Every day is a broken toilet day

changing places selfie with BBC Look East reporter & cameraman

Well 2017 has begun with a lot of talk about accessible toilets!

I’m so, so, thankful for Anne Wafula Strike speaking out about her horrible experiences due to lack of accessibility on the train.  A culmination of various things, a lack of facilities, a broken toilet, lack of independent access to and from the train, lack of assistance when needed…. lots of layers of accessibility fail.

changing places selfie with BBC Look East reporter & cameraman
BBC Look East changing places selfie

The fact that this has hit the media is fantastic news to me and fellow campaigners, as so many people live similar problems everyday, and I wonder if maybe we’re seeing part of the solution – accessible design – moving into the mainstream forum?!

Toilets of course are not the most glamourous aspect of building design, but, unless you are just whizzing through, they are pretty fundamental to access.  If you go anywhere to work, eat, drink, watch a show or a movie, view some art…. you go there assuming there will be somewhere to go to the loo.  I’m not a big fan of a public loo, but I know I would be quite anxious if there weren’t any available!

I can remember once going to a restaurant (a very small one in London) and when we got there we were told all the loos were out of order, but they had made an arrangement with the pub a few doors down, for customers to use the loo there. A satisfactory short term solution!? But it did feel very odd to leave the restaurant, and your friends, mid meal and go out onto the street!  I remember silly things going through my head, like should I put my coat back on? Take my bag and/or phone?

I also wonder now, would I have gone if I had known that would be the arrangement? Would I return somewhere if it was?

Fast forward a few years (or 10!) and this is now our everyday scenario.

My daughter J is 6 and my son W is 3.  J has developmental & sensory disabilities which mean that she is a wheelchair user and also has continence issues, so wears pads (nappies).

Every day is a broken toilet day for her.  Which means that, if we are out together, then every day is a broken toilet day for all of our family.

Anne Wafula Strike’s experience tells us that there are not enough accessible toilets, or in some circumstances the way to get to those toilets is inaccessible, (e.g. when you’re trapped on a train due to lack of ramp, you can’t just hop off to use one at the next station!) however, even when there is an accessible toilet available, it’s extremely unlikely that we’ll be able to access it.

The typical accessible toilet is designed with a whole host of different disabilities in mind, but the position of the fittings is predominantly to enable independent wheelchair users, those who can stand, weight bear or have the upper body strength to transfer from their chair to the loo.

But what if you can’t transfer on your own to the loo or what if (like J) you need a pad changed and cannot stand up to have it done?

Until recently W had the same toileting needs as J does now, and most places we visited as a family provided exactly the facility he needed.  A changing table.  And, as he was only 2, he fitted perfectly on the changing tables we found.  J is 6.  J hasn’t fitted on a baby changing table for some time, and even if there was a bench large enough to lay her on, she’s also getting to the stage where she’ll be too heavy to transfer without a ceiling hoist, a stage that many many older children and adults are at now.

changing benchceiling hoistIt’s estimated that accessible toilets are inaccessible to at least 1 in 260 people.

There is one toilet in our city centre (Cambridge) that we can use. Only one registered changing places toilet.  In fact we did a little bit of filming with the BBC Look East in there last week! Oh, the glamour of TV!

It’s the only toilet in the city centre that isn’t ‘broken’ to us – but, brilliant as it is to have it available, it’s not in a location you would go.  The only way to get to it is to leave the place you are visiting, eating, viewing and walk to the shopmobility office in a shopping centre car park.  In fact, I do not know of a single place we could go in Cambridge where the toilet is accessible to us.

I’m really keen to understand why there’s not a greater range of facilities in more places. A more inclusive provision in  buildings that people go to, places that people visit.

So if you’re in the building design, construction or management industries I’d be really grateful if you’d complete and share my survey to help me gather views on the accessible toilet guidance available, and any improvements that could be made in design and legislation. (Edited to add: Survey now closed)

I’m looking for feedback from people in all sectors of the building industry, whether you have specific experience or expertise in accessibility or not (in fact the wider the range of experiences the better!).


Accessibility Stories (Nov 16)

Rusty old key in a door lock

Thank you so much to everyone who linked up with #AccessibilityStories last month!

Collage of pictures of smiling children how need changing places toiletsThere has been much discussion within our campaign group about why the need for Changing Places toilets has not really reached the conscious of the general public and, when it does, it’s often misunderstood as Brody Me and GDD describes in Sorry for the Inconvenience.  Of course the official Changing Places campaign has made huge headway (from zero provision!) in it’s 10 years, but at still less than 900 toilets in the whole UK, we felt that perhaps us independent campaigner bloggers could shake things up a bit more if we got together!

So at the end of last month Brody Me & GDD rallied a group of bloggers to publish a wave of posts about the lack of fully accessible toilets, in the hope that a surge of posts, coming from a range of perspectives, might break through the social media noise and reach new people.  And I think we succeeded, at least to some extent!

The name ‘Changing Places’ can be a bit confusing and abstract from peoples lives.  Having a mix of parent bloggers, who don’t normally write about toilets (well some of them do, but maybe not always about changing places!), might make the story more relatable to people who don’t need them.

We decided on Halloween as a date to publish and decided on the theme of #phantomloos (as standard accessible WCs just being an illusion of accessibility to many of us!).

Many of the bloggers hooked up to last month’s #accessibilitystories and there are so many amazing posts I figure it’s just better if you hop over there and have a browse!  I’ll just pick out this storyboard style post by Little Mama Murphy which gives such a clear description of what we are talking about and why, that surely it’s just obvious there should be more changing places!  You can also check out this #PhantomLoos storify a try to capture the mood around the hashtag on twitter.

The most exciting thing to come of the flurry of activity was that a BBC journalist contacted a number of us who had taken part as she was writing up this fantastic article, When does accessible not mean accessible?, published last weekend, on #worldtoiletday!

