The Formica Group’s latest study explores Briton’s attitude towards disabled toilet design

Joe Bell from the Formica Group discusses attitudes to disabled toilets and the influence of specification.

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he loo, the restroom, the powder room, the washroom, call it what you may, we all spend a lot more time noticing them and talking about them than you think. To understand opinions on how the British public feel about public and workplace toilets, and to uncover how the washroom needs to be optimised, we conducted our own research. As part of the survey and resulting White Paper, ‘Lifting the Lid on Washrooms’, the topic of disabled toilets revealed some interesting findings.

While almost three quarters (71%) of people surveyed said they didn’t like using public toilets because they find them unhygienic (68%), smelly (68%), poorly equipped (54%) and lacking in privacy (41%), this was not the case with disabled toilets.

In the survey, respondents were able to give their own free-text responses to the state of disabled toilets they have used. Contrary to the experiences of using standard public or workplace loos, disabled people gave a big thumbs up to the experience of using these conveniences.

“Disabled toilets I’ve used are great, and have plenty of room for my wheelchair”, said one respondent, while another wrote: “They are regularly checked and cleaned”.

When questioned about what is most important for them, ‘comfort’ was the word disabled people used the most. By and large, this seems to be what they experience, perhaps because the regulations for these toilets are much more black and white.

Understandably, disabled toilets are larger as there is a raft of regulations to ensure all public cubicles can accommodate wheelchair manoeuvrability. Disabled toilets must be at least 2220 x 1500mm wide, have a door 900mm wide, able to open 950mm outwards. Basins need to be such that hands can be washed while still seated on the WC, and grab rails must also be present at specific heights.

Perhaps this explains why other (non-disabled) adults questioned for this survey hone in on disabled loos when the opportunity arises – such as when the queue for standard toilets are too long or, and this is a popular reason, if they want to find a toilet that they believe is cleaner.

For example, the data shows more than half (52%) of people think it’s acceptable to bypass a long queue and use a disabled loo if it’s not being used. But it’s the clear belief these toilets are used less frequently and are therefore cleaner that is also telling. A fifth of people (20%) say it’s acceptable to use disabled toilets when these are the cleanest option.

But it’s not just disabled people who are appreciating the space afforded to them that the regulations insist on. Around 15% of non-disabled respondents think they should be able to use a disabled toilet to benefit from the additional space it provides, while the same proportion again think it’s acceptable to access disabled toilets for the additional privacy they afford.

With privacy ranking as a major concern amongst adults using loos outside their home (41% claim work/public toilets do not give them enough privacy), the sanctuary a larger, disabled toilet gives them is obvious. This suggests architects and other space/workplace designers should arguably take note. There is a clear preference for more room to be given to people, and that they should allow for this when allocating space to their washroom designs.

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