“Disabled facilities are not storage spaces.”
You’d think the above statement would be obvious. After all, what use is a cubicle or toilet if it can’t be used for its intended purpose? Unfortunately, the answer is often found inside – where these facilities created to enable wheelchair users to try on clothes or use public conveniences are misappropriated as store cupboards.
I cannot tell you the entire range of items that can be found in accessible loos, but to give a brief picture from my own experience: mop buckets and cleaning equipment, excesses of nappy bins, unfolded baby changers, staff members’ bicycles, zimmer frames and wheelchairs belonging to other patrons, and even folded wheelchairs belonging to the venue itself. For a wheelchair user, having the space to enter and safely transfer to the toilet, let alone turn around to exit again without contorting oneself, is paramount. Having the facility stuffed with unnecessary objects and obstacles often prevents wheelchair users from being able to transfer and turn around safely, as well as from accessing the emergency pull cord (which has its own ongoing issues with being cut or tied up). In the worst case scenario, a wheelchair user may find themselves without a toilet they can use while out of the house. We shouldn’t have to pre-check that the toilets are not being used to store things before we choose where to go for supper, on top of checking all the other accessible points that are needed but sadly lacking in so many public places.
And then there are fitting rooms. What prompted this post was a visit to Topshop the other day, my local branch in the Palace Exchange, Enfield Town. The shopping centre itself is pretty good for access – it’s all on one level, all shops are level access, most shops have lifts if they have more than one floor, and there is an accessible loo that can be accessed by Radar key. I don’t normally try on clothes – it’s less exhausting for me to buy something then try it on at home and return it the next week if it doesn’t fit – but I was having a good day and wasn’t sure which size of the shirt I liked would fit me. I was pleasantly surprised that they’d thought to include a wheelchair accessible fitting room, but less pleasantly surprised by what it was being used for:
The staff member monitoring the fitting rooms was very apologetic, and helped me cram my chair into a normal cubicle and pull the curtain around its sticking-out arse (yes my chair has booty). Although I managed to try on the clothes I wanted to in a very small space, I was left feeling that “sorry we’re using the accessible cubicle to store sale rails” wasn’t really good enough. What if someone came in who really needed that larger space? Someone using a larger wheelchair, or who needed someone else to assist them in trying on clothes? Not to mention access to the emergency pull cord….again.
I’ve tweeted to Topshop and haven’t had a reply yet. I’ll keep trying. This brings me onto how to address the misuses and abuses of facilities meant for disabled customers:
COMPLAIN. Complain as loudly and as publicly as you are comfortable with, in person or online. Tell your friends, get the message shared. It is shameful to misuse an accessible space like this, and the abuses of them will only stop when it becomes seen as an unacceptable thing to do. This won’t happen without public pressure from customers both disabled and non-disabled. So, next time you’re in a clothes shop with an accessible fitting room, have a look and see what it’s being used for.
In the meantime, I await a response, any response, from Topshop….