Disabled changing facilities
When you've never encountered the world without a wheelchair you take so much for granted.
Since having Amy I take nothing for granted.
Before I had her I didn't even know what a hoist was. I didn't notice that some places only have steps. I hadn't even stopped to think that most disabled toilets aren't actually suitable for everyone with a disability.
Until you are immersed in something you don't realise the necessities and actually how much needs to change so that everyone can lead an accessible life.
Can you imagine being on a day out only to find out there is no toilet at all except for at your own home? There would be outrage!! So why does it have to be different for people who need a bit of extra help?
Just because no one in your life needs those toilets does not diminish the need for these very important facilities.
Someone once said to me, "before knowing you and Amy I didn't think twice about parking in a disabled bay just for a few minutes". I was gobsmacked!! Just because they didn't directly know someone who needs these spaces doesn't mean that they aren't needed.
It shouldn't take someone close to you becoming disabled for you to recognise the needs of others.
People always think "that will never be me". I was that person once.
There is no one person on earth who is immune to the fact that one day they may require help with their mobility.
People are living longer, more poorly babies are being saved, and it's great to see that some places are starting to recognise that we all have different needs and different ways of doing things.
I had a moment of ignorance recently and when I realised my error I felt quite ashamed of myself. There was a post on social media about how people are buying radar keys online so that they can go to any disabled toilet.
Fair enough if you have a disability but this is actually people with no disability. There were even parents of babies saying how they want access to changing places for convenience... even though they have their own facilities.
I was so angry. The discussion went on and someone explained that their local Changing Places could be opened from the outside even when the room is occupied and that this is a dignity/privacy issue for the person in the room
So I chirped in saying how good it is that some of the ones we have used have required us to go and get a member of staff to let us in so that the system cannot be abused.
To me this was a perfectly acceptable and efficient way to make sure the facilities don't get abused.
Someone replied to say that actually... by the time they have been to reception to get the key, and got in... it could be too late for some people and actually you shouldn't need to know so far in advance that you want to use the toilet.
In my situation as a mum with a child who has no mobility and needs hoisting and has nappies, I hadn't stopped to consider the needs of people who use the toilet and may have continence issues that require that they get to the toilet quickly but also need a hoist.
It made me think about how diverse disability really is. I often think of our situation as the most "severe" due to the level of need and lack of continence etc, but I am overlooking a big cross section of the disabled community.
I apologised to the person and agreed that there is no easy way to man these facilities to prevent abuse. It's like how there are so many invisible disabilities too... because Amy's disabilities are obvious (wheelchair, splints, tubes etc) I show no shame when joining the queue in Primark to be served quicker... and yet people really stare if someone without mobility equipment joins the same queue.
You just don't know someone's situation.
I am still learning everyday, and viewing the world through mine and my daughter's eyes isn't always effective. We need to all be more aware.
Every time we visit somewhere that has toilet facilities with a hoist and level access changing table I make a point of contacting that venue (be it a supermarket, a zoo, anywhere) and let them know how grateful we are for their commitment to including all.
Places need to know how valued they are by doing this - yes it's a lot of money to front for a minority... but it can transform the lives of others.
Recently we went on a day out as a family to a farm. We were having a fantastic time. Amy was in good spirits and when she's happy the feeling is infectious. We were happily out in the world making memories just like everyone else.
And then it happened. The need for a full outfit change.
I had previously done a full outfit change at this farm and remember the lack of space, and the wobbly changing table that probably wasn't safe for her weight. I remember leaving the wheelchair outside the door and hoping that no one stole any of her equipment or iPad. I remember having no space to manoeuvre her and how much my back hurt leaning over her. This isn't an option for us now.
I know she isn't huge, I still lift her a lot.
But she is very long, and her movements very unpredictable... we need space to keep her safe... baby changing tables are for babies, and my child is definitely not a baby.
So we cut the trip short... we checked to see if there were any places locally (there's an app I didn't know about that Phil had downloaded!) and there weren't any nearby. We were disappointed as we were hoping to stay out for the whole day but sadly that's how it has to be sometimes.
So, thank you Sandcastle waterpark Blackpool, Chester Zoo, Manchester Arndale centre, The Trafford Centre, Tesco in Hattersley for making our lives so that we can have a day out like everyone else.
Thank you also to the places we will visit - specifically because you provide what we need.
It may be a dent in your bank balance, but to others it is priceless.
I hope many other places follow suit, or even better - I hope that it becomes a law that there has to be a certain amount of full spec facilities per so many miles so that no matter where you are you never have to travel far to do what everyone else does without even a thought.