The linky wasn’t only about toilets though!

Rainbows Are Too Beautiful linked up this beautiful, balanced and heartfelt open letter to Tess Stimson in response to an article she wrote about ‘disruptive’ behaviour in public places.  Rainbows Are Too Beautiful explains how precarious it can be as a family trying to walk that line between tolerance and intolerance and how the limitations society places on what is acceptable can deny people access to typical family life. Have a scroll through the comments to see a thoughtful response from Tess Stimson herself.

And finally A Hunter’s Life posted a great list of their families favourite products! I’m always excited to share great inclusive product ideas, especially those (usually the mainstream products) that don’t come with the higher ‘special needs’ or ‘disability’ price tag!

The linky for November is now open and I’m really looking forward to reading some fab posts from friends old and new!

Please read the guidelines and then get linking below (the linky will be open for 2 weeks)!

Rusty old key in a door lock


  1. Link up to 2 posts each month (old or new)! I don’t have a badge, but it would be lovely if you could add a text link back to my site so people can find the linky and read the other blog entries;
  2. Please comment on this post to introduce yourself if you’re new to the linky, and comment on some of the other linked posts to help share ideas and experiences!
  3. It would also be amazing if you could share your post (using the hashtag #AccessibilityStories) on social media to help spread awareness of the issues around accessibility!  I’ll also try to retweet as many posts as I can!
  4. I welcome input from anyone that is affected by accessible design – users, carers, friends and family as well as designers, developers, managers and legislators (so pretty much everyone then!). I welome blogs from professionals and suppliers as well as individual bloggers as long as they keep within the spirit of idea exchange and are not sales posts for products or services.

Why should we?

Changing Places toilet selfie

Why should we install a changing places?

I can understand that many people have not heard of Changing Places toilets. I understand there’s a valid argument that venues just don’t know about them.  However once they do know….?

I worked in architectural practice up until 2010, just after the guidance was entered into the British Standards (BS 8300), and I honestly hadn’t thought about the building regulations ‘standard unisex accessible WC’ not being adequate for all disabled people.  Don’t ask me how I didn’t know as it seems so obvious now, but it just hadn’t occurred to me what people would do if they couldn’t get onto the loo on their own ! How could someone help to lift them in that little room and without any hoisting equipment!?  And what if you were not a baby (maybe you’ve not been a baby for decades!), but wear an incontinence pad and need assistance to change it? Where would you lay down?

Changing Places toilet selfieIt wasn’t really until my daughter was growing too big for baby changing tables that I began to wonder if I was missing something, and of course when I began to look around I found the Changing Places campaign.  A campaign that had grown out of the frustrations of a determined bunch of parent carers deciding to take action about this lack of provision.

I was excited to find that they had secured a pretty comprehensive entry in BS 8300, recommending the type of buildings these facilities should be installed in.  And there is also reference to this BS guidance, and to the Changing Places Consortium, in the Building Regulations relating to building accessibility (Part M).

However it soon became clear there really weren’t that many of them actually installed.

Ok so it’s a new standard?  There will be loads in the pipeline right?

Now that the need has been identified and quantified in BS guidance, there will be lots of new buildings automatically including them, and lots of existing venues will start installing them…. right?….right!?  Erm….no, not really.

Over the last year or so I’ve gotten to know a number of campaigners pretty well, several of them are fellow SWAN UK members with children with complex undiagnosed conditions, some have older children and some are adults who need the facilities themselves.  Unfortunately their experience has been negative on the whole.  Of course there are some exceptions and some lovely positive stories of venues, on hearing of the need, step up and even enthusiastically take steps to ensure a changing places toilet is installed in their new building or refurbishment.  Some see the benefits of inclusion straight away without much, or even any, persuasion.  Two such projects that spring to mind are Longdown Farm and Cornwall Services – both fantastic examples of how it should be, how I’d have expected it to be.

However the far more frequent response seems to be: “not our responsibility”.  Even when confronted with the fact that their disabled customers & carers have to leave early, risk falls & back injury, lay on toilet floors or even not come at all, the fact that changing places are not compulsory, that there’s no minimum requirement to cater for ‘our kind’ of disability, means that venues see changing places as an extra. Something over and above what they need to provide.  Their competitors haven’t had to do it so they don’t want to be the ones who have to spend the extra money.

I have to say I have a little sympathy for this.  The changing places standard is significantly bigger than designers and developers are used to as an accessible toilet, and of course floor area = cost.  Without clarity of who should install them, and in this financial climate, I can sort of understand individual organisations backing away from responsibility.  My feeling is that there should be a review of the whole ‘suite’ of sanitary facilities we have in our regulations as minimum standards.  I think there’s opportunity to have more inclusive options, for smaller family friendly venues for example, where perhaps the adult and baby changing areas are not put in separate rooms but a single family toilet area is installed, so the room will be used by a greater number of customers and business’ will feel there is more ‘value’ in if for them? But that’s another blog post I think!

As I say, these facilities seem to be viewed (by most?) as an ‘extra’, as something for a minority and not their responsibility to cater for, so thought I’d look at some figures I could find online which (I think!) illustrate clearly that’s not the case (although even if it’s just one person that’s being excluded, isn’t that one too many!?).

The Changing Places Consortium website tells us there are over ¼ million users in the UK who need a greater than the average accessible toilet, in a population of 65.1M (ONS).

So that’s (at least!):

1 : 260 people

1 in 260 may not sound like a huge number of people on first glance, but just to put that into a bit of context, here are some building venue capacity stats:

Blackpool Tower Ballroom (who do have a changing places toilet I must add – #IncLOOsion!) can accommodate:

  • 900 people for a banquet (statistically 3.5 changing places users per banquet),
  • 550 for a dinner dance (statistically 2 changing places users per dinner) ,
  • 1100 for theatre performance (statistically 4 changing places users per performance).

