“Get the local mayor to drink four litres of water, put them in a wheelchair and tell them they are on their own and need to find an accessible toilet,” says David Crawford.

David, who has C6/C7 quadriplegia and leads the SCIA Teamsafe program, jokingly says the mayoral drinking challenge is the short answer to improving toilet access for people with disability. Seriously, he says much more can be done to improve access.

The upgrading of the National Public Toilet Map (NPTM) is one way for this to happen. The NPTM is a nationally available website that provides accessibility information on over 16,000 publicly available toilets across Australia.

SCIA is leading the upgrade in New South Wales by auditing toilets across the state. This includes detailing the type of access and encouraging toilet owners to adopt best practice toilet accessibility. Volunteers are welcome to help out with the auditing.

Caught out
David lives on the Northern Beaches of Sydney and has experienced the highs and lows of trying to find and use accessible toilets. He says some are state-of-the art, but others leave a lot to be desired. To make sure he is never caught in a difficult situation when he is out, he takes an emergency two-litre bottle with him and tries to find a secluded place to empty his catheter bag – but how satisfactory is this?

Kelly McCann, who heads up the SCIA NPTM project, has quadriplegia and is ventilated, says those maintaining public toilets sometimes need reminding about the function of a toilet. “Some use their toilets as storage space, so getting to the toilet itself can be an issue,” she says. “I generally let the toilet owners know of the feedback from our access officers’ assessment of the toilet and provide information on accessible toilets, so the owner has the option to make changes to their toilet if they wish to do so.”

Tourist attraction
Toilet owners in Ballina, on the North Coast of New South Wales, have been taking notice. Linda Vick, an SCIA member with T7 paraplegia, has been on Ballina Council’s Access Reference Group for a number of years. She has advocated for and seen the standard and number of accessible toilets in the area increase.

The toilets also attract tourists. “People with a disability like coming to Ballina for holidays and other things because they find it has good accessible toilets,” Linda says. Regardless, she notes that it is hard to build a toilet that is all things to all people: “You can make them universal, but you can’t meet everyone’s needs all the time.” The Access Committee also comes up against problems, such as needing to lock the accessible toilets in town with MLAK keys, as it is the only way to keep them clean and free from syringes.

Right path
On the South Coast of NSW, the Shoalhaven Council has come a long way, too, says Bill Deaves, a SCIA Volunteer Peer Support Worker. Bill has paraplegia and is on the Council’s access committee. He is excited about the new toilet that is being built at Burrill Lakes; it includes a large room, bed lift, ceiling lift and rail. In other locations, concrete paths have been built to the toilets, he says.

The Shoalhaven Council area is a long way from being a toilet haven, however. Bill is always on the lookout for where things can be improved, such as some of the fast food outlets having too many bins in the toilets – making it hard to circulate. ■

To become a volunteer National Public Toilet Map access officer, contact Kelly McCann on 0412 177 643, email accesstoilets@scia.org.au or visit www.scia.org.au/accesstoilets

This story was written by Helen Borger and first published in the summer 2015 edition of Accord. It is reproduced with the permission of  Spinal Cord Injuries Australia

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