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ChangeAbility is new in Australia but what is it ?

By John Bedwell ACAA Obvius Access Director of Sydney Office

For those readers interested enough to find out about ChangeAbility I will explain the concept. Firstly it is the provision of fully accessible toilets. This statement probably leads you to ask the question. What is so special about a fully accessible toilet surely we have thousands of fully accessible disabled toilets in Australia? Unfortunately that would be wrong there are just 10 of them. 

By comparison the UK has 450 of these fully accessible toilets. In Australia there is no current legislation for the compulsory construction of any fully accessible changing places toilets as they are universally referred to. This unfortunate situation exists despite representation to the Senate Committee relating to the 2010 Access to Premises Standards and the need to incorporate Changing Places fully accessible toilets within the requirements for new developments they were not included within the final legislative document. Our disabled accessible toilets are not fully accessible. Yet it can be argued that in most cases they have complied with the requirements of our construction codes that existed when they were built which are now becoming very limiting by comparison with new and proposed future worldwide standards. 

The majority of existing Australian Disabled Toilets are

* Too small

* Have insufficiently sized changing benches

* Are not fitted with a tracking hoist system

* Do not have a centrally positioned toilet

* Generally are not well equipped with modern fitments.

* Generally have no panic alarm facility within them

* Do not have anti-slip floors

The recognition of the need for full accessible changing places has been established for some time now in Europe. The need for ChangeAbility was campaigned strongly by what were called Changing Place Consortiums in UK and Europe. These consortiums comprised some very influential charities and personalities. The UK having won the hosting nomination for the Olympics and Paralympics played a major role in the funding of design and research projects to establish acceptable spatial standards for dimensions and equipment specification required for fully accessible changing places. An equally important factor was the question of location for these facilities.

Well that’s enough about Europe. What about now in Australia? There is no legislation in place for the provision of these larger areas, there is little funding available for improved equipment. Developers and Business Operators view the increased areas as liabilities having a negative effect upon the gross to net useable areas of their premises and are reluctant to provide the additional necessary funding when not required to by legislation. That in a nutshell is why we only have Ten fully accessible changing places toilets in the whole of Australia. That works out at one for every 2.2 million people. Are you surprised? So was I when I found out! Want to do something about it? So do I! Hence Changeability it is my simple way of identifying the need to provide fully accessible toilets on a nationwide basis.

One of the ways to draw legislators attention to this lack of equality and hence discrimination relating to people with severe impairment, their relatives and their careers is to create local action groups, and attract major sponsors. The object of which would be to increase awareness of the existence of this shocking imbalance and to lobby politicians and local councilors for recognition and funding. Find time to write to your local newspaper urging action. So please help if you can.

For my part I will continue to write my articles specifically relating to the need for ChangeAbility in our supposed to be all inclusive community, and seek to identify Australian locations of fully accessible toilets for publication.

John Bedwell lives in Sydney he is the local director of the NSW Office of Accredited Disability Access Consultants Obvius Access. He has published numerous articles relating to Disability Discrimination and the need for better public and political awareness of the level of accessibility denial that exists in our communities today read more on www.accessconsultant.com.au

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