What price dignity?


The UK’s lack of fully accessible toilets is denying the human rights of many disabled people.

My beautiful son Brody is five years old. His disabilities mean that he is doubly incontinent and he needs to wear nappies all day, every day.

Brody’s worth as a human being of course isn’t measured by these facts. He is worth far more to me and our family than you could possibly know. He is happy and he is loved. He is a little boy who deserves the same opportunities as all other children but he doesn’t get them.

As Brody has grown older, we have found that there is a real shortage of truly accessible toilets in the UK.
When Brody was a baby and toddler his incontinence wasn’t really a big deal. Like all families, we took advantage of baby changing facilities when we went out, which thankfully we could rely on being at most places. And if there wasn’t one available, because Brody was still small we could quickly change him on the car seat or on our lap if needed. Yes, that was far from ideal, but it was manageable and not a regular problem.

No good options

I never once thought about what would happen when Brody outgrew baby changing facilities. It simply didn’t cross my mind – even though I knew it was likely that he would not be toilet trained at a typical age. Now I am all too aware of the options faced by parents and carers of incontinent children and adults. Our choices are extremely limited: strip Brody of his dignity and put his health and safety (and my back) at risk. Or we can leave where we are and travel home with him in a dirty nappy. We can change him in our cold and uncomfortable car boot, in front of passers-by (which we won’t be able to do when he gets even bigger). We can change him on a dirty toilet floor, something we have fortunately managed to avoid so far thanks to our car boot, although many people do not have this option and are left with no choice. You can imagine how all this make me feel as a mother: awful.

How is this possible in 2017, when there is legislation in place like the Equality Act (2010) that is meant to protect disabled people? Isn’t going to the toilet a basic human right? Isn’t access to a toilet a reasonable adjustment?

You would think so, but the type of toilet we need, which has an adult sized changing bench and hoist (known as a “changing places” toilet) is only a recommendation in the Building Regulations and British Standards. And so most businesses just don’t care.

We do not live in an inclusive society. Accessibility should be standard. Inclusion should mean everybody.

You can’t put a price on dignity, inclusion and accessibility. Yet when it comes to this matter, it seems that businesses can. Yes, there is a financial cost, but for big businesses this is a drop in the ocean. And they shouldn’t forget that accessibility means that families can visit more places and spend more money. The so-called purple pound, which is the collective spending power of disabled people, is worth £249 billion.

Sadly, until the government intervenes and makes changing places toilets mandatory in building standards, families like mine are relying on either the good morals of business owners or ones savvy enough to realise the true value of the purple pound.

Until then, what we are teaching society is that children like Brody who require an adult sized changing bench or hoist in order to use a toilet are just not welcome. And that there is a cost to dignity and the basic human right of going to the toilet for disabled people.

Further information

Laura Rutherford blogs about her family at

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