Wembley Stadium (who, again, do have a changing places toilet) has:

  • 90,000 seats (= statistically 346 people per match needing CPs)
  • 2,618 toilets (including 1 Changing Places Toilet!) in this one (granted, very large!) venue, yet there are only *895 Changing Places in the WHOLE UK!

For an area with such high density of entertainment & tourist venues, the west end of London has particularly poor provision of changing places, and I don’t mean to single out these two over any other (because they ALL should have one) but, for example:

The Royal Opera House auditorium seats:

  • 2,256 people ( = statistically 8.7 people/performance needing CPs)

The Odeon at Leicester Square has:

  • 1683 Seats (= statistically 6.5 people/screening needing CPs)

So, some of my questions to businesses who are questioning whether they should have better accessible toilet facilities in their building or venue are:

  1. Do you have toilets for your other customers? Why would you expect our family to leave your venue to find a toilet somewhere else when you don’t expect other people (who are most likely more mobile!) to do this?
  2. What is the capacity of your venue? If it’s greater than 260 people, then statistically at any one time there may be someone who needs a changing places toilet using your service.  And they are most likely to be there with friends and family (or often at least a carer), and if they have to leave early, they’ll all leave!
  3. Do you see yourselves as an accessible building/venue? Then shouldn’t that accessibility extend to all users?

I’m not suggesting tiny coffee shops should be expected to provide fully accessible facilities (although of course that would be lovely and very inclusive!), and perhaps some people may say I am too close to the issue to see it objectively, but I am really struggling to understand why there is any debate as to whether meeting this need should become a minimum requirement in larger publicly accessible buildings, ones that provide toilets for everyone else!

*total figure in November 2016

October Celebrations!

It’s been a busy few weeks in our (sooner to be) inclusive home!

Not only was it the half term holiday from school and nursery (seems to have come around V quickly since the summer holidays!), we also had….

1 x wedding anniversary! = a yummy grown up meal out!

2 x children’s birthdays! = one outing with the grandparents to the beautiful gardens at Ickworth House National Trust and one halloween craft party with the kid’s cousins and the neighbour’s kids – eek!

2 x more family birthdays …. and…

…. my 2nd blog anniversary!

img_5605Quite how I managed to set up and publish my first post in such a busy fortnight two years ago I’ve absolutely no idea!!

By lovely coincidence we had surprise cause for extra celebration just before my blog anniversary our planning permission for the adaptations came through several days earlier than we expected the decision!  Very exciting! We can get on and get started, after all we’ve only been talking about it for two years 😉

I know the disabled adaptations process can be slow, but I would like to make it very clear that in this instance it’s entirely our own fault that it’s taken this long! Day to day life, work, a minor disagreement on the shape of the roof of the extension (a result of having 2 designers in the house!) and getting distracted with other projects (including this blog – oops!) has sort of interrupted actually getting on with the drawings and submitting the application!

I’d like to do a more detailed project update blog post in the next week or so (now that we have the official go ahead!) but I’ll try not to let that distract me too much form the actual project!!

We MUST try and get those detailed drawings started asap and keep up the momentum to achieving our inclusive home!


Accessibility Stories (Oct 16)

Rusty old key in a door lock

Thank you so much to everyone who linked up with my first ever #AccessibilityStories linky last month!

Perhaps it’s a reflection on the circles I move in (the toilet obsessed!), that several of the blogs linked were posts about changing places toilets.  A lack of true accessibility and inclusion, affecting so many families (including ours) being able to take part in ‘normal’ activities across the whole country!

Brody, Me & GDD beautifully describes the grim realisation as her boy grows that there is very little toilet provision for older children and adults who need assistance in the loo, and comes to the conclusion that she must do something about it! “We can choose to be affected by the world. Or we can choose to affect it

Mum On a Mission describes so eloquently the heartbreak of her and her son having to ‘make do’ in an unsuitable ‘accessible’ toilet in The future I’m trying to Change and, on the Selfish Mother, she talks of the struggle of feeling unheard and unvalued, when explaining to business’ how excluded our families are made to feel, in Why are Some Customers More Valued than Others

Ordinary Hopes has written so many amazing posts about how the lack of changing places toilets limits her son’s independence and opportunities. A crucial point she makes is that her son IS continent.  Changing places toilets are not only necessary for those who need to change nappies or pads.  For her son it’s not an issue of waiting until he gets home to change a pad, or grinning and bearing a pad change in an unsuitable space – he needs the use of a hoist to be able to use the loo.  To be able to use the loo like his friends and stay out and have fun, rather than being ruled by his bladder. He is very much aware of this inequality in provision and illustrates this with his lego character Tina. However, some venues do really live up to their inclusive image and this lovely positive post about the Eden Project describes just what a difference that makes!

Little Mama Murphy linked up two posts this month about her amazing home adaptations project! Another issue so close to my heart! ‘Disabled adaptations’ can be such a confusing, limited and expensive process. Many of us watch programmes like DIY SOS and wish the team would miraculously appear and perform an amazing inclusive family transformation of our home.  Well Little Mama Murphy has managed just that! With a team of the most brilliant friends and family members, donating their time and skill to carry out the #BigBuild4Hugh! True community spirit!

Rainbows Are Too Beautiful (I love the title of this blog!) reminds us that not all accessibility needs are physical.  Sensory issues can make a place inaccessible to many people too, and she describes how her family often have to reccy a venue in advance of visiting as a whole family in Caution at the Aquarium

You can read all the posts linked so far on my Accessibility Stories Pinterest board.

Rusty old key in a door lock as an analogy for difficult access

The linky for October is now open and I’m really looking forward to reading some fab posts from friends old and new!

Please read the guidelines and then get linking below (the linky will be open for 2 weeks)!


