Two Donegal mums explain how lack of changing rooms undermines children’s dignity

For parents going on an excursion with children, it is essential to know where there are clean and accessible toilets or changing tables.

But if you’re the parent or caregiver of a child, teen, or adult who can’t use the bathroom due to extra needs, changing room planning can be a logistical nightmare.

According to the Changing Places Ireland Steering Group, there are no registered Changing Places in Donegal and only 17 nationally.

Two mums from Donegal share their experiences with our readers in the hope that it will raise awareness and encourage people to support the Changing Places campaign.

Claire McDevitt from West Donegal is mum to five-year-old Rory, who uses a wheelchair.

She said: “Most often we don’t go out on day trips at all because we can’t use the standard disabled toilets.

Not suitable for use

“For children like my son Rory, standard disabled toilets are not suitable, there is not enough space to move around with wheelchairs and a changing bench is essential as many children, teenagers and adults cannot yet use the toilet and need to change.

“It’s so unfair that our children deserve to be worthy and live as much as all of us.”

Eileen Lennox, who lives in the Donegal Town area, knows all too well the challenges this presents. Her daughter Laoise is now 17, and can be changed standing. But for many years, when Eileen needed to change her, there was simply nowhere available.

“I had to change her in the trunk of my car, trying to shield her from view at the same time,” she said.

‘The public toilets in Donegal town are totally inadequate and really not enjoyable at all for anyone, let alone a disabled person who has to be lying on the floor to be changed.

“These changing tables you see are suitable for babies and toddlers.

“But if you have a child of four or five years old, let alone an adult, and he has mobility issues, you can’t lift him on a table.

“What you need are proper facilities: lifts, a wheelchair turntable, a table that can be lowered and raised.

Each city center

“We need it in every town center in Ireland. There’s no point in having one in Letterkenny if your child soils himself in Donegal Town.

Eileen is very supportive of the Changing Places campaign to have these facilities in every public building.

“Hotels really should have these,” she said.

“What if you have someone at a wedding who needs to be changed?

“It’s not just about children. People with disabilities who have mobility and incontinence issues will need it throughout their lives.

Unworthy

“It’s so undignified to have to lie on the bathroom floor to change.”

Eileen thinks the problem lies in a broader issue of lack of awareness that is reflected in many areas of society.

This includes public transportation, the way people block sidewalks with cars, sandwich panels, flower pots and the like, store layouts, access to businesses, how narrow some sidewalks are, and the fact that sloping crossing points on sidewalks are not always opposite each other.

Public transport in particular is a big problem and a source of stress for people with disabilities.

“I took my daughter on a train to Dublin and when we got to Connolly the lift wasn’t working,” she said. “We don’t always have the wheelchair because she can walk a bit but it’s very tiring for her to go too far. We had to walk the full length of the platform to find a working lift.

“I’ve been to DART stations where you had to climb stairs to reach a walkway to cross the tracks.

“We need a real awareness of what it is like for someone in a wheelchair or with reduced mobility.”

Eileen calls on people to support the Changing Places campaign so that people with disabilities can participate in daily life without themselves and their carers having this constant problem of changing facilities.

Enshrining it in law would ensure the availability of new facilities in the future. It also helps raise awareness and shows that it is a human right and not a token extra.

Locally, the Bluestack Special Needs Foundation makes its changing rooms in Donegal Town available to families registered with the foundation. And the new Four Masters GAA Club pavilion will also have these facilities.

Support the campaign

We can all help make more locker room availability a reality by supporting the Changing Places campaign. All it takes is time to send an email. A template is even available.

The Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage is currently seeking public input on amending the Building Regulations to make changeable toilets mandatory in some public buildings. Changing Places Ireland is calling on people and organizations in Donegal to email [email protected] in support of the proposed change. A sample email is available at www.changingplace.ie

The deadline for receipt of submissions and comments is May 12 at 5 p.m.

Richard F. Gandhi