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Tell-tale sign shows it’s not sport for all

Tell-tale sign shows it’s not sport for all
28th May 2021 Ian Streets

Whoever put the sign up probably thought they were being helpful, but the message that anyone looking for an accessible loo needn’t bother going through the door raised more questions than it answered.
The sign wasn’t quite that blunt, and the likelihood is that quite a bit of thought went into designing and placing it. Clear white text in capitals standing out against a dark blue background, and with the international symbol for access, in yellow, of a stick person in a wheelchair, with the whole thing mounted at door-handle level.
But it made the situation abundantly clear – if you needed an accessible loo this pavilion was not the place for you. It directed you to the “adjacent public toilets”, with no guidance on how to get there.
We’ll get to the bit later about the shortcomings with the “accessible” WC but it’s worth dwelling for a while on why it was considered acceptable to omit accessible facilities from the design for the main building, and to fail to add them when other improvements were carried out.
The pavilion looks as though it is well-used for sporting and social activities. There are four changing rooms, none having the benefit of accessible facilities, with each pair having their own exit door from the building. There’s a fourth door at the back of the building, next to the inaccessible loos.
Only the main door of the building is accessible, with steps at the front of the building but a ramp to the side.
In addition to the sports changing rooms, used mainly for football and cricket, the building has a function room suitable for meetings and maybe mini celebrations, with a small kitchen and serving hatch.
It’s all a bit dated, built maybe 50 years ago or more, and has been improved with the addition of the ramp, and the sign. There’s something contradictory about building a ramp to give disabled people access to the building, and putting up a sign to let them know they need to go elsewhere if they need the loo.
It’s possible, even likely, that when the building was constructed and improved, disabled people were not widely recognised as potentially being very sporty. We’ve written before about a veteran pub footballer questioning the logic of having an accessible parking bay outside a village sports pavilion, and that episode was only 20 years ago.
But even if that was considered an acceptable argument in the 1960s there’s still the question of why access should be denied to disabled people who weren’t taking part in matches, who might include sports spectators and people using the function room.
Surely the provision of the ramp was inspired by a recognition that the premises should be upgraded and made accessible?
But no. If you’re playing in a match, officiating in a fixture, spectating, preparing the refreshments or tidying up afterwards, attending a meeting in the function room, and you need an accessible loo you have to go next door. Even if it’s after dark.
That means negotiating the steps or ramp and making your way maybe 30 yards to the public toilets and the “accessible” loo. Once there, and probably filled with expectations that the facilities will be of a good standard, you find they aren’t but they are better than nothing.
The “accessible” loo has the advantage of being on the same level as the path but although larger than the cubicles in the pavilion, the room is too small for its intended use. The soap dispenser could do with being a bit lower but, along with the basin, is just about close enough for the user to reach, but only because the WC is too far forward, making it difficult for people to take support from the wall behind them.
Loo roll is in sheet form and the dispenser is in a convenient location, on the wall next to the WC. The hand drier is on the opposite wall from the WC, so some distance away. The drop down rail has been pulled from the wall and not replaced, which begs the reminder that the rail was actually there to give support, not just for decoration.
There is always a risk that by flagging up these failings it will merely lead to the authorities closing down the facilities because they are inadequate and discriminatory, but there are no resources to put them right.
The question of reasonableness comes into play – as there are no resources is it reasonable to close the facilities?
One option might be to develop an action plan because there might be other facilities which present similar problems, so this site should not be considered in isolation.
We all know about the Paralympics but that’s only a small part of the success story around accessible sports. Cricket and football are just two of many sports which are enjoyed by wheelchair users, people with a mobility impairment, visually impaired people and people who have a learning disability. Other accessible sports include athletics, orienteering, even dragon boat racing.
But although accessible sport is making progress but some of the facilities remain stuck in the past.

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