Be Careful What You Wish For …

I have just got back from a few days away and we had a fabulous time.  Zoos, museums, the waterfront, restaurants, everything was great and very kid friendly. Except one little thing that really made me think.

To set the scene I have two girls, 4 and 18 months, both fully toilet trained during the day.  When out and about the little one needs help to get her pants down and get up on the toilet, but that’s it.  Generally when we’re out we all go to the toilet together, I mean what else are you going to do with them?  So while we can all fit in a normal cubicle we try to go for disabled toilets whenever there isn’t a parenting room.

I was originally a bit conflicted about this.  They’re disabled toilets, I felt guilty about using them when we’re all able.  But on the other hand I’ve never yet seen a person with a disability going to them, much less found someone waiting when we get out.  Not that I sit there and watch who’s going in or out of the toilets.  But we don’t seem to be inconveniencing anyone so we might as well use them.

One of the toilets we visited on this trip (and we visited a LOT!) was shared use – for parents and people with disabilities.  And it makes a lot of sense, small children and parents have a lot of the same needs.  The toilets are often lower, which makes it easier for littlies to get on them, they usually have handholds that very little ones can use to stabilise themselves, there’s room to manoeuvre a pram as well as a wheelchair and the sinks generally have easily accessible taps little kids can work.  In addition, this one had one of the fold-up change stations on the wall.

It also had a sign, asking

“Parents please limit use to avoid impacting disabled users.”

Hang on a minute.

When I’m illicitly using the disabled facitilities as it were I feel a bit off.  If there was a disabled person around I would definitely wait until after them.  But this is a dual use facility.  It has a change table in there and says so right on the door.  So why is one set of users less important that the other?  Why does one set of users have to ‘avoid impacting’ the other?  Flip it around – would it be reasonable to ask disabled people to be quick to avoid impacting on parents?

OK, it takes longer than normal to change a baby.  And I’m sure the girls and I take ages, although not as long as 3 separate people – we have the production line down pat.  But do you really think parents are hanging around in there for fun?  Dawdling away in the public toilets?  They’re such a fun place to hang out, after all.

And how exactly are we supposed to limit use?  Wait until the nappy is really, really full?  Leave them in the pooey nappy until we get home?  Maybe change them kneeling on the ground in the wind and rain outside?  I admit my non-verbal baby has lots of false positives – she often gives me the toilet signal and then doesn’t produce (although that doesn’t seem to happen at home for some reason).  So should I ignore her and take the chance that this time it was real so make her poo her pants?

Would you ask disabled adults to sit in their own urine and faeces so they don’t impact on others?

No.  That is unreasonable.  It is disrespectful and demeaning.  Yet that is precisely what is being asked of children.  Children are not even being treated as second-class citizens, they are being denied (or limiting) basic human rights of hygiene.

Our society does not appear to want children.  It would be interesting to see what happened if that wish came true.

6 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Capricious on October 24, 2009 at 7:28 am

    Hmmm, that’s a bit frustrating. My first thought was that the sign meant ‘limit use’ more like…being aware of not leaving nappies around, or the toilet seat up.

    But then, if it meant ‘be quick’ I don’t understand what the point is? Does anyone really hang around splashing in the basins for fun?

    If it is any consolation, we use the the wheelchair access toilets too, especially when I need to use the bathroom and my son is in a pram. I have never had anyone waiting outside for me to finish either.


  2. Posted by queenstuss on October 24, 2009 at 10:17 am

    I finally stopped feeling guilty about using the disabled toilets. Especially since in the town I live, with four sizeable shopping centres, not one can you easily get into the toilet in the parents’ room with a pram.

    How am I supposed to go to the toilet with a baby in tow? I would never consider using a disabled toilet if I’m on my own, but when I have a pram and REALLY need to go, or have just come out of the supermarket with a trolley full of groceries and my two-year-old REALLY needs to go, what am I supposed to do?

    My local shopping centre has nearly finished major refurbishments, and apparently has put in a 5-star parents room. Hopefully that means that parents can use the toilet, too!


  3. Posted by Coran on October 24, 2009 at 10:18 pm

    I agree, it’s a bit rough for a shared facility to have that sort of sign, but you never know what sort of behaviour might have prompted them to put it up.

    Otherwise, I say use the disabled toilet, we do if necessary. If I’m out with the boys, we can all go the the men’s, but if I’m out with my 7yo daughter then I’m not particularly comfortable sending her into the lady’s where I can’t see her, or assist her if she should need some help for some reason.

    Mind you, who is to tell you that you have no right to use the disabled toilet anyway? What criteria qualify the use of the disable toilet? To look at me you’d not notice my medical condition, and I don’t consider myself disabled, but there are times when I need to use the disabled toilet. It’s the same if you’ve got kids with you, sometimes the disabled toilet is your most appropriate option.


  4. Posted by Nat on October 25, 2009 at 2:52 pm

    I realise that this isn’t true in all cases, but I’m thinking that a lot of the disabled people are going to be more likely to “hold on” than a 2 year old so therefore the 2 year old should be able to go first…especially if it’s a dual use facility!
    Both of the main shopping centres in my town have very good looking parent rooms but neither of them have a toilet big enough to take a pram so if I go in & change nappies and I also need to go to the toilet, I have to leave my children in the pram outside the door praying that noone will take them or hurt them or whatever else crazy people do (often things that we dream up in our head moreso than actually ever happening)…I don’t like that idea so I too use the disabled toilet!


  5. Posted by Cheryl on October 25, 2009 at 7:40 pm

    Recently my 3 year old needed the toilet *desperately* while we were in a shopping centre. The first toilet we found was out of order. The second one we found had a queue out the door. So I steered her in to the disabled toilet. We were pretty quick, no dawdling about. On our way out we found a fuming woman in a wheel chair who gave me a torrent of verbal abuse. I was shocked and said, “I’m sorry but she was desperate.” To which she replied, “Well, I’m desperate”. I felt really unhappy and guilty about the whole incident and confused because in my mind a three year old has a “disability” of not being able to wait to go to the toilet, plus this woman could not have been waiting for more than one or two minutes so it was not a great inconvenience to her. Left a really yucky taste in my mouth.


  6. Cheryl that’s awful. Part of me wants to say to her, well we all get caught in queues sometimes, that’s life. On the other hand I know the discrimination people with disabilities face all the time, it must be really annoying to see anything they’ve finally got to make life easier being used by others. Although as Coran said, who is to know by looking at you what needs or abilities you have!

    The thing I found really disturbing is that disabled toilets are an attempt by society to become more open and inclusive – to allow for different needs. Yet by putting that sign there, they were discriminating against children. I tend to view all the ‘isms’ as the same because to me it isn’t the target that’s important, it’s the fact that there is a power imbalance that is being used to discriminate against someone, whether it be on the basis of sex, race or ability. And in this case, there is a clear discrimination on the grounds of age and family status. We have a long way to go in really doing something about most of the isms, but at least as a society we realise that open sexism, racism or ableism is unacceptable. So why is it acceptable to be ageist?


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