  1. Link up to 2 posts each month (old or new)! I don’t have a badge, but it would be lovely if you could add a text link back to my site so people can find the linky and read the other blog entries
  2. Please comment on this post to introduce yourself if you’re new to the linky, and comment on some of the other linked posts to help share ideas and experiences!
  3. It would also be amazing if you could share your post (using the hashtag #AccessibilityStories) on social media to help spread awareness of the issues around accessibility!  I’ll also try to retweet as many posts as I can!
  4. I welcome input from anyone that is affected by accessible design – users, carers, friends and family as well as designers, developers, managers and legislators (so pretty much everyone then!). I welome blogs from professionals and suppliers as well as individual bloggers as long as they keep within the spirit of idea exchange and are not sales posts for products or services.

Shouldn’t all homes be inclusive?

Originally posted on Clos-O-Mat & Building Talk

Before my children came along and I became a full time parent carer, I worked in architectural practice.  Most of my design experience has been in home design, from individual house alterations to large scale newbuild and refurbishment projects.

Rough sketch of a house planI have to say I particularly enjoy the challenge of getting stuck in to an individual home project.  It’s extremely rewarding to see how much of a difference a bit of lateral thinking, and sometimes just a few small changes, can make to the way a house works for a family.  Perhaps by releasing a bit more breathing space through changes to the layout, adding better storage to make rooms feel less cluttered or maybe extending out or up to add extra rooms.

For me it’s important to take a broad view, think about how a family uses the spaces now, and in the future.  Are the room functions in the right places?  Is there any under-utilised space? Can circulation be simplified?

Becoming a mum to my little girl with developmental disabilities has reignited my passion for encouraging more widespread consideration of accessible and inclusive design in home design, as well as places, spaces and products.

I’m also a keen advocate of sustainable design (a much, probably over, used term!), and am passionate about improving the sustainability of our new and existing homes.  But by this I don’t just mean energy efficiency, that is just a part of what good sustainable design should be.

Sustainability is also about longevity, cost effectiveness and minimising waste.  If a home is built with flexibility in mind from the start, that seems to me to be fundamental to the sustainability ethos – in that it will last longer, cost less over the lifetime of the house and be changeable without being wasteful.

Designing a home for a whole lifetime’s needs (to standards like lifetime homes), will make subsequent alterations as unobtrusive and cost effective as possible and, quite apart from anything else, if you reach a time in your, or a loved one’s, life when greater accessibility becomes more critical, invasive building work is probably the last thing you will want to think about!

Accessibility also nicely slots in to the health and wellbeing aspect of sustainable design – why not make sure our homes more welcoming to ALL of our friends and family whose needs may be different to our own (perhaps granny with a walking aid, or your newly crawling niece or nephew?).

However for some reason inclusive design still doesn’t seem to be seen as a mainstream concept.  There’s a perception that accessibility is only for wheelchair users. House design is either ‘wheelchair friendly’ or not, and there really is an acute shortage of the ‘wheelchair friendly’ variety.

It’s widely acknowledged that there is a housing crisis in the UK at the moment, with particular shortages in the south east of England and this compounds the shortage of accessible homes.

EJ in her standing frame facing her baby brother in a bouncerSomehow the idea that inclusive design (or even better accessible or universal design) is of benefit to us all, isn’t being embraced!  I guess if you are young and fit it’s easy to be oblivious as to how our environment and buildings can make life difficult (or even impossible) for some people, but if you get injured and have to use crutches or a wheelchair, or even try to push a pram or wheel a large suitcase around, the environment can suddenly appear very inhospitable.

One of my dreams is to see inclusive design become ‘everyday’, for there no longer to be any need to differentiate inclusive design as a separate, niche, concept.  I want to see fantastic examples of accessible homes featured on TV makeover shows, and in the homestyle magazines, so that disabled people and their families are presented with inspirational examples of how fantastic their homes can be, and (perhaps more importantly) so that non disabled people see inclusive design as an interesting and exciting design approach for life-long happy homes – to break the perception that accessibility is all ugly plastic grab rails and old fashioned stair lifts.

I want to see a celebration of design that is flexible for a variety of needs, design that not only works for you, your children and your grandchildren but that is stylish and ideal homes worthy!

Good inclusive design should allow everyone to be able to participate as fully with family life (as they want to!) as naturally as possible – what can be more valuable than that?

Keep Calm and Carry On Linking Sunday

Accessibility Stories (sept 16)

I am very excited to be launching my shiny new linky today!

I’m hoping this will turn into a helpful informal tool to allow an exchange of ideas and experiences (good and bad!) of the accessibility of buildings, places, spaces and products, and to spread the message much further than our lone voices can!

Rusty old key in a door lock

I welcome input from anyone that is affected by accessible design – users, carers, friends and family as well as designers, developers, managers and legislators – so pretty much everyone then!

I intend for this to be a regular monthly thing, on the last Thursday of the month, so a round up of the month’s posts of sorts (however posts don’t have to be written that month, or indeed new!).  Depending on the number of posts linked, I’ll write up a little summary or pick out a few highlights at of the previous month’s entries when I post the next link.

I’m really looking forward to reading some fab posts from friends old and new!

Please read the guidelines and then get linking below (the link will be open for a week)!


1. Link up to 2 posts each month (old or new)! I don’t have a badge, but it would be lovely if you could add a text link back to my site so people can find the linky and read the other blog entries.

2. Please comment on this post to introduce yourself if you’re new to the linky, and comment on some of the other linked posts to help share ideas and experiences!

3. It would also be amazing if you could share your post (using the hashtag #AccessibilityStories) on social media to help spread awareness of the issues around accessibility!  I’ll also try to retweet as many posts as I can!

4. I welome blogs from professionals and suppliers as well as individual bloggers as long as they keep within the spirit of idea exchange and are not sales posts for products or services.

