Claire and Daniel SmythA mother whose son has special needs has launched a campaign to encourage organisations, businesses and venues across the UK and Ireland to improve changing facilities for disabled children, after a survey revealed that 57% of parents had changed their child on the floor of a public toilet.

Claire Smyth (pictured), community manager of online special needs community Firefly Garden and mother of 5-year-old Daniel, who has special needs, was inspired to start the ‘Space to Change’ campaign after hearing stories of parents struggling to change their children in public toilets.

The survey of 2,200 parents, conducted www.firefly-garden.com, found that 86% of parents have had to leave a venue earlier than planned because of poor changing facilities. When asked ‘where have you had to change your child?’ 1,291 (57%) said on the floor of a public toilet and 1,000 (43%) said on the ground outside. In all, 97% of respondents said changing their child when out and about was a problem and 45% stated it was their biggest problem. 

Parents shared experiences of having to change their child in public places including the floor of an airport, a corner of a restaurant, abandoning a day trip and even having to leave their child in a soiled nappy due to lack of facilities. 

The survey also had clear indications about what additions to changing facilities would make parents’ life easier: 96% wanted a height adjustable changing bench, 95% said simply a private area and 59% called for a mobile hoist.

Call for better facilities

Smyth said that the time had come to have better facilities for disabled children. “There are so many of us who don’t like putting our handbags on the floor of a public toilet yet for parents of children with disabilities, sometimes we’ve been left with no other option but to change our children on public toilet floors,” she said.

“This is a very telling survey and we fear that there are many venues, businesses, shopping centres, restaurants and visitor attractions that need to be better equipped for children with special needs. As a parent of a child with special needs, I know what a difference good facilities make. One of things we desire most for our children and families is a sense of normality – being able to do things and go places without the worry of adequate facilities. I’ve lost count of the times we’ve had to abandon a day out because Daniel needed to be changed and there have been many occasions when a dirty public toilet floor was my only option. 

“This campaign is not asking for much but we are asking – perhaps even pleading! – that venues ensure there is a clean, private space for us to change our children – a space large enough to accommodate the child, the child’s wheelchair or buggy and the parent or carer.”

Existing campaign Changing Places has helped to drive up the number of accessible changing facilities in the UK in recent years – about 700 venues now have a Changing Places toilet – but thousands of toilets and venues still do not have such facilities.

Space to Change provides suggestions on how a venue can improve its facilities to better meet the needs of families who have children with special needs, in return they are awarded 1 of 3 Levels – green, orange or pink.

To learn more about the campaign, including how to become a Space to Change champion go to: www.firefly-garden.com.