Often when I'm out and about, I muse on the qualifications (and in particularly tight corners the parentage) of architects. I've met a couple of architects along the way, and they've been very pleasant people to chat to. However, when it comes to real life, I do wonder whether they live in it.
There are all sorts of legal requirements relating to disabled access in buildings. And, I'm sure, lots of architects and bureaucrats earning far more than me who are experts on designing said access. However, I'd love to meet one. Without exception, disabled toilets are not easily accessible to disabled people.
The first thing I would tell my new architect buddy is that a wheel chair user does not necessarily mean someone who has lost the use of their legs. They may have lost the use of one leg, or one side of their body, or simply not be strong enough to walk everywhere. This means that one bar on one side of the toilet is not enough. If a person can only use the right side of their body, then they need support on the right. The next person to use the facilities may only have the use of the left side. This means you need to put a fixed bar on both sides of the bathroom.
Next, do not waste your money on clever devices that move up and down and take a loo roll too. A person who is unsteady on their feet does not want to lean on something that feels like it's going to give way at any moment. Put a proper fixed hand rail in, they're cheaper so you can have more of them.
Then, my clever architect pal, remember that two, yes TWO people will be in this bathroom at any one time. One to use the toilet and one to push the wheelchair in and out, and to provide the physical support that your design lacks. That means I need space too, and as I have a fat arse I don't want to be setting the hand dryer off every time I move. It's very distracting!
While we're on the subject of moving around, please remember that there has been infinitely more funding and research done on your average £30 push chair than there has on your basic NHS wheelchair, which is all most people get. They do not maneouvre round corners on a sixpence. They do not have clever swivelly wheels in all four corners - only the front two, which have a tendency to jam in the wrong position. Also, unlike a buggy, the person is bigger than the chair. There is no pretty-coloured padded cushiony stuff in between the person I'm pushing and that cleverly designed concrete corner. People who don't move much don't heal well, so bashing them around when they urgently need a wee is not good.
Ha! Urgency, another bug bear. A person in a wheelchair doesn't necessarily have the best muscle control. That goes for everywhere, depending on their needs, but also affects bladder muscles. Putting the disabled loo at the back of the shop around a few neat concrete pillars and pot plants can and does make the difference between dignity and embarrassment. Especially when you've made the corridor barely wide enough to fit down - yes, I know the door is the right width...
So, the next time you see an exhausted person in an unflattering polo shirt hurtling towards you backwards, you know it'll be me trying to get someone out of the toilet and onto something more interesting!