Who really loses out here?

A sign with letters in black on glass, fixed by metal bolts to the wall behind. There are arrows pointing left with the room number 716, underneath which it says "Male washroom" with a man symbol and a circle with a wheelchair with a line through it. Next to the right arrow are the room numbers 714 and 722 and underneath that is "Universal washroom with hoist and adult change table", with signs representing men, women, wheelchairs and the hoist.This is a sign which, allegedly, appeared on a college hall of residence in Toronto, Canada. It points left to a non-accessible bathroom for men, and right for an accessible one with a hoist and an adult changing table, for everyone else including all women and any men who want to use it. Feminists of a certain sect have been sharing this image with the suggestion that it requires women to share a toilet with men, and when I pointed out to one of them yesterday that it really (very seriously) inconveniences many disabled people, she accused me of glossing over the implications to women’s safety of having to share a bathroom with men. In fact, such toilets are always single cubicles, so this will not happen.

What might happen is serious enough. This is the type of toilet known in the UK as a Changing Place, which campaigners have been trying to get fitted to as many places such as shopping centres, airports and other public buildings as possible because without it, a severely disabled person who is too big to just lift out of their wheelchair when they need the toilet (or a change of incontinence pad) and cannot make the transfer themselves would otherwise not be able to remain away from their home for very long. Generally speaking, disabled people do not like people using disabled toilets if they do not need them, as having to wait for a toilet can have unpleasant consequences — anything from wet clothes and wheelchair seat to a urinary tract infection, and for some people (e.g. those with high-level spinal cord injuries) a life-threatening blood pressure disorder called autonomic dysreflexia (a common cause of which is a blocked catheter, causing the bladder to overfill).

If a specialised Changing Places type toilet is present, it really should not be the toilet used by 50% or more of the population on campus because this will lead to wear and tear; it should be reserved for those who actually need it. One presumes that not every residence on this campus has a specialised toilet and that any students with the need for a hoist will be in this dormitory or perhaps one or two others, so it is highly likely that it will be needed. In any recently-built hall of residence, it is ludicrous and unconscionable that all female students are expected to use a single cubicle and that all disabled students are expected to use the same one. If the male toilet is not a single cubicle but a communal one with multiple cubicles and urinals, that is also highly discriminatory against the women but let’s not lose sight of whose safety is under threat here.

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