Installing a Changing Places toilet in your museums

Providing access to visitors and their families
Access Disability Inclusion
Caroline Parry
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Being able to nip in and use the nearest toilet whenever we need to is something most people take for granted.

But for people with severe mental or physical disabilities – representing one in every 260 museum visitors – going to the toilet on a day out can be impossible unless the venue has a Changing Places toilet.

At the time of writing, only 43 UK museums offer this necessary and, sometimes, life-changing facility.

If a Changing Places facility is not available, people with certain disabilities cannot access museums, galleries and heritage sites or they are forced to moderate food and drink intake to avoid needing to go or make do with the accessible toilet.

There are many stories of people being changed on toilet floors, a situation that is unhygienic and undignified.

“By installing a Changing Places toilet, you are making a statement that you are fully inclusive,” says Karen Hoe, the development officer for the Changing Places Consortium. “You are fully accessible to everyone.”
 
What is a Changing Places toilet?
 
While all museums offer at least one accessible toilet, these facilities are not suitable for all people with disabilities. For people with physical disabilities such as spinal injuries, motor neurone disease, muscular dystrophy and multiple sclerosis, as well as those with profound learning difficulties and the elderly, extra equipment and space are required to enable to them to use the toilet safely and in comfort.
 
A Changing Places toilet should be 12m square in new buildings, but there is some flexibility on the size of the room for historical structures.
 
In terms of equipment, Hoe says a Changing Places toilet should include:
 
  • A tracking hoist system, or mobile hoist if that is not possible.
  • A height-adjustable adult-sized changing bench.
  • Blue roll for the changing bed.
  • A centrally placed toilet with a 1m of transfer space either side.
  • A sink, ideally height adjustable.
  • A privacy screen.
  • A shelf for stoma and colostomy bags.
  • An emergency cord.
  • Grab rails.
  • Hooks.
  • Full-length mirror
  • Non-slip floor.
  • Appropriate lighting and heating.
 
Access is usually via a Radar key, the recognised national norm for all accessible toilet facilities. There is more information on the necessary equipment at www.changing-places.org.

Costs and maintenance

According to Becki Morris, the director of the Disability Collaboration Network for Museums (DCN), it costs around £24,000 to install a Changing Places toilet – “a significant but worthwhile investment”.
 
Both DCN and the Changing Places Consortium can offer advice and support on grants and funding support for installing a Changing Places facility. They can also provide broader support on the design and installation of the facility.

Once installed, a Changing Places toilet requires the same day-to-day maintenance, re-stocking and cleaning as any toilet.
 
Athena Morse, the head of visitor operations at Kew Gardens, which has had a Changing Places toilet for more than five years, says the only additional check for the Kew estates team is ensuring the hoist is returned to its charging position. If not, it does take several hours to charge.
 
The hoist should also be serviced twice a year and the rest of the equipment once a year to ensure it is in good working order.
 
How will people know if we have one?
 
Once installed, it is crucial to register your Changing Places toilet with the Changing Places Consortium. Getting registered will require the facility to be inspected to ensure it meets the organisation’s criteria.
 
Registered Changing Places facilities appear on the consortium’s searchable national map, available on the changing-places website and as a mobile app, which is an invaluable resource for Changing Places users.
 
The organisation also provides signage using the standard national logo to use throughout a venue, including route signs.

Accessibility websites including AccessAble and Euan’s Guide have searchable facilities for people planning days out, which highlight Changing Places and other toilet facilities and access.

Sarah Rennie, the director of Rennie Consulting, which advises commercial organisations on disabilities and access, says it is also essential that museums promote the provision on their own website, social media channels and marketing information.

“Don’t assume that everyone is connected to Changing Places or a charity,” she says. “People and families living with a new diagnosis will be in a world of care, rehab and benefits, and it can take years for them to know about facilities like Changing Places.”

Is the criteria for Changing Places facilities strictly enforced?

In terms of new-build facilities, the criteria is strict, particularly the size of the room, which it is hoped will become mandatory in building regulations.

A government consultation on improving Changing Places provision was carried out in July, although the responses had yet to be published at the time of writing.

Hoe says that for historic buildings, the consortium will consider 9 sq m as suitable. Going forward, the Changing Places Consortium intends to look at how it rates facilities.

“We understand that some venues want to be inclusive, but don’t have the space,” Hoe says.

This may lead to a grading system for Changing Places, using Gold, Silver and Bronze to help users to understand what facilities a venue has.

“We hope it will clearly highlight that there is some kind of facility there but it may not meet all a person’s needs.”

Rennie points out that the government consultation also suggested creating a Changing Places “Lite” system, a move she supports.

“If a venue does not have space but wants to offer a version of a Changing Places toilet, having something is better than nothing.”

She also highlights the Space to Change campaign, which is family focused but provides information on venues that have something more than an accessible toilet but have not qualified for the Changing Places map.

Are there any other options?
 
If it is not possible to install a Changing Places facility immediately or if you are organising additional events, it is possible to hire mobile units with all the necessary equipment.
 
Both Becki Morris and Hoe warn that this is only a short-term solution for venues, and installing a permanent Changing Places toilets should be the long-term goal.
 
If it is too challenging to install a facility in your museum, Morris suggests working in partnership with local businesses and organisations to see if it is possible to install a Changing Places toilet in your town.
 
Caroline Parry is a freelance journalist

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