Not every disability is visible

8th of June 2017 Article by Paul Wonnacott
Not every disability is visible

Paul Wonnacott is managing director and president of Vectair Systems, specialist in washroom hygiene and aircare systems. Here he talks about Vectair's involvement with Crohn's and  Colitis UK.

In January, UK supermarket giant Tesco announced new toilet signage for ‘invisible' conditions. The new signage is to be rolled out to over 700 stores, using the tagline that "not all disabilities are visible". This follows a successful campaign by the charity Crohn's and Colitis UK. Crohn's Disease, Ulcerative Colitis and other forms of Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) affect more than 300,000 people in the UK.

Tesco is following in the footsteps of Asda and Morrisons, who have already adopted new signage to reflect the invisible nature of some health conditions. According to Dan McLean at Crohn's and Colitis UK: "This announcement is a great step by Tesco towards reducing stigma and raising awareness that not every disability is visible and everyone is grateful to them for making this change. People living with Inflammatory Bowel Disease can be very disadvantaged by the impact of their condition.

"They may not look unwell but are often profoundly affected by debilitating and unseen symptoms that affect all aspects of their lives. The experience or fear of unpredictable incontinence is very undermining to a person's confidence and self-esteem and can lead in some cases to the person affected becoming too anxious to leave their home."

For any of us, and not only those living with an Inflammatory Bowel Disease, using a toilet outside of our own home isn't always a pleasant experience, even if it is spotlessly clean. Toilet anxiety and embarrassment is widespread amongst the UK population - a recent research study carried out by Vectair Systems shows that 56 per cent of people in the UK feel embarrassed or awkward doing a ‘number 2' in a toilet other than their own. Toilet embarrassment is indeed so high that 41 per cent of people try not to go at work unless they absolutely have to.

At Vectair, we know about the great work of Crohn's and Colitis UK as we are the 2017 official toilet sponsor of the Crohn's and Colitis UK Walk It Campaign for our toilet spray Phew!®. According to Sam Afhim at Crohn's and Colitis UK, "The experience or fear of unpredictably having to use the bathroom is very undermining to a person's confidence and self-esteem and can lead in some cases to the person affected becoming too anxious to leave their home. They may not look unwell, but are often profoundly affected by debilitating and unseen symptoms that affect all aspects of their lives."

Thankfully, toilets around the world are becoming more and more accessible - we can only look at examples like the ‘Bathrooms Accessible in Every Situation (BABIES) Act' that was recently passed in the USA. The law now states that baby changing tables are to be mandatory in all male and female restrooms in federal buildings. The act came from a petition started back in 2014 by TV and movie star Ashton Kutcher, aiming to get large shopping chains Costco and Target to install baby changing tables and facilities into all of their stores in both female and male toilets. The petition attracted widespread publicity and gained over 104,000 signatures.

Our toilet and baby changing facilities are now starting to reflect modern life, with more mothers returning to work or indeed being the household breadwinner and more male figures caring for children on a daily basis, not to mention grandparents and single sex couples.

However we still have a way to go. Currently, parents of disabled children and adults are campaigning for 'Changing Places' toilets to be available in all town centres and large public places in the UK - such as cinemas and shopping centres. These toilets provide height adjustable, adult-sized changing benches, hoist systems and space for disabled users and up to two carers.

Parents whose children are too big for a standard baby change unit say they are forced to change their children on "smelly" and "dirty" floors because of the lack of suitable facilities. This leads to embarrassment for the child, and parents who are scared to go out for more than a few hours at a time. A number of petitions have been set up, including this one https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/177423 which has received a response from the UK Government. They say they have commissioned research to evaluate how well the current guidance is working in meeting the needs of disabled people, including consideration of toilet provision.

So what we can we do as hygiene providers? We can continue to innovate, and create outstanding and affordable solutions to problems like this. We can put pressure on facilities managers and venues to ensure that they are listening to their customers and adequately servicing their needs. And, we can provide support to the charities that day in and day out do the hard work to make sanitary changes for both children and adults around the world.

To learn more about the Crohn's and Colitis UK and / or get involved in a Walk It event, visit: www.crohnsandcolitis.org.uk.

 

 

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