Most public toilets inaccessible to people with disabilities

Disability sign, disabled access, stock (AAP)
Fewer than half of Australia's public toilets are accessible to people with disabilities. (AAP) Source: AAP

When you're out and nature calls, it's reassuring to know that a public toilet is not far away. But what if you're unable to access the amenities?

Less than half of Australia’s public toilets are accessible to people living with disabilities, and accessible toilets are sometimes locked or used as storage rooms.

The lack of access in some parts of Australia has implications for tourism, the economy and people's general wellbeing.

A database of Australia’s public toilets lists close to 16,000 locations, but more than half are not accessible to people with disabilities.

Some postcodes – more than 400 in total – have no accessible public toilets listed in the database.

The data from the Australian Government was used to make the National Public Toilet Map, where people can search the locations and services available.

If people with special needs could not access toilet facilities they would not be able to travel and contribute to the economy, National Disability Services (NDS) chief executive Ken Baker said.

“People with disabilities have purchasing power like other Australians,” Mr Baker said.

“Australia as a whole loses out because of this.”

Mr Baker said all of Australia's public toilets should be accessible.

The boundaries of accessibility are not only physical. Some people with intellectual disabilities need to use accessible toilets.

Carers of intellectually-disabled people would have trouble entering standard toilet cubicles, Intellectual Disability Association of South Australia chair David Holst said.

Australia has building regulations that specify requirements for accessible toilets.

However, Mr Holst said some developers would only comply with the minimum requirements.

"What we need is a change in ," Mr Holst said.

Attitudes of others are the greatest barriers

Former Disability Discrimination Commissioner Graeme Innes said the attitudes of others stand in the way of people with disabilities contributing more to society.

“I regard that as the biggest barriers that people with disabilities face in Australia,” Mr Innes said.

Mr Innes is currently the chair of the Attitude Foundation (AF). 

AF’s mission is "changing attitudes and changing lives".

Access to public toilets is another barrier for people living with disabilities.

"I know of many people with disabilities, or access needs, who have to plan their travel and activities around whether they have access to public toilets," Mr Innes said.

"It’s just one of the barriers that people with disabilities experience in Australian society."

Australia had good access standards, but those standards were not always met, Mr Innes said.

"The issue is how well they’re complied with."

The Human Rights commission can act in cases where people with disabilities are discriminated against, but must receive a complaint before they can act.

People can make complaints through the commission’s website. 

Association for Children with a Disability (ACD) Victoria chief executive Elizabeth McGarry said she would sometimes hear complaints about accessible public toilets.

Most commonly, those were toilets being locked or toilets used as storage space.

Some people have even greater needs

About 200,000 Australians require assistance to meet their toileting needs, the ACD Changing Places website says.

However, Australia has a small number of fully accessible toilets, which have adult change tables and hoists.

ACD Victoria’s project, Changing Places, aims to map those fully accessible toilets.

Fully-accessible toilets were few and their locations were often unknown to the people who needed them, Ms McGarry said.

“There are very few fully-accessible public toilet facilities in Australia,” Ms McGarry said.

The Changing Places map is the first of its kind in Australia, and so far the toilets identified are in Victoria, with one in Sydney.

“We’re overwhelmed by families and people with a disability calling us, saying they really want to have this information,” she said.

They hope more fully accessible toilets will be built, and want to map all of Australia's fully-accessible public toilets.

However, funding for the project is running out and the federal Department of Social Services knocked back an application for funding this year.

“At the moment I only have funding for another six months to continue running this project,” Ms McGarry said.

“We’re building the momentum and we’re going to lose it if funded into the future."

Scott Morrison, Minister for Social Services, said the department received more than 5,500 applications for grants worth more than $3.9 billion last year.

Approximately $800 million in grants was available when the new grant rounds were announced. 

Source: SBS