When is accessible not accessible?

Changing Places toilet selfie

Toilets may not be the most glamourous element in a building but they are certainly necessary! Often classed as part of the building’s ‘core’  – it’s essential workings – we’d never consider designing a building without them.  Indeed we wouldn’t even expect to attend a temporary outdoor event without some toilet provision being put in place…. but are they accessible to everyone?

sketch plan unisex accessible WC
Unisex Accessible WC

Architects and developers all know this little diagram of a unisex wheelchair accessible toilet from part M of the building regs.

There’s lots of info about the design of this loo, the minimum dimensions, the positioning of sanitaryware and fittings which are all critical to enable a wheelchair user to transfer to the loo and (maybe just?) enough space for a carer to assist an ambulant disabled person to use the loo.

It’s automatic to include this accessible toilet in our designs now (of course it’s part of legislation so we have to, but) it’s inclusion isn’t it? Everyone has to go to the loo so we need to make sure that where there are toilets, there’s a facility for everyone, right? Well, actually, no.

Changing Places toilet selfieThe thing is, this ‘unisex accessible wc’ is actually pretty small when it comes to using them in a wheelchair, particularly a motorized chair (check out your nearest one!), and impractical (if not impossible) if you are not able to transfer on your own or can’t stand up to change an incontinence pad.

It seems so obvious to me now, when I really look at that drawing, and see the compact little wheelchair drawn neatly next to the loo.

My 5.5 year old daughter needs assistance with personal care.  She wears nappies/pads.  She outgrew ‘baby change’ tables long ago and yet cannot use this accessible loo.  What do we do? Where can she change?  (I refuse to entertain the idea of laying her on the floor!).

Sometimes (if we ask) we may be offered the first aid room.  Which for us is doable as EJ is still small enough for me to lift without a hoist, and we don’t need the use of a toilet – but this is discretionary and not a permanent solution.

So most often we go home – we cut our trips to the length of time it’s reasonable between nappy changes – we are timetabled and our lives restricted by the toilet.  Or, if it’s not possible to go home, we might change her in the car (not very dignified, or practical, especially as she grows older).

So many people end up with no choice but to change their loved ones on that small area of floor in the ‘disabled loo’.

People don’t really talk about their toilet needs, or the needs of those they care for – it’s all a bit embarrassing and many people just make do or stay home – so I think the lack of facilities is just a case of not knowing there is a need, unless you have the need, and a lack of joined up policy that we (society) are only just starting to catch up with.

I’m ashamed to admit that working as an architect (pre-children) I didn’t put two and two together. I worked in housing mostly, including extra care housing, where we designed accessible homes with space for carers, bath and shower rooms with ceiling hoists etc, but it really didn’t occur to me that those sorts of facilities wouldn’t be provided for people when they’re out and about!

The best practice standards for Changing Places toilets were conceived to address these needs.  A CPT is essentially a larger room, with space enough to accommodate a large wheelchair/scooter, 2 carers, a changing bench and a ceiling hoist (in addition to toilet and wash basin).

Plan of a Changing Places Toilet
#ChangingPlaces Toilet

The Changing Places campaign  has just celebrated it’s 10th year, and in that time the Changing Places toilet best practice standards have been included in BS 8300:2009 (section 12.7) and referenced in Part M of the building regs. However, despite official acknowledgment of this need, it’s still not compulsory for ANY building to install a changing places toilet, irrespective of building use or occupant capacity.  I think this is a huge deal, because when something is only recommended it implies it is ‘not essential’ – however to those of us who need them, they really ARE essential!  There’s also a huge potential to miss recommendations completely, when already juggling the complexities of all the complusory regulations in a large building project.

There are now over 850 registered Changing Places in public places and venues across the UK, which is both exciting (given that from nothing the campaign has had 850 successes) and also shocking (in that there are only 850 toilets in the WHOLE of the UK that my daughter can use!).  For example there are only 2 CPTs listed in the whole of our home city of Cambridge!  One at Addenbrookes Hospital, and the other in the Grand Arcade shopping centre – I would hope more places in Cambridge would welcome disabled visitors than that, but how far is it reasonable to travel away from the only toilet you can use?

It does have to be acknowledged that Changing Places toilets do require a significant amount of space and, understandably, to many smaller individual retailers/venues & in refurbished buildings the degree of space and cost required can be quite a commitment.  However if your project is smaller, or existing building too awkward, to accommodate a BS standard changing places toilet, please don’t dismiss the idea! There are other options for upgrading the standard facilities and it is definitely worth speaking with access consultants or the CP consortium to help you get the best out the space available.

My own view is that in smaller venues, particularly those with a family friendly ethos, should be looking to provide more inclusive ‘family facilities’ – perhaps where they’d currently provide a baby change area, one that would provide space for all, from babies to grannies (and everyone inbetween) who need help to use the loo.  Something in the spirit of these proposals by the Space to Change campaign. (Note: if thinking of combining facilities, care has to be taken to ensure the needs of those currently met by the ‘unisex accessible WC’ are not compromised).

As an architect passionate about inclusive design, I’m hoping that we can encourage our clients to see the positive impact in upgrading their toilet facilities.  Make those ‘reasonable adjustments’, asked for by the Equality Act, and make buildings welcoming and inclusive for all.

Family out shoppingOften the focus of discussion around ‘more standards’ can become negative.  Quite understandably, clients are concerned about cost, loss of area & sometimes security…. however aside from the improved sense of inclusion around their business, there is the huge potential increase in patronage by disabled customers (and not forgetting their friends and family!), if the facility is effectively promoted and well integrated in the design to ensure good security.

Research tells us the purple pound represents billions to our economy! People with greater accessibility needs, families like ours, want to get out and about and enjoy our built environment, socialise, spend money as much as the next person!

