I had a very positive meeting with Councillor Colin Fitzgerald this weekend to discuss the provision of appropriate toilet facilities in Hastings for people who live with a stoma. One of his first remarks to me was that he had never thought about the issue before I brought it up. Neither had I, until I began to witness the enormous struggles experienced by a friend of my family who has an ileostomy. These struggles are often simply because of the lack of appropriate toilet facilities in public places. This is my point, most of us will be aware that many people live with a stoma, either because of an ileostomy or a colostomy. But, it is unlikely that many of us will have thought about the practicalities of this. In our society we don’t generally go around talking about our own toilet habits. So the people with stomas are often suffering in silence.
There has never been a worse time to be disabled and living with a stoma is a disability. But when any group of people feel they cannot speak up they are likely to have their needs ignored. Imagine trying to go out, do your shopping, have a night out or travel if you couldn’t use the toilets provided. That is what life is like for the one in 500 people who live with a stoma.
For somebody living with a stoma, the standard public toilets where we have a row of cubicles outside of which is a row of basins, is simply inadequate for their needs. It isn’t rocket science to remedy the problem. Colostomy UK has a campaign to get more stoma friendly toilets provided. They detail on their website exactly what a stoma friendly toilet should look like. And, they give out free stickers for anyone who provides a stoma friendly toilet so they can show the public that they have these facilities. Sainsbury’s have already put in place stoma friendly toilets in all their stores, but they have nothing displayed in the shops to indicate they have made this provision.
I was speaking to Councillor Fitzgerald with the hope that the council could encourage shops, cafes, bars, community centres etc to think about providing stoma friendly toilets. Disability rights are after all, enshrined in law. I suspect that the reason most venues fail to provide appropriate facilities for people with a stoma is simply because like myself, they have never thought about it. We must also not forget that there are children who live with a stoma too. It would be utterly unacceptable for a child to be attending a school where there were no appropriate toilet facilities. Apparently the Conquest Hospital, where you would expect to see them providing facilities that would cater for people with any disability, is also failing when it comes to stoma friendly toilets.
Once I got started on thinking abut toilet facilities I have found myself noticing just how cheap and easy it would often be to convert one cubicle into a stoma friendly toilet. Frequently, if one cubicle is enlarged it could encompass one of the basins already fitted. After that the addition of a shelf, a mirror and a couple of coat hooks may be all that is needed.
But this really matters. Disability rights are a moral issue but also a sensible one. If disability rights are protected then individuals will have a better quality of life and will stay healthier for longer.