It is still taboo to talk about bladder problems and toileting. However, not every disability is visible, which makes access to public toilets vital.
Many people have to plan their activities or schedules around toileting, such as drivers, the elderly or people with small children. Shockingly, the number of toilet facilities in the UK have fallen by 40 percent in the past decade. An article in 2016 reported that this drop is due to councils claiming they do not have the funds. The Around the Toilet Project raised awareness of how a lack of access to toilets that are functional can restrict the journeys people are able to make. The study found toilet provision in the UK to be inadequate for a large selection of people. It raised awareness of the lack of public toilets and the need for accessible designs and different attitudes. Tim Muffett spoke to a couple who fell victim to loo cutbacks. Brian Dean is one of the millions of people affected by a lack of toilets around the UK. He has from Parkinson’s Disease and describes how he felt humiliated after he couldn’t find a public toilet to use. His wife Joan even asked four different shops in Manchester if he could use their toilets, only to be faced with refusal. Although some businesses, such as Starbucks, have opted to let anyone use their toilets, many shops are still reluctant to let people use their toilets unless they’re spending money.
This lack of access can prevent people with disabilities, in particular, from even leaving the house. Other consequences include low self-esteem, depression and stress. Gaynor Monk, who suffers from irritable bowel syndrome, has from a kidney problem which means she has to self-catheterize. Rather than just being a preference, access to public toilets is an essential to her. She explains, “I’d like to see more accessible public toilets as often they’re closed or not fit to use and the next one could be a long walk away. I don’t go out at all sometimes for fear of not being able to use a toilet.” Gayner attends a bowel clinic run by clinical nurse specialist Kelly Stackhouse. Stackhouse recognizes the impact that a lack of toilets has on people, explaining “a lot of my patients become socially isolated because of the lack of public toilets available.”
Other than being an inconvenience, a lack of public toilets can also be be a health risk. Although it may be wise to avoid excessive consumption of caffeine and alcohol, this is only useful in the short term. The inability to satisfy essential physiological needs because no toilet is available can cause health issues such as bladder infections, kidney infections and digestive health issues that can easily escalate. Mental well-being is also improved when people are out with friends and are aware a toilet is available. As incontinence expert Justin Parkinson asserts, “having decent public toilets is good for public health, business and the prevention of disease. It’s civilized.”
What Should we Expect from Public Toilets?
Public toilets are designed to provide for people who are restroom challenged. For many people, going out and not using a toilet for hours is not an option. They should be presentable, safe and clean. Health reporter Karen Logan asserts, “Toilets should be accessible, clean light and safe, with good hand washing facilities. Sadly, these are fairly simple requirements that a lot of toilets do not provide”. Toilet facilities must be fitted with self-closing devices on all approach doors and be adequately provided with toilet paper, soap and towels. Decent public toilets can benefit both the public and businesses. Through offering appropriate customer toilets, retail stores and shopping centers can enhance their profits and image. However, many retailers still pay insufficient attention to their customer toilet facilities.
Providing better toilet facilities requires businesses to see things from the public’s perspective. Many organisations are campaigning for better provision of public toilets. For example, the British Resorts and Destinations Association highlights the importance of good quality public toilets. The Department of Health and Ageing maintains the National Public Toilet Map to enable the public to find the closest facility. To provide a reliable service, we not only need to ensure more toilets are accessible, but we need to look at who does and doesn’t have suitable access. As Lezlie Lowe states, “we need to look hard at who in our cities has ample access, who’s merely making do and who is squatting between parked cars”.