Changing Places – a Q&A with Tony Clough
Changing Places are increasingly recognised as critical parts of how we make spaces and places more accessible and inclusive.
Tony Clough has been campaigning for many years for more of them to be provided and to make them better designed. In 2016 he was awarded an MBE for his work in improving the lives of disabled people.
So who better for us to talk to and pick his brains on what designers & venue owners need to know.
Why are appropriately designed changing places so important?
It is crucial to design a Changing Place well so it can be used without difficulties. Their layout needs to be thoroughly considered so it works well when a wheelchair and possibly two carers are in there.
Functionality is key. Thought needs to be given to which equipment goes where. For example – the privacy screen needs to placed where it will shield the loo and changing bench; the toilet roll needs to be reachable from the toilet seat; the door needs to open outwards in case assistance is required if someone has fallen behind the door. It seems common sense but I have seen some poor examples!
Who is getting it right? What is the general prevalence/availability of changing places?
The ones who get CP design right listen to the people who use them when designing. Some ‘expert’ CP installation companies produce CPs which let users down in some areas. Simply adhering to the CP spec is a good place to start with further considerations. The design of the room is at most half of the project to make a CP successful. The operation/management/promotion of the room is extremely important post installation.
17 of the top 20 busiest airports in the UK have Changing Places. In the whole of the rest of the world there are only 7 airports with them!
What are some of the barriers to getting it right?
A CP needs to be designed well to start with so not doing the correct research on what makes a good one creates un-user friendly hurdles. The facility needs to be managed well to work to its potential for venue and users. For example, is the entry system suitable? Is it signed well? Do people know it exists? Is there a system in place to check the hoist battery is charged (if necessary)?
The fear of being sued if someone injures themselves whilst using a hoist is a massive issue on the other side of the pond. The ONLY CP in America is at Chicago O’Hare airport which I was involved in. Surely there is a much higher risk of injuring whilst manually lifting someone to and from a wheelchair?
How should the provision of changing places be thought of in the passenger journey for airports?
CPs at an airport surely must be a given. We all want to use the loo before we go on a flight so why shouldn’t everyone have that opportunity? So many airports now have dog relief stations, prayer rooms and smoking rooms – so why shouldn’t all people have their basic human needs met?
Having CPs at airports will only encourage families and disabled groups to travel from there. Around a quarter of a million people in the UK need them!
What are the main misconceptions and misunderstandings around changing places?
There is a general belief that CPs cost hundreds of thousands of pounds which is due to some rather inflated figures being thrown around from some companies trying to boast about their expenditure. The equipment and installation should cost £11-14K. Any other associated building, plumbing, drainage work etc will obviously add up.
There is a lack of understanding regarding the difference between a CP and a standard disabled loo. If it does not affect you or your circle of loved ones then it’s not going to be on your radar. I always say – if someone is in a wheelchair, cannot stand or walk and is incontinent then how does that person use the toilet facilities? The only other option is to lie that person on the dirty toilet floor of a standard disabled loo!
Parents with young children will see the word ‘Changing’ on the door and assume it is a baby changing room. Therefore I always recommend having a sign outside the room stating what a CP is for and where the nearest baby changing facility is.
The majority of venues with a CP underestimate the need to promote it. If people don’t know it’s there, then they will be less likely to visit. There is still a huge lack of awareness of CPs with those who need them! Even users don’t know they exist because there are relatively so few.
For staff, what are some dos and don’ts around supporting users of changing places?
Staff absolutely need to know what and where the room(s) are. Even approaching potential users to let them know – be proud of what you have!
Staff need to be available to open the room if they are required to without delay.
Checking the hoist is charged throughout the day should be someone’s responsibility – if it is a battery powered one.
Staff will not be required to help people use the facility. The equipment is part of the user’s everyday life and they will probably have someone with them to support them with their needs.
Staff should regularly check to integrity of the room so it is not abused