Where EJ can’t go, then we can’t go, so we will choose to go to the shopping centre, restaurant, cinema, tourist attractions where we know our child, friend, partner, parent can use the loo comfortably – We will stay there longer, and we will spend more money!

I’d like to end with this link to a fab blog by fellow changing places campaigner @ordinaryhopes who, I think, really illustrates the challenges our built environment presents us with, and one of my favourite quotes from one of her posts:

At the end of the day, it isn’t really about the toilet. Nobody goes to a theme park just to use their toilet. We want to be able to use their toilet so that we can go to the theme park


Keep Calm and Carry On Linking Sunday

check out the toilets

sketch plan unisex accessible WC

Have you ever considered how wheelchair accessible the average ‘disabled toilet’ might be? Next time you are out at a café, shop, cinema, or even in your office, check out the toilet (even better take a friend or colleague and an office chair, or wheelchair if you have one, and do a bit of role play! – I’d especially love for building developers, designers and facilities managers to try this!)…..

sketch plan unisex accessible WC
Unisex Accessible WC

Now open the door…..

  1. Could you wheel a chair into the room? Is there space around loo for the chair so that you (the seated person) could transfer to the loo (some people prefer to transfer from the side and some from the front)?  There’s not a bin in the way is there? That’s a very common frustration! Or a mop, hoover or even spare office supplies!? More common than you would imagine!  If you can – brilliant! – that’s a tick from many part time wheelchair users and full time wheelchair users able to self transfer.
  1. However, now imagine you cannot transfer to the loo on your own. You may be able to stand and weight bear so perhaps your friend (carer) could help you?  Is there enough space to do that? With the chair in there too…. and the door closed? A bit of a squeeze?  But what if you cannot weight bear? Can your friend help you get over to the loo?  Is there a ceiling hoist? A portable hoist?  If not is it safe for them to lift you from chair to loo!? Probably not.
  1. Finally imagine you wear an incontinence pad and cannot stand up to change. What do you do?  Is there a changing bench big enough for you to lie on? A hoist? If yes – brilliant! Gold star! If no, what do you do?  Are you prepared to be lifted by your friend out of your chair to lie on the floor? And is your friend happy to lift you, another adult!, on a slippy toilet floor, lower you onto the floor and then kneel down on said floor to help you to change? I suspect not…!

The solution to scenarios 2 & 3 would be a #ChangingPlaces Toilet (as well a whole range of other scenarios for which changing places are the solution too).  A toilet with a changing bench and hoist and a bit more floor space that can accommodate a wheelchair user, their wheelchair (some electric wheelchairs in particular are lot larger than the compact one shown in the above sketch!), plus 1 or 2 carers to move around comfortably.  Have a look at the map on the Changing Places Consortium website to see where the nearest one to you is.  Chances are it’s not very close! As I sit writing this, google maps tells me the closest one to me is 2.5 miles!

Would you travel that far to use the loo!?

No neither would we, so we have to go home or change our daughter in the car.  However there is so often no choice for people but to use that small, uncomfortable, dirty toilet floor…..


Keep Calm and Carry On Linking Sunday

talking of home

Vaila and the other speakers on stage

I gave a short talk at the Health, Social Care & Housing conference last week!   One of a series of sessions running parallel with the main Chartered Institute of Housing Conference in Manchester from 28-30th June (#CIHhousing16).

Laptop showing powerpoint slides It’s totally out of my comfort zone, but raising awareness of inclusive & accessible housing is such an important issue to me that when Habinteg kindly asked me to join them in a talk, I just had to say yes!

Habinteg are champions of accessible design and are one of the founders, and now maintainers, of Lifetime Homes standards (the widely used inclusive design standards for housing). Habinteg’s Paul Gamble chaired the session, which examined the links between accessible housing and the pressures in social care.  The two other speakers were researcher Martin Wheatley (@wheatley_martin) and Michelle Horn from Centre for Accessible Environments.

Martin presented highlights from the new research he’s been carrying out (involving Habinteg, Papworth Trust, IPSOS Mori & LSE), trying to identify and quantify the REAL need for accessible housing. Such a difficult area to pin down as not all people who need increased accessibility necessarily identify themselves as disabled, and/or may not be ‘in the system’, so even these new results could be an underestimate of the real need. (And of course that’s putting aside the fact that although every family doesn’t ‘need’ their home to be accessible right now, every family, at any point in time, could need their home to be more accessible for themselves or for their wider friends and family).

Some really interesting findings were presented, which could help give context to, and generate a more widespread appreciation for, the value of inclusive and accessible design in the mainstream.  The two findings that excited me most were:

  1. Disabled people are not mostly old people! Martin’s stats showed that over 50% of disabled people are working age people or children.  I think this is really important for design, because often the perception of accessibility is ‘old age’ and this often takes the style and glamour out of it! (Not that I’m saying older people are not stylish and glamourous you understand! I know many who are! – but there does seem to be a hint of the industry not trying very hard when it comes to design + old age.
  2. Accessiblity features don’t put house buyers off! I think this is huge! Part of the research was a survey of a typical cross section of society (with a broadly proportionate number of disabled & non-disabled people). The question was broken down into elements (broadly similar to the lifetime homes categories) and most were seen as an advantage rather than disadvantage.  It was just the very specialist items, like vertical lifts, that were deemed were off-putting (presumably to those who didn’t need them!). I think this is really valuable information to help demonstrate the desirability of accessibility!

Michelle talked of our existing housing situation in the uk. For example, at present only 6% of our homes have even the basic accessibility features, in line with the new ‘visitable’ building regulations standards (Part M: Category 1).  So even if we were building 100% of homes to lifetime homes standards (or Part M: Category 2), it’s going to take us a very long time to reach anywhere near enough to house the current estimate of 20% of families with a member who has access needs. And if we are to continue on our current trajectory, only providing 10% of wheelchair accessible housing in our newbuild developments, there’s no doubt that more expensive (and disruptive) adaptations will continue to be necessary to existing properties.

