We went ice skating at the Cathedral and it was truly magical.
Finding an activity that is accessible to all of us as a family is always a joy, as there are way fewer than we would like.
Being able to take both of my children ice skating was incredible and not something I had envisaged would be so easy.
One had ice skates on, the other wheels!
You see, Hadley has Cerebral Palsy and is a full time wheelchair user.
He was overjoyed at being able to wheel himself around on ‘snow!’
And his twin sister, Erica, could hold on to his wheelchair and feel a bit more stable. Their faces were a pure delight!
The four of us (hubby came too) left the ice feeling suitably worn out and hungry for a nice family lunch with Hadley and Erica’s grandparents who came to watch.
In fact the kids were complaining of being ‘starving’ and ‘needed something right away!’. They are six years old.
So we popped around the corner to a nice cafe and ordered something delicious for all of us. Food was fab, it was busy, but everyone was fed and watered and having a good time.
But here’s where things started to go downhill.
Inevitably we all needed to use the loo after lunch.
It had now been a couple of hours since our arrival in Winchester and almost three hours since we left home.
This of course was pretty easy for most of us (despite the queues as it was a Saturday and very busy everywhere as you would expect).
But Hadley needs a bench and a hoist to use the toilet. Something that is not provided in standard accessible toilets.
Now Winchester has a Changing Places facility, located in the Discovery Centre I believe (and I’m told it is great!).
But that was the other side of town from where we were enjoying the Christmas markets and skating and from where my son’s need for the toilet became urgent.
It was way too far for us to walk in the freezing cold with a little boy who was desperate for the loo and his exhausted sister. And it would have taken even longer in the crowds.
So he had to, ‘go’, in his nappy.
And we had to find a public convenience closer to the Cathedral and lay him on the toilet floor to change him.
It was not a pleasant end to our day - especially not for Hadley, as you can imagine.
Who would be happy about lying on a disgusting toilet floor? And it really hurt my back, lifting him from his wheelchair and back up again.
He’s getting exceptionally heavy. As he should. He’s a growing boy.
But without Changing Places and Space to Change facilities EVERYWHERE, this is what happens to people.
Every single day.
People that others love with all their hearts.
People who endure more than you and I could ever imagine.
People who should be as valued as everyone else.
People who are sometimes some of the most vulnerable in our so called caring society.
They are faced with this danger and indignity all the time.
Whilst clearly we applaud the Discovery Centre for it’s wonderful facility, it was still of no help to us on that day, being located on the other side of the city.
The other issue is, that this Changing Places toilet is only open during the day. After 5pm on a Saturday it is closed.
So does that mean that no severely disabled people are welcome in Winchester in the evenings?
What if we had wanted to stay and see the Christmas lights and have an evening meal as a family.
We did want to do that by the way, but after having to go through yet another change on a toilet floor, Hadley became restless and cold and understandably wanted to go home.
So we left your city where we could have been spending some more of our hard earned cash, went home and watched a movie, gave both of our children a big cuddle and consoled them, telling them we’d see some Christmas lights another time, somewhere else.
I urgently beseech you to install other public Changing Places and Space to Change facilities in and around the city. And to become accessible to all at all times. I also urge you to actively encourage businesses, leisure venues and restaurants etc to install suitable toilet facilities for all of their customers.
There are 11.9 million people in the UK who are registered disabled. Many hundreds of thousands of them have additional toileting needs and require the use of an adult sized changing bench and hoist to use the toilet.
Why would you not want them in your city? They have a disposable income valued at £212 billion!
More important facts:
The Equality Act 2010 states that 'Service providers are required to make reasonable changes – including to the built environment – where a disabled customer or potential customer would otherwise be at a substantial disadvantage.' Surely having to be changed on a dirty toilet floor is a huge disadvantage?
The Equality Act 2010 also requires: 'That service providers think ahead and take steps to address barriers that impede disabled people.' It also says that they 'should not wait until a disabled person experiences difficulties using a service’.
Well that’s a bit late now isn’t it?
I did write to a representative at your council almost a year ago to raise my concerns about the lack of facilities in Winchester and never received a reply. I do hope that is not reflective of your future accessibility plans for the city.
I will very much look forward to your response.