Toilet Journeys, Dementia, and SUP

Tom Crowther and Mark Scott have been delivering training for the Dementia Toilets Project

Submitted by Tom on 14-11-2018 12:55:32

Working in the Scotland’s Urban Past team is a varied experience. We travel all over Scotland helping community groups undertake their many projects, and this year has been busy! In January and February, we travelled to Oban to help school pupils gather stories of oldOban from members of their community. Then in March, we supported young people in Edinburgh working towards their Arts Award certificates, helping them create an interactive digital heritage trail. We then held a public event in April at the Engine Shed in Stirling, celebrating Scotland’s industrial heritage, before braving the blustery weather of Shetland in May, undertaking an archaeological survey of Lerwick’s World War defences with Shetland Archaeology.

These are just a handful of the projects we’ve been involved with this year. And all of them have a positive message behind them; none more so than the Dementia Toilets and Travel Project, which aims to raise awareness of the everyday experiences of disabled people in finding and using public toilets when travelling. A worthy project then – that much was obvious from the beginning – but also a necessary one: inviting people with all kinds of impairments to become co-researchers, gathering pictures and comments of toilets, toilet furniture and toilet signage when they are out, and then using this to raise awareness on the vital issue of toilet provision.

For us, this project would have different audiences, expectations and outcomes from the ones we’re usually involved in, and we saw it as a new and exciting challenge. As such, we were happy to deliver two photographic workshops, one in Aberdeen, the other in Edinburgh.

Our photographic workshops generally revolve around the process of taking a ‘good’ photo. We usually present these ‘photographic tips’ to a group and then – as we are Scotland’s Urban Past – we go out and take photos of the local urban environment and its associated structures which we can then discuss. But this time was different, because this time round, we would need to solely focus on what co-researchers would need to be think about with regards to accessible toilets – e.g. signage, accessibility, lighting, and toilet furniture. We also needed to develop a diary of sorts, so that they could write down their thoughts and feelings when they visited toilets across Scotland.

So having drawn up a basic diary, Mark and I decided to test it by reviewing one of the accessible toilets at John Sinclair House – one of Historic Environment Scotland’s headquarters in Edinburgh. It’s fair to say that we aren’t specialists on accessibility. Nevertheless we’d soon thought of plenty of questions we’d need to consider: is the signage unclear? Is the door too heavy? Is the position of the light switch confusing? Is the hand dryer too loud? etc. The experience initiated discussion between us, and so we thought it would be a good idea to use the diary in both our Aberdeen and Edinburgh workshops by asking those present to review the toilets at the venue.

The first workshop was held at the Aberdeen Sports Village – a massive, sprawling complex. And after going through a shortened version of our ‘photography basics’ presentation, we asked participants to work in small groups and use the diary to review the toilets. I went along with two participants, a husband and wife, and we evaluated one of the accessible toilets together.

We first thought about signage, beginning at the reception desk, before reviewing the toilet door which awkwardly swung out into the path of another door. We then couldn’t find the light switch, and it took us a minute to realise that the light was automatic, though you had to walk into the centre of the toilet to activate it. The couple then reviewed the toilet furniture, and testing the grab rail next to the toilet, one of the participants soon realised it was too low, and so he instinctively held on to the sink which was within easy reach. To our surprise, the sink then nearly came off the wall – so clearly other people had tried the same tactic.

All the groups then came back together and we discussed our findings. This proved essential, because every group had different issues depending on their own individual needs. And this then worked as a way to thrash out all the elements that need to be addressed when visiting a toilet.

The Edinburgh workshop was held the following week, and to our delight, there were five different toilets to choose from at the venue, one of which was a Changing Places toilet. As it was the first one I’d visited, I headed along with a larger group of four to review it. To me – a layman when it comes to accessible toilets – I found it to be impressive; it seemed clean and large, with space to manoeuvre. But my group, well versed in using accessible toilets on a day-to-day basis, quickly found a number of ways it could be improved. Firstly, the signage was confusing and too small. Then, as with Aberdeen, we didn’t realise the lighting was automatic and there was a general search for a light switch that didn’t exist. Having finally realised this, we all entered the now illuminated toilet to begin methodically analysing its furniture. Some issues the group discussed included: the hand dryer was too shiny and loud; the taps were of the mono-mixer type and were tricky to use; and the group also felt that the free-standing changing bench was awkwardly positioned near the door with no other space in the room that could accommodate it.

All the groups then gathered back together and discussed the issues we’d each found, like in Aberdeen. But what struck me was the diversity of this group – their individual backgrounds and needs – which gave this workshop a much broader feel, not just focussed on the issues faced by those living with dementia, but also those caring for, and living with, profound learning and physical disabilities.

Afterwards, Mark and I made some general observations from both our workshops. First, we gave groups twenty minutes to complete their review, and this turned out to not be enough. For the Edinburgh workshop, we’d also changed the diary slightly to accommodate people’s feelings regarding the toilets, making it more sensory focussed – what do you see, hear, smell, and feel? And this focus seemed to work much better, allowing more information to be jotted down in the allotted time than in Aberdeen. Another observation was that reviewing a toilet with more than one person was a confidence booster and initiated debate. Overall, however, we learnt a lot from this experience, and hope to help more in the future; bringing the issue of appropriate toilet provision to the foreground of public thought.


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