Vaila and the other speakers on stageMy own contribution to the talk was one of two halves.  Firstly our own home story, told from a family perspective, what ‘making do’ actually means for us and what we plan to do to our house – you can read part one of my talk on Habinteg’s blog.

The second half was more of a call to action – How do we shake the perception that accessibility is niche? That there isn’t inclusive design & normal design, that if society is really serious about inclusion and equality, then shouldn’t all design be inclusive? Edited to add: Habinteg have posted part two on their blog too.

I’m so glad I took part in the talk. It was great to meet & chat to the other speakers and we had some lovely feedback from people who attended.

Habinteg are following up with a day of action on Friday 8th July!

Do get involved on twitter with the #ForAccessibleHomes hashtag!


picture books

Children's books

One of the things I miss about not working in the office is access to the practice library.

The internet is brilliant for finding information, ideas, images…. especially when you are researching for a blog from the comfort of your own sofa!  But not everything is available online.  Building standards, reglulations and technical design guides for example.  I’ve also found it quite tricky finding interesting and inspiring examples of accessible housing projects online… and of course the internet is not quite the same as flicking through real paper books, with pretty pictures in.  Designers do like a pretty coffee table picture book or magazine for a bit of inspiration!


The picture books beginning to take over my bookshelves are not quite relevant for building design… unless you count Iggy Peck Architect, Rosie Revere Engineer & What Do People Do All Day?!

It was my birthday recently and some of my lovely relatives gave me some money to spend so I thought it was about time I treated myself to some nice new books (to compete with the kids on bookshelf space!) and to get me up to date with new ideas and get some design inspiration.

So, as you do (when you want some geeky techie books and coffee table architecture books), I popped onto the RIBA Bookshops website and searched for:


Ok well I’ll try:


I wasn’t expecting loads of titles, but I have to say I was pretty surprised to see next to nothing come up on any of the searches I did for accessibility, inclusive design, wheelchair accessibility….!  So much so, I emailed the bookshop to ask if I was missing something, but they only came back with a couple of other titles.  Another big surprise was that, of all the titles I found, only 2 are post 2010! Only two accessible design titles listed in the UK’s biggest architecture bookshop published after the Equalities Act!?

It would be nice to think this is because accessible & inclusive design publications don’t need to be singled out from the general design books….. maybe one day….. but I don’t think that’s it.  I just don’t think we (we, as in everyone, not just designers) have grasped the importance of accessibility for all of us, not just as a niche, not just as a token gesture.

My other theme of interest is sustainable & eco design, and it’s telling just how much a general popular interest in this concept has broadened it’s appeal, and I guess, snowballed the demand for ‘eco’ building, such that there is now a pretty good selection of specialist books for that subject, plus coverage in general architectural design books, magazines and the home design media.  My searches for titles in this category came up with much more healthy results:

Eco homes/housing/house = 121/154/600 products

Green homes/house = 22/14 products

So, I don’t quite know how we start it, but for so many reasons, not least if we are serious about building an inclusive society, we really need to start an accessible design snowball ASAP….!



are home design magazines accessible?

No, not directly anyway.

But, with a little shift in focus, I think they could quite easily be more inclusive.

I tend to buy a home design/refurbishment/style magazine each month. Not always the same one, I like a bit of variety!

This month (July 2015) I decided to do a little bit of homework and grabbed a selection of them. My perception was that there wouldn’t be much mention of inclusive design or accessibility, but I’d never really scrutinized them before and thought it would be an interesting exercise to be more analytical about it. And so, I decided to read my selection (Grand Designs, Homebuilding & Renovating, House Beautiful and Living Etc) word by word from cover to cover to see how many direct (and indirect) references I could find….

My criteria was: Use of the words (or variations of): disability, accessibility, inclusive/universal/design for all, flexibility and/or any articles which made reference to future needs, varying abilities etc. So my results were….

A pretty resounding: NIL 

This mini study was obviously with a very small sample group so I could be doing a disservice to the magazines I selected, however…

IMG_3587In the 4 magazines the only time I saw the word ‘accessible‘, it was in relation to the colour blue!

I spotted the word ‘disabled’ in one article (hurrah!), but it was just one sentence about how self building was something everyone can do, and unfortunately there was no expansion of the statement to explain the benefits that self-building held for those with a disability.

No use of the word inclusive at all (that I could find).

However there were a few articles that referred to flexibility for future use (mostly in the context of growing families.  I feel a little bit of extra content could easily have extended that concept to include families or individuals with other needs).

Another article mentioned multi-generational living. It’s an area which I find really interesting from an inclusive perspective, except that in this particular article it was used in the context of the older generation not selling up, and therefore causing a stagnation of the housing market.  (I’m not really clear how multi-generation living would cause a problem in this way as, it seems to me, to be a positive way to inhabit larger homes!?) – A slightly odd take on it I felt, but at least it was mentioned!

Also an ad for a new kit home (House Beautiful) covered multi-generational living.  This was one of the 3 show homes built at the Ideal Home Show. By far my favourite as it looked to me as if it probably complies (or comes close to) Lifetime Homes standards.

However although there were no direct references to inclusion, there were lots of articles and at least one or two lovely projects featured (in each magazine) that contained many aspects relevant to inclusive design. Lots of projects with big open plan living spaces, many ‘single level homes’ (bungalows!), some 2/3 storey homes with a downstairs loo (some large enough for a shower!) and a couple that also featured a separate room that I thought might be suitable to convert to a bedroom (if needed by a family member or overnight guest that couldn’t use the stairs)!

It would have been lovely to see these inclusive aspects highlighted and celebrated in the articles. An ideal opportunity to prompt people to think about their own future needs, and to think about how they could make their home more welcoming to disabled or elderly friends or family.  Not to mention giving some inspirational examples to people who are actively seeking to make their home more accessible!

