Kay Morgan-Gurr is our guest blogger this week. The is one half of a husband-wife team that work in Children’s ministry, running Children Worldwide. Kay has fibromylagia and myofascial pain syndrome, and after talking to her at a recent conference about the trials of accessing an accessible toilet, I asked her to write a blog on it. For more from Kay, see her blog here.
Being a Christian who has a disability can be interesting at times – especially when accessing church. But being a Christian leader with an itinerant ministry and a disability adds a whole new realm to the experience! Often it’s hilarious, sometimes it’s painful.
I try to look at my experiences with humour and often say “I don’t complain, I educate”. So please – take all the following in the spirit that is intended….. I’m not complaining – I’m educating.
This time I’m educating with a little toilet humour!
Let’s be honest, It’s a basic need we all have! We all want to get into the toilet without tripping over mops or banging our head on cupboards. We also like to be able to reach the basin and wash our hands in warm water. And most importantly, we also like to be able to open the door to get in! Am I right? I thought so.
But for people like myself, it doesn’t always work like that.
I’ve been stuck not being able to reach the loo roll as the dispenser was on the other side of the room – completely out of reach of any one. But in another loo there have been piles of toilet rolls put in there for storage leaving no room to maneuver a wheelchair!
I’ve even shared the toilet with assorted toys, stage sets, uniforms, coats, hygiene supplies and paint. I often find a sick bucket, dirty nappies….. And a spare wheelchair. (Apparently logic dictates that spare wheelchairs should be stored in the accessible loo…..)
I’ve even not been able to reach an old fashion pull chain to flush, because the chain was too short. And even better – the emergency pull chord tied up too high for me to reach, so the children won’t play with it.
Occasionally I find that accessible toilets in churches are used as extra storage space and the only way to get in is to get out of my chair and walk in. Sometimes when I have managed to get my chair in – the church have put in a storage cupboard whose bottom edge is just at a wheelchair users head hight, producing some interesting ‘eggs’ on my head.
Some churches are so caring they risk assess everything for those of us with disabilities. For some churches, it’s a health and safety risk to have hot water in the accessible toilet because apparently disabled people can’t be trusted not to scald themselves(!)
Leaving that aside – the biggest problem is due to a misunderstanding of fire regulations. Many churches put automatic door closers on the accessible toilet door thinking they need to put them an all doors. Accessible toilets don’t need them – and it actually makes the door too difficult to open. Try self wheeling a chair into a confined space whilst trying to hold a heavy door open – not easy for many and impossible for even more of us.
I could tell soooo many funny stories of being trapped, not being able to reach the toilet paper, and notices that tell me the “feminine hygiene bin is in the main toilets in the end cubicle” (Ermm – I’m in here because I can’t access the main toilets!)
Let me finish with another little problem I find – especially at events/exhibitions/conferences. I have queued to use the accessible toilet, sometimes for over 10 minutes, because someone is using it as a changing room (because, and I quote: “it has extra elbow room”), and once whilst the person was conducting a business phone call that was audible through the door.
Remember – I’m educating here. When I teach children I often given them a challenge to carry out that will lock teaching into their minds.
So – here’s a challenge for you! Take a look at your accessible toilet (No is isn’t a disabled toilet – if the toilet was disabled I wouldn’t want to use it.) and think “Is this really accessible?” Then, find yourself a wheelchair and try to access the loo with no help, whilst imagining that all your muscles hurt and won’t do what you tell them to do.
Can you do it? What would you change to help you do what you need to do?
Then (No, the challenge isn’t over yet!) find a friendly person with a disability who would need the accessible toilet and get them to access it for you and tell you what they think – even better, ask someone who isn’t part of your church – they are more likely to be honest! You never know – they may decide they want to be part of your church because they can see you care enough to ask.
Happy toilet checking!