The Necessity of Inclusive Toilets in Buildings and Open Spaces
11 May 2021
The need for toilets to be easily available, accessible, and able to serve everyone’s needs is a given. Unfortunately, this is not always the case everywhere. There are still many problem areas.
The issue is even up for discussion on government levels. New laws are underway related to this in the private sector. Experts are proposing changes in public restroom construction.
The National Construction Code 2022 in Australia will likely require the design of new housing to include toilets on the ground floor or at entry-level, at least one entrance door with no steps, and wide corridors and internal doors. According to Mick de Brenni, Minister for Public Works and Procurements of Queensland, most of the state and territory building ministers agreed to include a minimum standard for new housing so that houses can accommodate everyone despite age or disability.
Mark Tucker-Evans, chief executive of Council on the Ageing (COTA) Queensland, stated that thousands of older Australians have housing that does not meet their needs. Many have to go into residential care when a majority prefer aging at home.
According to the World Economic Forum, the number of elderlies aged over 65 will double globally by 2050 to reach 1.6 billion. Aging causes disability and lack of independent mobility. Aging in place at home with intergenerational living is beneficial. It is also important to meet their mobility needs and ensure social inclusion or active involvement in society.
Adult Changing Places
Changing Places are facilities for people who cannot use standard toilets. These are people with disabilities, including those suffering from spinal cord injury, brain injury, spina bifida, multiple sclerosis, cerebral palsy, and motor neuron disease.
In 2006, the Changing Places organization launched in the UK, resulting in 1,584 facilities in public spaces across the country, in large railway stations, shopping centers, and other recreational, leisure, and sporting complexes.
The Maroondah City Council asked permission from the UK in 2011 to use Changing Places in Australia with design changes relevant to the country’s needs. The first Changing Places in Australia launched in 2014.
The National Construction Code 2019 of the Australian Building Codes Board required certain classes of public buildings to include Accessible Adult Change facilities according to the Changing Places designs. The designs include an automatic door with a minimum opening of 950 mm or 1100 mm for beach and lake areas, a peninsula toilet located in the center of the space, an adult-sized height-adjustable change table, a privacy screen, a ceiling track hoist system that is constant-charging and specified circulation spaces.
There are now 171 Changing Places across Australia. There is an urgent need for many more. Hence, the organization provides the Changing Places design specifications 2020 with four design options for anyone to use. A Changing Places Assessor inspects the finished facility and issues a Statement of Compliance. The facility manager can then register it as an accredited facility.
Australia’s National Public Toilet Map
A National Public Toilet Map for Australia is available online, managed by the Continence Foundation of Australia, and funded by the National Continence Program of the Australian Government Department of Health. Designed mainly for some 4.8 million Australians suffering from incontinence, it enables independence and improves their quality of life. It also serves the needs of all other Australians, including those with disabilities, those with young children, and people traveling to unfamiliar locations.
The map pinpoints where each of the 19,000 public and private toilets are across the country, identifying their features such as baby care, adult change, sharps disposal, and availability of showers. It also provides accessibility information, as well as opening and closing hours. Those who have a disability can purchase a master locksmith’s access key to unlock a facility after closing hours, provided it has the same lock mechanism.
Proposed Unified Government Management of Public Toilets
Katherine Webber, a social planning researcher from Queensland, points out that separate councils, private property developers, and owners build and manage public toilets in Australia. She adds that different planning codes cover the construction of public toilets in a variety of locations. Webber proposes that it will be more efficient for one government body to do this instead.
Her policy recommendations for national public toilet principles are participation in the public life of a city, public health and hygiene, safety and privacy, functionality, accessibility, inclusion, location and availability, attractiveness, ease of maintenance, sustainability, clear communication of information, and community consultation including with minority groups.
Availability of Inclusive Toilets in Buildings and Open Spaces
It is important to have all-inclusive toilets immediately available from any location at any time. This includes private and public buildings and open spaces. It is a basic human need that authorities must meet.
While everyone uses the toilet, we must give particular attention to those with special needs. There are those with inborn or acquired disabilities, as well as those whose disabilities are from aging. We must remember that we, too, are aging, and in several years, we will also have those needs.