Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland mum's crusade over 'disgraceful' lack of disabled public toilets

By Lisa Smyth

Disabled people are being failed because of filthy public toilets across Northern Ireland, a mother has claimed.

Christine McClements from Co Londonderry, whose daughter has severe disabilities, has described struggling to lift the child out of her wheelchair before having to lay her down on unhygienic toilet floors.

She said the lack of adequate facilities for people with disabilities means her nine-year-old daughter Lilia frequently misses out on experiences as simple as playing with her two sisters.

"You wouldn't want to put your coat or handbag on the floor of a public toilet, yet I am expected to lie my disabled daughter down on the dirty and unhygienic floor," Mrs McClements explained.

"It's cold and uncomfortable and we're expecting our most vulnerable and severely disabled children and adults to lie on the floor of public toilets.

"It's totally unacceptable and disgraceful, and denies disabled persons the equality and dignity they deserve.

"It's treating people with disabilities as the lowest of the low - it's degrading and absolutely unacceptable.

"If you had a mum and her baby and you told her she would have to change her baby on the toilet floor, most people would be absolutely horrified, and I would say my child is like any other child and deserves to be treated the same.

"As I see it, we're treating people with disabilities less favourably simply because they have a disability, and that's discrimination."

Mrs McClements (43), a mother-of-three and civil engineer from Aghadowey, Co Derry, is an avid disability rights campaigner.

She has called for a change to the Northern Ireland building regulations to make it compulsory to provide proper toilet facilities in all new, large public buildings.

She has also called for more businesses and organisations to implement Changing Places facilities.

There are currently only 18 such toilets here.

In order to be considered a Changing Places toilet, it must meet a number of requirements, including having a minimum square footage, a peninsular toilet, hoist, and height-adjustable adult-sized changing bench.

Mrs McClements added: "Lilia is nine but I already find it difficult to lift her myself, which means that I need someone else to help me lift her out of her wheelchair. If my husband isn't available, it really restricts where we can go and what we can do.

"We are far from unique - this is the experience of all parents and carers of disabled people, particularly as both the child and carer grow older, as it gets to the point where lifting out of wheelchairs becomes increasingly difficult and then impossible.

"Even with the size of a normal disabled toilet, it is extremely difficult for my husband and I to fit in with Lilia and our other younger daughter and Lilia's wheelchair, and then to have the floor space to lay her down on the floor.

"It's so undignified for our precious daughter."

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