Changing Places toilets fill an important gap in the current building codes requirements. They cater for a different user group compared to standard accessible (or disabled) toilets.

Toilets are a necessity for everyone. Everyone needs a toilet in their home or workplace and when we go out we expect to be able to use a toilet when visiting a public space or building. This should be a basic entitlement for every Australian. But unfortunately it’s not the case for everyone.

When it comes to commercial buildings (i.e. hotels, offices, shops, restaurants, public assembly buildings or the like) the Building Code of Australia (BCA), forming part of the National Construction Code 2015 and the Disability (Access to Premises-Buildings) Standards 2010 (Premises Standards) mandates what type of toilets are required within each use of building. As a result we typically see three different types of toilets:

  1. Standard toilets
  2. Ambulant toilets (which are longer cubicles with grabrails found in a male or female toilet block)
  3. Unisex Accessible (or disabled) toilets (with an accessible toilet pan, washbasin, grab rails and backrests)

Unfortunately, accessible toilets have been acknowledged as not meeting the needs of all people with disability, including up to 200,000 Australians with a severe or profound disability. This limits the ability for some families or individuals to be able to plan long trips outside a small radius from their own homes. Unless of course they’re prepared to use a standard accessible toilet and change their family member on the toilet floor, which is not healthy, hygienic, dignified or safe when manual lifting is required.

Outside the requirements of the BCA and Premises Standards we find another type of toilet facility – Changing Places Toilets which arrived in Australia in 2012.

The Changing Places campaign has however been around since 2006 in the UK and there are now 741 facilities across the UK. The technical requirements for a UK facility have been adopted in the British Standard 8300 and referenced in the Approved Document M of UK Building Regulations, which recommends that large public buildings install a Changing Places facility.

More recently the campaign started in Ireland with 10 facilities currently at various stages of planning and a facility has opened at the Munich International Airport in Germany.

Changing Places toilet facilities may on first appearances seem very similar to standard accessible toilets – but they’re not. They cater for a different user group and the facilities have been designed with differing spatial needs to those accessible toilets required in the BCA. Changing Places toilets have more space, in fact enough for an assistant on both sides of the toilet pan and they have additional equipment including an adult sized height adjustable changing table and an overhead hoist system built into the room.

These facilities are considered to be above the current BCA and Premises Standards requirements, but can be provided as a best practice measure to cater for all families. In Australia we’ve recently seen a growing awareness around Changing Places facilities with an increasing acceptance of their inclusive in projects. For example, in Victoria the Melbourne Cricket Ground recently opened a new facility, being the first of six State government funded facilities, with the others being the Melbourne Zoo, the Rod Laver Arena and in three other locations to be selected shortly through community engagement.

In Western Australia there will be three facilities provided in the new Perth Stadium to be completed by the end of 2017. Additionally, as recently as last month the Government of Western Australia announced that the Disability Services Commission in partnership with the Western Australia Local Government Association will provide funding for local governments to install facilities across regional and metropolitan areas.

The Brisbane City Council also updated their ‘Public Toilet Design Guidelines’ in 2013 to “reflect a new demand for ‘Changing Places’ facilities, that allow carers to tend to high-needs, primarily adult users”. The Council acknowledged that there is currently no legislative requirement for Changing Places facilities but have developed several sites within the city.

When we consider this community need and the current BCA and Premises Standards accessibility minimum requirements, we could ask if Australia is doing enough for the 200,000 Australians with a severe or profound disability and their families. If we carefully dissect these current legislative requirements I believe we find evidence to suggest that we, as a nation, are letting these people down. This evidence will be discussed in detail in Part 2 of this two-part series.