There are hundreds of thousands of people across the UK with invisible disabilities or long-term health conditions who need to use accessible toilets in public places. But too often, the assumption is made that disabled toilets are only for people in a wheelchair or with mobility difficulties.
This is what happened to young Prestonpans school pupil Grace Warnock when she used an accessible toilet and was questioned by an adult.
Grace, like around 115,000 people across the UK, has Crohn’s Disease.
Since then, she has made it her mission to educate others on invisible disabilities and to encourage everyone to have a heart. She is a truly inspiring young person.
The 300,000 people in the UK living with Crohn’s Disease and Colitis should be able to use accessible toilets without fear of comments from others.
One of the main problems is the standard sign that’s used on toilets, as well as parking spaces and elsewhere – the familiar image of a person in a wheelchair. It doesn’t serve as a reminder that not all disabilities are visible.
So Grace designed her own sign, which received national attention and led to her receiving a Points of Light Award from then-Prime Minister Theresa May and a British Citizen Youth Award. Now the next step in the campaign is underway.
Taking inspirational from Grace’s design, a new Any Disability symbol has been produced by Edinburgh-based StudioLR thanks to a Life Changes Trust Award funded by the National Lottery Community Fund.
The studio has already carried out excellent work to challenge the signage typically used in care environments, particularly for those with dementia to help them feel more confident and independent. It has since turned its attention to everyday symbols, from signs in train stations to information in brochures and websites.
The aim now is for the new sign to be recognised by the British Standards Institution (BSI) as the accepted sign for accessible facilities, including toilets, parking spaces and assistance points, and for it then to be rolled out across the UK.
I have met with the BSI to discuss this, and also with UK Government representatives. An All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Any Disability Signage has also now been created to help drive the issue forward in Parliament. Just before Westminster embarked on its summer recess, I hosted a drop-in event and more than 50 MPs came along to show their support - from Labour, the Tories, the SNP, the LibDems and the Independent Group for Change.
At Holyrood, my colleague Iain Gray has also raised awareness. There has been an incredible and positive response, and there is a clear desire for action. The next step is persuading public sector bodies and private sector companies to come onboard: transport hubs, pubs and restaurants, schools and hospitals, and anywhere where disabled toilets are located. It’s a small change that won’t cost much, but could transform a person’s experience and help educate many more. In the weeks and months ahead, this campaign will help to increase awareness and lead to greater understanding about the daily challenges faced by so many people living with a wide range of conditions.
Martin Whitfield is Labour MP for East Lothian