Britain loses hundreds of public toilets

Cash-strapped councils have closed a fifth of conveniences, leaving some people with no choice but to stay close to home.

Vanishing Conveniences: Accessible Toilets Under Threat

Across the UK, public toilets are disappearing at an alarming rate, leaving many with limited options and a growing sense of urgency. This critical shortage, driven by budget cuts in cash-strapped councils, disproportionately impacts those who rely on accessible facilities the most.

Austerity measures have eroded legal obligations for councils to provide public toilets, creating a loophole exploited to save money. This has resulted in a staggering 19% decrease in public lavatories over the past six years, with the total plummeting from 3,154 in 2015/16 to a mere 2,556 in 2020/21. The consequences are dire, especially for vulnerable groups like the homeless, disabled, and individuals with specific medical needs.

The lack of accessible toilets creates a daily struggle. For those with mobility limitations, the absence of proper facilities can severely restrict their movements and participation in everyday activities. Similarly, for individuals suffering from chronic illnesses like Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis, the sudden need for a toilet can quickly turn into a desperate search with potentially humiliating consequences.

Malvern Theatres: A Boost for Accessibility with New Changing Places Toilet
Malvern Theatres: A Boost for Accessibility with New Changing Places Toilet

Furthermore, the loss of public conveniences poses a significant public health risk. Homeless individuals are forced to resort to unsanitary alternatives, increasing the risk of disease transmission. Outdoor workers may also struggle to find appropriate facilities, compromising their health and well-being.

This alarming trend demands immediate action. Rethinking the legal obligation for councils to provide accessible public toilets is crucial. Additionally, exploring alternative funding models, such as partnerships with private businesses or community initiatives, could offer sustainable solutions. Ultimately, ensuring everyone has access to clean and accessible toilets is not just a matter of convenience, but a fundamental human right and a critical public health concern.

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The high cost of living in a disabling world

Many disability advocates, including Jan Gru in his excellent Guardian piece (Read the article  here ), paint a stark picture of living with a disability and accessibility today. While progress towards inclusivity has been made, challenges remain. One major hurdle? The invisible burden is placed on disabled individuals every day. From wrestling with inaccessible doors to navigating unfriendly buildings and enduring discriminatory attitudes, these obstacles chip away at the very fabric of daily life.

A screenshot of the article showing a person in a wheelchair at the bottom of some stairs. Accessibility
A screenshot of the article showing a person in a wheelchair at the bottom of some stairs

The Pandemic’s Impact:

The pandemic exacerbated these struggles for many. Not only were disabled individuals more susceptible to the virus itself, but their rights were sometimes sacrificed in the name of public safety. Denied access to essential services or even facing forced institutionalization, they bore the brunt of misguided policies.

Accessibility: Beyond Ramps and Elevators:

Accessibility demands more than just ramps and elevators; it’s about equal opportunities. Disabled individuals deserve the same access to education, employment, and housing as anyone else. Creating this level playing field requires a multi-pronged approach:

1. Education: Dispelling misconceptions about disability is crucial. Only through understanding can we dismantle barriers and foster a more empathetic society.

2. Enforce Existing Laws: We already have legal frameworks protecting the rights of disabled individuals. But they’re only as effective as their enforcement. Holding perpetrators of discrimination accountable is essential.

3. Invest in Accessible Infrastructure: Building ramps, installing elevators, and ensuring transportation accessibility are foundational steps towards inclusivity.

4. Support Disabled-Led Organizations: These groups championing change deserve our full support. We can empower them by providing resources and amplifying their voices.

Conclusion:

Living with a disability shouldn’t be an impediment to fulfillment. By collaborating and amplifying the voices of those navigating these barriers, we can build a world where accessibility is not an aspiration, but a reality.

Read the article  here

My visit to Shibden Park on 10th June 2021

Shibden Park Accessibility Review: A Day with Calderdale Community Transport

Aisha Mir explores Shibden Park accessibility with Calderdale Community Transport

A trip to Shibden Park with Calderdale Community Transport turned into a valuable discussion about accessibility for wheelchair users, parents with buggies, and visitors with visual impairments.

Meeting the Park Managers

Chris Hancox and Steve Mitchel from Calderdale Community Transport provided a smooth pick-up and drop-off for Aisha and her 2-year-old son. While a slight delay due to car seat safety checks meant missing a full introduction with park manager Mark Spencer, the other park managers were incredibly welcoming.

Accessibility Concerns Raised

The group discussed accessibility challenges faced by wheelchair users, blind people, elderly visitors, and those with prams. Issues included:

  • Pot holes and uneven surfaces throughout the park
  • A dangerous bus stop and uneven road leading to the lower car park
  • Lack of accessible alternative routes around historical areas
  • Difficulty navigating the park with a pram due to steep inclines and loose surfaces like sand (used for filming purposes)

Positive Aspects and Requests for Improvement

Aisha acknowledges the park’s beauty and appreciates the improvements made, particularly the accessible path around the upper park. However, she emphasizes the need for further accessibility measures, such as:

  • An accessible path alongside the park train route for safe pedestrian movement
  • Improved signage throughout the park for better navigation, especially for first-time visitors
  • Inclusion of a changing place facility within the park toilets

A Day Filled with Connection and Hope

Despite the accessibility concerns, Aisha highlights the positive aspects of the visit:

  • Enjoying the beautiful weather
  • Reconnecting with friends after the COVID-19 lockdown
  • Indulging in a delicious mocha at the cafe

The group’s valuable discussions and suggestions for improvement leave Aisha hopeful for positive changes at Shibden Park.

