Toilets Revisited

Public toilets, what would we do without them? No, I won’t pursue that thought, not here. Surely, there’s a PhD for anyone who studies different cultures and their attitudes towards their provision? I am particularly grateful to whoever developed the concept of toilets specifically for the disabled, especially when in a motorway service station on a crowded, summer Saturday. It’s most empowering bypassing the desperate queue and swanning through one of those, large, distinctive doors. Of course, as a Blinkie, I’m always in motorway service stations with a Sighted Someone who can identify this door for me. Mr. Dog is a brilliant and noble beast, but he never reads to me. However, there are many situations when I could be searching for such a door without assistance and, by its very nature, such a quest must be achieved quickly. And before a politically correct person suggests brailling the doors. Don’t be daft! Imagine! Patting along the walls of some large, public space for the required dots! Even worse, doing this in increasing desperation! No, the best solution is, ask someone and pray it’s neither the neighbourhood eejit nor a mad axeman.

I can think of no way, except, possibly, a high tech electronic gizmo, which would make the door quickly obvious to someone with little or no sight but, once inside, there’s certainly room for improvement.

Light bulbs, for instance. Disabled toilets are either bathed in bright light or suffused in a weird, blue glow. An eerie, gothic ambience guaranteed to appeal to any Transylvanians taking a comfort stop en route to a rendezvous with the Count. Useless to anyone with poor sight. Apparently, it’s to dissuade folk from shooting up with illegal substances. Aye, here we go! Making life difficult for the law abiding, all because of the feckless few. So, I’m the one blundering around, vainly attempting to orient myself.

And, problems with orientation are aggravated by the very design, or rather, lack of such, in disabled toilets. Unlike the size zero cubicles provided for the general public, these places have to be large. They cater for all manner of crowds and combinations. Crutches, zimmers, a wheelchair, the odd Guide Dog or other Assistance Beastie and a selection of carers. Enough space is required to accommodate at least one eightsome reel set. On the ground floor of the Scottish Parliament, the disabled toilet is so vast it contains a bed! Perhaps it’s rented out during the Festival, either as a venue or as lodgings? One way of repaying the enormous cost of said building, I suppose?

I know I’m talking for myself here, but I’m certain the vastness of disabled toilets must annoy others. Certainly, for anyone who can’t see, a large, unfamiliar space is daunting. Yet, only a small amount of thought and cash would improve this. A tactile surface indicating the position of toilet and sink. Or, build all such toilets to an identical plan. For instance, as the customer stands, with the door closed at their back, have the loo always directly facing; the sink to the left, and drying equipment to the right of that. Okay, that’s just an example. I’m neither an ergonomist, nor a plumber. But, the current, haphazard lottery of various essential items being anywhere against any wall is plain silly. Add the tendency for many establishments to use the disabled loo as a storage place for all sorts of cleaning equipment, always bulky with many, protruding, sharp bits and it’s not just failing to wash your paws which will damage your health!

And why is there no standard system for operating the actual cludgie? Some have an old fashioned chain, to be grabbed before anything can be done with it. Not easy if you cannot see, or are rather short. Some have a paddle shaped handle whose working is so vague and sloppy, it needs a determined shove. Awkward for anyone with limited strength. Only a few have a push button plunger set into the top of a low level cistern. And, while I find that easy to manipulate, with the emphasis on “find” this might not be the case for everybody. And why, oh why are so many loos provided with that mammoth drum of loo paper? Usually at a Hagrid’s arm’s length from the centre of operations and always, but always with the paper secreted far, far away, within the drum. The dexterity involved in retrieving this needs the agility and suppleness of an Olympic gymnast. The varieties in sinks, taps and drying equipment, is, if anything, worse. One of the daftest is in our local hospital. A hi-tech piece of pointlessness masquerading as a tap. Activated by waving one’s paws below it. All explained in a wee poster. In print! Somebody, somewhere, with qualifications, will think this hygienic. Aye right! Hygienic for folk to leave a toilet, paws unwashed and blood pressure sky high because, search around the sink as they might, nary a spicket could be found. And, strange as this may seem, there’s a correlation between being unable to see and being unable to read print.

If you do manage to perform ablutions, what about the drying? Hand driers expelling hot air with hurricane force are grand, once found. Again why not a set position in relation to the sink? Similarly with dispensers of paper towels. Please, please, explain why the basket for used paper towels is never, never anywhere logically near the actual dispenser? I am scunnered with wandering around, waving one foot in the hope it will make contact with this. Usually, I never find it, or, if I do, I knock the blessed thing over. Now, if I have succeeded in drying my paws, I just drop the paper, allowing it to fall into the space where the basket ought to be. Untidy, yes, but no more so than some previous occupant slinging the receptacle into any old spot.

To most, this will have been a peek behind a big, locked door. My proposed improvements all researched at the University of the Blooming Obvious. Nothing requiring the brains of a rocket scientist. Just common sense and a budget miniscule in comparison to a city financier’s pension. I just don’t want to be caught short whilst waiting for their implementation!

© Charlotte Bennie 2010