantically tried to open it, but to no avail. It was locked, and we had to ask for the key at the bar. This seemed unnecessary to me, and in the circumstances it only annoyed me, but I still understood that it was most likely done to prevent misuse of the toilet by people who really did not need to be in there. In any case, whatever annoyance that made me feel was nothing compared to what I felt when I finally got in. Up to now, we had been inconvenienced to such an extent that I could only just hold it in when I was able to relieve myself, and the configuration of this toilet also did little to help me. I found it at the end of a small corridor, and whilst I had all the space necessary to manoeuvre my chair as I needed to, moving my actual body once out of it was less easy. The toilet was positioned between two walls, as you would expect – but they, and the rails bolted to them, were rather far away from it. That meant they were completely useless, since I was unable to lean on them, and was left with no choice but to perch awkwardly on the toilet seat when adjusting my trousers.
I was astounded that it had taken so long to do what other able-bodied patrons could do in no time at all, and upon emerging I was certain of two things – that I would relate my latest tricky experience to you here, and that as long as there is negligence and a relative lack of education regarding disability, daily life will continue to present many unnecessary challenges to the disabled. I am now wondering how such education might be made more prominent in society. Maybe I will use Third Time Enabled to let you know again, if I have any ideas. In the meantime, we still have a long way to go – in my case, literally!