Asda to display invisible disabilities sign nationwide

Two days ago, I highlighted the appearance of a new sign for an accessible restroom in an Asda store in Bristol.

Although staying quiet at the time, Asda has now announced that the ‘not every disability is visible’ sign is being introduced throughout its UK chain of more than 400 mega, super and large retail stores. I wonder whether the idea might be taken up in the US by its parent company Walmart.

On its company website this week, Asda said:

We understand that not all disabilities are visible which is why we’re rolling out new signs for our disabled toilets in more than 400 of our stores.

We want to make sure all our customers feel comfortable using our facilities – including those with disabilities that aren’t always obvious such as Crohn’s disease, autism and Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD).

The new signs were inspired by a conversation between our Newark store manager Abby Robinson, mum Tonya Glennester and her five-year-old daughter Evalynn after a recent visit to the store.

asda toilet signEvalynn, who has ADHD and autism, used the disabled toilet but she and her mum became upset when they were questioned by another customer who told them “You don’t look disabled.”

“Evalynn can be affected by the noise of the hand dryer as well as queues and crowds of people,” said Tonya, who is a member of a local autism support group. “It can cause a sensory reaction causing her to become upset or have aggressive outbursts, so the accessible toilet gives us a little more space and privacy.

“When we walked out there were two customers waiting, one in a wheelchair, and they disagreed that I should be using the toilet. I also suffer from health issues that can cause pain, chronic fatigue, bowel pain and balance problems meaning I often have to use the hand rails. We were both really upset and left the store but I decided to speak to the manager because I know there are so many stories like ours.”

Abby, who has just taken over as manager at the store, spoke to colleagues at Asda’s Head Office and it was agreed that new signs will go up in 421 stores over the next few weeks to make them more accessible.

Abby said: “I feel very proud that a simple conversation with a customer and her daughter has resulted in this initiative to raise awareness of invisible illnesses.”

One of the new signs was spotted by a customer at our York Monks Cross store who tweeted a photo. Her tweet prompted praise from charities including Crohn’s and Colitis UK who support people with Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD), Crohn’s Disease and Ulcerative Colitis.

Their spokesperson said: “For many people with IBD the sudden and uncontrollable need to use a toilet is a genuine and recognised symptom of their condition. Whilst they may not look ill on the outside they are affected from debilitating symptoms that affect all aspects of their lives.

“Many members of the charity feel that they are judged for using accessible toilets because others perceive them to be well. We are thrilled that Asda will be adopting these signs throughout their stores across the UK and we hope that more businesses will follow suit.”

Tonya added: “I am overwhelmed to see that Asda took my concerns so seriously and have made these changes nationwide. So many people will benefit from this – it will raise awareness and help people understand that you can’t always see someone’s disability.”

 

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Suitable for those with disabilities? Maybe not

Shared facilities are not the answer.

Shared facilities are not the answer.

Restrooms or toilets provided for people with disabilities often fail to live up to the promises they appear to make. Probably, this is more to do with lack of planning and foresight but also may be influenced by available space. Too often, though, it might be due to finances.

It is bad enough for those who can manage to walk with some assistance but for wheelchair users the situation is more difficult and an extended wait may even be disastrous. I know that from personal experience as MS makes using a wheelchair a necessity and has given me a bladder problem.

There are a number of issues that, for me, make a facility supposedly put there for us, really unsuitable for a person with a disability who is using a wheelchair. And here, for the moment, I am talking about someone who can transfer himself or herself from the chair to the seat itself.

These issues are:

  • Where there is a need to share the same room with baby changing facilities;

I cannot remember how many times I have had to wait while mum or dad copes with two or three children, often without a baby at all;

  • Where a room for disabled people is located within a single-gender washroom;

Oh great, I am being pushed in a manual wheelchair by my wife. I cannot manouevre the chair myself and my wife cannot enter the ‘Gents’ to enable me to reach the facilities I need. Ridiculous design. The only answer? Ask a passing man to help me.

  • Where a room is not large enough to cope with a wheelchair;

Somehow, I get inside, just, and manage to fasten the door – but there is so little room that it is difficult to transfer from the wheelchair and back again.

  • Where the emergency pull cord has been tied up or shortened to be out of reach of children.

Yes, I know that they have had problems with children pulling the cord. Yes, I know that it seems like a good idea putting it beyond their reach. BUT, if someone falls on the floor and cannot get up, how is he or she going to summon assistance?

Accessibility does not just mean ramps and level entrances; it does not even just mean accessible parking spaces. It does include the provision of toilet facilities for the disabled and by ‘accessible’ I mean that they need to be: dedicated for such use, not multi-purpose; readily available for people of either gender, not placed inside a ‘Ladies’ or ‘Gents’; large enough to take a wheelchair and allow easy and comfortable transfer; provided with a proper method to call for help if someone has fallen.

Of course, besides the basics, there are needs for even more aids such as hoists, for those who cannot transfer themselves, as well as an adult-sized table or bench to enable a carer to change incontinence pads.

Oh, just one more thing, if you don’t have a disability, please don’t be tempted to use our special room. We need it; you are very fortunate not to do so.