To mark the Changing Places Awareness Day and 10th Anniversary, blogger Rachel George writes about what accessible facilities mean to her son Adam.
Summer is coming!
Parents everywhere are busy making plans to entertain their small people during the six weeks of adventure and fun (otherwise known as six long weeks where you hope to still have hair at the end!).
Theme parks, animal centres, soft play, zoos and a host of other attractions are no doubt waiting for you to arrive! Yep, the gift shops are being stocked as you read this.
But would you go to these places if they had no toilets?
What about the cinema or theatre? Would you give your child a drink at the cinema if there were no toilets?
Because that is what life is like for my son. To mark the Changing Places campaign’s 10-year anniversary this week, I’m writing a bit about my life for My Family Our Needs.
Adam is almost 10 years old. He cannot sit unaided or stand or walk at all. Yet, just like everyone else, he likes to go out and he needs to use the toilet. We need a couple of extra facilities than you, but the basic need is just the same.
He needs a toilet with space for his wheelchair, space for me, a hoist to get him out of his chair, a full-sized changing bench to lay him down on to sort clothes and switch to using a sling which enables him to sit on the toilet as well as the more usual sink and towel dispenser.
There are very few places with these facilities.
When he was smaller I could lift him. Then I injured my back very badly. I couldn’t walk, couldn’t move. I couldn’t even look after my son.
Even when I was able to walk again, I was in agony. I couldn’t drive at all for 10 weeks, couldn’t take my child to hospital appointments. I could not even hoist him out of bed.
Thankfully, I can do most things again now. I have pain but I can do them. Except for one thing.
I can no longer lift my boy.
So what do we do? How do we go out?
For a long time, I have made excuses. I have lied to my beautiful child. I’ve told him places are closed. I have told him that we can go but we can only stay a short time because I have to come home to sort the laundry, be back for parcel delivery or do some household jobs simply because I can’t bear for him to know why we have to come home. I don’t want him to hate his body, to feel ‘less than’, as though he doesn’t matter.
We don’t eat out.
If we go somewhere and he needs to the toilet, we leave.
There are a few places locally with fully accessible toilet facilities.
The Eden Project has one. We love visiting Eden but Adam is a small boy, “there’s a plant, there’s another one”. There really are only so many times each month that you want to visit the same place.
There is a mining and heritage centre locally which has one. Not exactly every child’s idea of a top day out. They do have a fabulous playground, well, if you can walk. Would you take your child to a wonderful park so that they could just watch everyone having fun? Me neither.
SO WHAT DO WE DO?
There is our home. We visit here a lot! We’ve put a lot of effort into making our home as fun as possible. We even have a trampoline that he can go on in his manual wheelchair and, thankfully, Adam’s friends all enjoy coming to visit us.
It still isn’t the same as being able to go to the wide variety of wonderful attractions in our county though. We live in Cornwall, a major area for tourism, an area with a lot of great attractions. If you can stand, and walk. If you can sit unaided on a toilet.
Because, quite simply, if you can’t ‘go’ somewhere then you really can’t go at all.
Every time we plan to go out, the day starts the same way. Adam will ask ‘Do they have a toilet I can use?’ Most of the time I make up an excuse but one day recently I couldn’t. It was just a difficult day and I was not feeling strong.
I looked at my boy and just said, ‘Sadly, not.’
He looked at me squarely and asked, in the saddest voice, ‘Why not?’
That was the moment I knew I had to do something to change everything.
ADAM’S DISABILITY IS NOT THE PROBLEM
My son is not the problem. Lack of adequate facilities is the problem. My son loves life. He is perfectly able to watch a film at the cinema, see a show at the theatre, visit the zoo, theme park, farm park, bird centre, National Trust property, aquarium, shopping centre and every single place you will go to in your lifetime. My son’s disability isn’t what stops him living a full life. He is disabled by inaccessible facilities.
If there were no toilets at the zoo, would you say that you couldn’t go because of ‘your problem’ with needing to pee? Or would you say that you would love to go but can’t as they have no toilets?
The campaign group for fully accessible Changing Places toilets is ten years old, like my son. Yet after ten years the country is still not very accessible for him.
This isn’t good enough.
I am just one Mum, but I am one seriously determined Mum with a task which has to succeed. I need my son to know that he matters, to feel that life is worth living.
So I started asking him what he wants to do and where he wants to go. And I started trying to make it possible.
Ordinary hopes are our longed-for dreams and so www.ordinaryhopes.com came into being.
Hundreds of thousands of people need these facilities.
You can talk to Rachel on Twitter at @ordinaryhopes or follow the link above to her wonderful blog. If you want to talk about the Changing Places campaign don’t forget to use the #incLOOsion and #howfarwouldyougo hashtags.