When it comes to the loss of accessible toilet facilities, Paul Carter makes it clear he’s quite prepared to embark on a dirty protest.
There are certain things about being disabled that I try not to write about too often. After all, there are things that we encounter on a daily basis that, rightly or wrongly, we all just accept after a while. One of them is access. It’s sad, but over time I’ve had to come to terms with the fact that the bar I like isn’t accessible, the football stadium I go to every week has an accessible toilet so hideous it makes the one from Trainspotting look palatial, and I have to drag my bloated, balding frame up a flight of stairs when I want to catch the tube at my local station. That’s the way it is, and I get on with it.
I’m in no way suggesting that we all just accept our lot, pack up our sandwiches and go home. Far from it. If anything brothers and sisters, now is more a time than any to man the barricades and shout from the rooftops and demand that things are better. I’m just acutely aware that you have to make the right noises in the right places, and banging on about it month after month in a blog or column is going to do little but a) bore everyone to tears and b) turn me into a human version of the Daily Express on weather or The Daily Mail on everything that isn’t white and middle class.
Now ignore everything I just said. Two things have happened in the recent past that shocked and angered me to such a degree that I’m driven to spew guff about it in textual form. And not in a self-indulgent isn’t-my-life-crap-woe-is-me kind of way, but in a way that’s made me look up and say ‘hang on, this isn’t right. Why are we still dealing with this shit?’
The first, quelle surprise, was in a bar. On a scale of 1 to 10 in access woes, I’ll freely admit that it barely squeaks in above zero. But like so many of these things, it highlighted a wider problem and attitude shift that had previously gone largely unnoticed. And that’s not even down to the excess of continental lager … Much.
I’ve been frequenting said establishment for a number of years on and off. It’s close to where I used to work, the beer’s good (see above) and most importantly, it’s fully accessible. I happened to be in there recently meeting a friend and we were sat at a table right next to the accessible toilet. Handy. That was until I came to break the seal and go for a pee and I noticed one of those keypads on the door. Not the fancy electronic ones, but one of those where you have to push a baffling combination of buttons in the right order and then turn a handle. You know the ones.
“That’s not very accessible,” I thought. But still, it had the big wheelchair sign on it, and I just assumed that they’d had problems with people using it in the past and so I’d need to get a staff member to open it for me – like I do in lots of places. Crap, yes but at least there’s an accessible loo. Or so I thought.
“No mate, I’m sorry, that’s our cloakroom. I don’t think it’s a toilet,” came the reply.
“It always has been,” I retorted, smugly. ‘Either that or I’ve spent five years pissing on people’s coats.”
“I’ll have to ask my manager,” he said sheepishly, which is generally how people react when you mention urinating on clothing. Sheepish man came back and told me that, indeed, the once accessible toilet is now a place to store staff members’ jackets. Thankfully, they did have another accessible toilet but this one was in the opposite corner of the venue, in the restaurant, and involved going outside.
This admittedly seemingly innocuous tale comes hot on the heels of the wonderful people at Transport for All (who campaign brilliantly and tirelessly for equal access to public transport in London) securing a commitment from our baffling mayor that all of the new Crossrail stations in the capital will be step-free or accessible. That’s Crossrail. The £14.8 billion project that is currently the largest infrastructure development in the whole of Europe. Hang on, I’m sorry. What kind of world are we living in where disabled people being able to get into a brand spanking new station has to be claimed as a victory? How is this even a thing? Why in 2014 are disabled people having to write on placards and sit in the street for the simple right to have a piss or get on a train?
So yes – ignore all I said about sitting on your arse and accepting things as they are. Let’s embarrass the people that matter. Let’s make the normals see that these things aren’t privileges or special things they need to do to be nice. They’re rights. And that’s not a dirty word. Unless you smear it in faeces on the wall. Which I just might do the next time someone turns their accessible toilet into a staff room. That’ll show ‘em. The bastards.