Universal Design vs Specialised Design

Blue background, white symbols for a changing places toilet signFrom the Editor: One of our members raised an interesting point with me this week about Changing Places toilets and whether they meet the principles of Universal Design. This is one of those situations where it isn’t easy to distinguish where UD ends and specialised design begins. 

The European perspective is that inclusion is a continuum – a chain of inclusive thinking. At one end of the continuum are universally designed products, services and environments that almost anyone can use. At the other end are specialised assistive technologies and devices such as prosthetic limbs and speech synthesisers. Somewhere in the middle the two intersect. Some people need both specialised and universally designed products and environments.

A simple example is ramps and level entries go together with mobility devices – a wheelchair user depends on both for achieving entry to a building. So where does that leave us with Changing Places (CP) toilets? 

Toilet signage showing Men Women Accessible and Changing Places toilets

The Changing Places website says their toilets are designed to “meet the needs of people with severe and profound disabilities”. It also says, “It is required that accredited Changing Places facilities be built in addition to and separate from required Unisex Accessible Toilets (see picture of signage). This is to ensure that the needs of both groups of toilet users are met without compromise”.  This clearly puts Changing Places toilets at the assistive technology end of the continuum as as a specialised design for particular users. The toilet is therefore not universally designed because not everyone can use it due to the way it is designed. But CP toilets support universal design because in conjunction with other toilet types in the vicinity they provide equitable access for everyone to the surrounding environment. Consequently, everyone gets the benefits – everyone is included.

Changing Places toilet showing the change table, the hoist and the toilet with drop down grab barsHowever, there are concerns that where funds are limited, it would be easy for the uninitiated to assume the CP toilet would work for all wheelchair users. In that case, there would be problems with the drop-down grab bars, particularly for people with MS, Parkinson’s and others with balance problems. The accreditation for these facilities should be through the Changing Places organisation without reference to the public accessible toilet standard (AS1428.1). The term “Lift and Change” toilets is being used in New South Wales and leaves it open to misinterpretation of what the CP toilet is supposed to achieve and who it is for.

Australian Standard for accessible public toilets (AS1428.1) does not cover CP facilities. And not all adult lift and change toilets are accredited by the Changing Places organisation. Hence this leaves it open for a non-accredited Changing Places/ lift and change toilet to be installed without a companion accessible toilet nearby.

CP toilets give families a new freedom to participate in activities, both outdoor and indoor. In this respect these toilets facilitate greater participation and inclusion for individuals and families – and this is a principle that universal design fully supports.

Jane Bringolf, Editor

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