Find out more from the Shibden Park Website Click Here

Chris has been busy working with the team developing plans for the projected Station to be built at Elland

Improving Accessibility Through Collaboration

As you know, I’ve always been passionate about influencing local planning decisions. Whether it’s improving the roads, opening a new building, or changing land use, I always have an opinion – I’m a Yorkshireman after all! I believe my knowledge and lived experience with disability are valuable contributions, but is simply voicing complaints from the sidelines truly effective?

Anyone can shout, “That will never work!” or “You can’t be serious!” It might feel satisfying in the moment, but does it really make a difference? So, what happens when someone actually says, “Alright, put your money where your mouth is. Work with us and tell us where we’re going wrong”?

Believe me, it’s incredibly satisfying.

Accessibility A train comes into the station at Elland
A train comes into the station at Elland

From Outsider to Insider

I was recently invited to work with the team developing plans for a new station in Elland, alongside accessibility improvements in the surrounding area. It was a truly positive experience. I was listened to, included in every decision, and made to feel like a valued member of the team.

This experience opened my eyes to the immense amount of research that goes into such planning, and the delicate balancing act required for many decisions. From my perspective, I might propose a specific solution based on my extensive knowledge of my disability and the needs of others. The team, while familiar with some accessibility concerns, also has to consider costs, complex engineering requirements, underlying building constraints shaped by the landscape, and local pressures from residents, businesses, hospitals, schools, and so on.

Aerial artists impression of the proposed station at Elland. Trees are in the background with bridges over two rivers in the foreground
Aerial artists’ impression of the proposed station at Elland. Trees are in the background with bridges over two rivers in the foreground

The Complexity of Seemingly Simple Solutions

Luckily, my background in maths allows me to understand the detailed architects’ and engineers’ plans. Even seemingly simple constructions like a public shelter on a platform or a ramp up to a bridge involve immense complexity.

Learning and Earning Respect

Through this collaboration, I’m gaining valuable insight into the planning process. While my core principles of improving accessibility remain unchanged, I’ve gained immense respect for the designers, architects, and engineers who strive to follow guidelines and regulations while providing what the public wants, all within budget constraints.

Aerial artists impression of the West Vale Bridge at Elland. Trees are in the background with bridges over a river on the left
Aerial artists impression of the West Vale Bridge at Elland. Trees are in the background with bridges over a river on the left

Accessibility Building Bridges, Not Walls

Hopefully, I’m also making a positive impact on the team. By working together, we can break down barriers, create new connections and priorities, and even change long-held perspectives on accessibility.

Ultimately, as in every aspect of life, even the most straightforward-looking situations involve compromise. But through collaboration, we can achieve the best possible outcome for everyone.

Until next time, keep safe,

Chris

Up-to-date information about the Elland Train Station Click Here

Information about joining ACDAF Here

Extreme Auditing (working through the Pandemic)

Access Audits. Extreme auditing, working through the pandemic. Chris is out and about even through the difficult times…

Well, I certainly can’t remember a year anything like this one – it seemed to come to a grinding halt in March, and it’s certainly not back on the rails yet.

For the team at Visits Unlimited you might think that would be the end of things for the foreseeable future, no one going anywhere, no one meeting up with anyone, not a bit of it.

We’re far more resourceful and resilient to accept that!

True – work did drop off a cliff for a few weeks, audit dates in the diary were cancelled, people didn’t know what could or should happen, but that didn’t last for long at our Accessible Calderdale Project.  After a few weeks of hiding away, people started peeping over the parapet and gingerly climbing over.

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National Trust and Accessible Tourism

The National Trust’s focus

The national trust is one of the UK’s home treasures. With beaches, gardens, pubs, lighthouses and parks, their presence all around the UK has given the public years of great experiences and education.  Like most attraction providers though, the national trust are aware that there are always improvements to their customer service and experiences, so they called us in to help out.

Open minded to accessibility

We joined some of the national trust groups and what a pleasure to work with them. We met up with Sara and her team at North Lincolnshire and South Nottinghamshire National Trust properties and had a fantastic day sharing our strategies and visitor journeys with them.

Katie and myself delivered our ‘Customer Service for All’ one day programme to delegates from The Workhouse, Gunby Estate, Hall and GardensBelton House and Tattershall Castle.  Delegates participated with tremendous enthusiasm and commitment and as always, we came away with so much as well.

What did the national trust take away?

Our learning outcomes included:

  • Building confidence and customer service skills in meeting the needs of visitors with access needs
  • Addressing inclusive operational practice
  • Action planning all aspects relating to accessibility
National trust trianing
Reflective practice

 

Our one day’s training is packed not just with the; what needs to be done, but the understanding of why your changes make a huge difference.  We involve you in the whole journey as much as the structured planning.

 

 

 

Sara offered her feedback.

‘Visits Unlimited were excellent to work with. They came with a can do attitude, shared their knowledge freely and supported the group throughout the day. The staff team felt that this was one of the most positive training sessions that they had experienced and that what they learnt would be easy to use in the workplace. Thanks Matt and Katie for spending a rewarding day and sharing your knowledge and your life experiences with us.’

Sara Blair-Manning – General Manager, North Lincolnshire & South Nottinghamshire.