Why finding the right changing place is important

Changing Place at Chorley Town Hall.

Changing Place at Chorley Town Hall. - Credit: Archant

Have you ever lay on the floor of a public toilet? Probably in urine, wet toilet tissue, or if you’re really lucky - a discarded sanitary towel? No. Thought not.

Hartlepool Changing Place.

Hartlepool Changing Place. - Credit: Archant

I guess you probably wouldn’t put your baby down on the same dirty floor?

What about a child who had specific additional needs, or a mobility impairment? Would that be any different?

As far as I can see - it’s probably even less likely - notwithstanding additional problems with being able to lift them, or lower them to the floor in the first place, some people with additional mobility needs may also have other conditions, or lowered immune systems, making it even less likely that you would want to expose them to an unhygienic setting.

Marks & Spencer recently came under scrutiny after launching a clothing range suitable for children with specific needs - clothes which enabled a feeding tube or which were made with super-sensitive fabric for children who have conditions which make the wearing of everyday fabrics impossible.

Changing Place at Birmingham Library.

Changing Place at Birmingham Library. - Credit: Archant

The launch of this clothing range was met with huge applause in the media - parents of children with additional needs welcomed it with open arms, and it seemed that M&S had won the day.

Unfortunately for them, this caused some backlash when it came to light that they didn’t have changing rooms or toilets in their stores which were suitable for use by severely disabled customers.

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I understand from the mainstream media that Marks & Spencer are now looking into installing some facilities in new stores - but it made me start thinking about just how difficult it would be to complete a task as simple as a shopping trip, if you were parenting a child with additional or mobility needs.

I spoke to a local St Albans mum to find out what facilities are available locally. As well as being a teacher in a St Albans school, Alison Cuneen is mum to two boys - one of whom has specific physical needs, and she is all too aware of the lack of changing facilities locally.

Are there a lack of changing places in our local area, and are there any local stores/attractions that deserve special mention for the effort they make?

“To my knowledge there is only one changing place in St Albans which is by the council offices. After quite a bit of nagging by me and other parents, Whipsnade Zoo has finally got a changing place which means we can spend the whole day there. They didn’t get it right at first but responded to feedback.”

What is the biggest challenge for a parent/carer of a child with additional needs where there is not special provision made?

“The biggest challenge, especially as he is getting bigger, is seeing to his personal needs when we are out for the day. I have changed him on a toilet floor-

“I have a waterproof changing blanket (which I got from ebay- produced by a special needs mum) so he is never changed on the floor but without a hoist it is difficult to move him on and off the floor- disabled loos are rarely big enough for me, the wheelchair, space for him on the floor, let alone another adult to help with transitions. We have changed him in the back of the car as well.”

I find myself that most shops are not buggy friendly - I can hardly imagine how difficult it must be to get a wheelchair in between racks of clothing - what changes would you like to see made to the British high street to make it more accessible?

“Some of our worst experiences were in Disneyland Paris- the Disney franchise even now do not provide specialist toileting facilities in their parks.

“The Changing Places website helps to plan days out because you can type in destination and it will show you where Changing Places are available - lots of the service stations chains are now installing them which is brilliant.

“Lots of councils have them too - the issue comes with access. There is no consistent system to gain access.

“Some use the Radar key system but others require users to contact councils in advance to get a key to use- so when we went to Clacton for the day we weren’t able to use the lovely facilities which a fabulous elderly gentleman told me about because we hadn’t got the right key.

“In contrast; in Brighton there was a number to ring and they gave me an access code which I could use to access the facilities.

Finally - what do you think we can do locally to make a real difference to those who have additional needs?

“The reality is we are often put off going out because of issues with access to the correct facilities for Matthew. Some airports have them but we normally fly out of Luton and as of last year, they didn’t have a Changing Place- this may have changed.

“We don’t expect every shop and attraction to have a Changing Place but if an attraction has the expectation that people would visit for more than four to five hours, they should provide personal care facilities for all- so large shopping centres/theme parks etc. M&S, John Lewis etc have received a lot of bad press about their lack of facilities and I don’t believe that each store should provide one but if they are in a shopping complex they should provide part funding to ensure these facilities are available.

“Being accessible is more than just providing ramped access/wide doorways etc. It’s about ensuring that there is space for people in wheelchairs. I don’t want special privileges for my son I just want to be able to do normal things with him. We live in an inclusive society and we should recognize and meet the needs of all

“Awareness and understanding are the key to making a difference. We don’t need pity or to be ignored- often people don’t know what to say so they avoid eye contact or they stare. A smile goes a long way.

“To be honest I don’t understand special needs parents who celebrate their child’s disabilities. I would be without Matthew’s disabilities in a heartbeat.

“I celebrate my child and his achievements. He is my hero because he copes with everything that life throws at him.

“Every child with additional needs is a hero but I would much rather that Matthew was a just an ordinary boy without his challenges and that we could be an ordinary family.

“People often tell me how amazing I am as a parent and how strong I am but the reality is I have no choice- he is my son and I love him and my job is to have his back as long as he needs me.”

With special thanks to Alison Cuneen - who taught me English at secondary school, and who does amazing work for the Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme as well as bringing up two children! For more information on improving facilities check out changing-places.org