And purely from a sale’s point of view…there’s whole market out there that isn’t being catered for (e.g. this gov article about the ‘purple pound’ on the high st)!



design that cares

It’s Carers week 2015 in the UK so I thought I’d write a little bit about us and about the difference a ‘care friendly’ home would make.

We are all on different journeys to become carers, for some it is a sudden occurrence (through accident or sudden illness), but for most (I think?) it’s a very gradual thing.

IMG_3402We didn’t know EJ was going to have additional needs when she was born, her neurological condition only gradually revealed itself to us.  She’s now 4.5 and is non-verbal with very limited communication and understanding, is mobile in a sort of bunny hop/bumshuffle fashion, can stand and take a few steps with support but is a long way from walking (if she ever does?). I still feel a bit weird about the term carer as it applies to me – I’m a mum, and being a mum to any child is being a carer – isn’t it? However I can see that the older EJ gets, the more I will fit into the role of parent carer. My days continue to involve a lot of guessing what she needs/wants, nappy changing, help with eating, lifting, oh and hugs!  Lots of hugs!

In my ideal world we’d already live in an accessible home, or at least one built to inclusive design standards like lifetime homes. When we bought our house it was more a matter of finding something we could actually afford in an area that my husband could commute to work from! The house we have is the only one we found that fitted those categories (it only fitted the affordability category as it needed quite a lot of TLC!) – but, it is not accessible.

We, like so many others, are ‘making do’ in an unsuitable house (for other people’s stories see Leonard Cheshire’s #Hometruths campaign).

We could move – but there is a real lack of accessible housing on the private sale market and almost zero on the private rental market.

We could join the council housing/housing association list – but again there’s a distinct lack of available properties and therefore any that come up are in extremely high demand.

Or finally, (and this is the route we are going down) we could adapt. (We are very grateful that there is some financial support for this in the form of the Disabled Facilities Grant, but it is a long process and, of course, is a limited sum – so to meet Twinkle’s needs our project will involve partially self funding – ie borrowing more!).

None of our options would be a quick fix, and most would involve a large amount of upheaval, stress and cost – something that people finding themselves needing care or in a caring role can little afford – and for that reason, many just struggle on continuing to try and ‘manage’ with what they have.

Unfortunately the house building industry often seems to pigeonhole design very much as ‘wheelchair friendly’ or ‘normal’. But what is ‘normal’!?

If you think about it, everyone begins life ‘disabled’! We’re not born walking, most of us begin life ‘on wheels’! Many of us will also end life with reduced mobility (not to mention the whole spectrum of conditions between cradle and grave that could affect our use and enjoyment of our homes (sight, hearing, dementia…..). To me it just seems wasteful and unsustainable not to design homes to allow for this transition as easily as possible!

Some councils, have adopted a standard called Lifetime Homes for new houses. It is meant as exactly that. It doesn’t have to be fully wheelchair accessible from the start, but that the fundamentals of the design should consider a whole lifetime’s needs. The house, and access to it, follow a checklist of features that would make life much easier for a disabled or elderly resident or visitor (and therefore also for those caring for them). The design should also take into account how it could be adapted in the future if needed (e.g. where lifts or hoists could be positioned for the greatest benefit and least impact on the rest of the family).

I would love to see this standard adopted nationally for new housing. It would ease so much pressure (both mental and physical!) for people if their home accommodated them easily, no matter their ability, without having to go through disruptive changes at a difficult time in their lives (not to mention helping free up space in hospitals if people can more easily return to their own homes!).

But the scope shouldn’t just be new houses! Like us, most people live in a ‘2nd hand house’! What I’d like to see is more inspiration and information out in the mainstream media about the benefits of inclusive and accessible design for everyone. There is the occasional article in the mags or a feature on home design TV shows, and (of course!) there is the gold standard – DIYSOS Big Build – who do amazing work! However generally these features tend to include a disabled family member. How often is there any mention of accessibility or inclusion otherwise? So often when these TV shows start off, the family is young and able, with no children (or pregnant, so many of them are pregnant!), building a home for their new family life – how fab would it be to discuss inclusive design in this context – a home that’s easily adaptable for whatever life throws at you?!

We need a change in perception! We need to get people thinking about how their home can be comfortable for the long haul? Consider flexibility for the future!

I understand that it may seem a bit depressing to be talking about degenerative health when you embark on a new and exciting house project, but inclusive design is not just about illness, disability and old age. Inclusion is about multi-generations. It’s about children, people with bikes to store, being able to get big furniture into the house without taking out a door frame! It’s about well considered planning. You only have to watch a few episodes of Grand Designs or read a few interiors and house design magazines and to see that people are aspiring to lovely wide open plan spaces, level garden decks etc – lots of things that are completely compatible with inclusive design. Nothing makes achieving wheelchair turning circles easier than minimizing narrow corridors and gaining more open plan living space! Lifetime homes/design for all needs is just an extension of what people are already moving towards. With an extra layer of thought added:  Where would a vertical lift go if one was needed in the future? Would a room downstairs be able to become a bedroom? What about wheelchair storage areas (also useful for bikes, buggies, kids trikes/scooters) or the downstairs loo big enough to fit a wet floor shower (- and how useful for hosing down muddy kids and dogs too!)?

We are all willing to take out insurances to protect our fincances when we buy a home, so why not consider our future needs in our home when making a big investment like an extension and/or refurbishment? I think people would be open to consider these ideas were they made aware of the the benefits and offered inspiration!

I think a lot can be learned from the way that improvements in energy efficiency performance has moved up the agenda in recent years. An Eco home is now a sellable feature so why shouldn’t inclusive sit proudly alongside eco on that estate agents brochure!?

Spectrum Sunday
Mummy Times Two