By Deo Chami and Meritt Buyer
It is World Toilet Day! You did not know? It was not on your calendar? We here at BCC think it is a good idea to take time out of our day and appreciate something that most of us take for granted multiple times a day.
It is also a good opportunity to talk about the importance of accessibility. The buildings occupied by BCC, for the most part, existed as something else before becoming our centers. The physical and social environment was not necessarily friendly to our clients. Therefore, making them accessible is an important ongoing process. We have to makes sure that all new buildings and programs can meet the needs of our all our clients, no matter what their disability. We recently built two new centers to replace older ones and remodeled a classroom at Moshi Primary School. All three are now fully accessible.
Anytime Deo, head of BCC’s Young Adult Program, was at one of these construction sites, he could be found right in the middle of it, testing doorways and ramps, and directing the work crew on how to improve it. At the new Msaranga center, he paid particular attention to the bathroom doors. They currently open inward. This is a problem for several reasons, he explained. If the doors open outward it is much easier for a person in a wheelchair to close it behind them as they enter. It is much more difficult to maneuver around the door in a small space.
Deo also says it is important to consider all kinds of disabilities when designing an accessible bathroom. Space for wheelchair and walker users are key, as are bars for stability and transferring. Even the toilet seat should be strong and stable. If people cannot put any weight on their legs or lack trunk strength, they are wholly dependent on that seat for stability. If it wobbles or cracks, a person could fall or be cut by the seat. For wheelchair users who are often affected by poor circulation or lack sensation in their extremities, a simple cut can become easily infected if not properly tended.
Furthermore, Deo goes on, accessible restrooms allow people to maintain their privacy and sense of independence. Children experience fewer accidents and are less likely to be ridiculed by their peers if they can easily use the bathroom on their own. Besides, if a child can go to the bathroom by his or herself, the teacher does not have to take time away from class and teaching the other students to assist them.
“All places should be accessible to all people with all disabilities, no matter what type. If the place is accessible in all ways, it gives everyone freedom, confidence, and improves the quality of work and services. You don’t have to ask for help.”
This is the point at which Deo gets really passionate about the issue of accessibility, and rightly so. You see, as important as space, angles, and ramps are, accessibility goes beyond that. Our built environment reflects our society’s values. So if we create structures that disallow people entry and/or use by their very design, what does that say about how we value those people? If we can build an environment that promotes dignity and independence for all, if we can create physical space in our day to day lives for those who we view as different, does it not follow that we will decrease discrimination and disrespect?
Who knew that World Toilet Day was such a serious topic? In reality, the size of a bathroom or the direction a door opens will not cure the world of able-ism and discrimination. But there is definitely a connection. So take some time today, or this week, to notice the spaces around you. Think about how they reflect what and who our society values. And have a great Toilet Day.