When nature calls, it doesn’t wait long.
There are eight public washrooms in Victoria, but only some of them are easy to get to. For people with mobility issues, such as seniors or wheelchair users, several of the washrooms can’t be used at all.
“Unfortunately, it wasn’t a surprise that a lot of them failed to meet various standards. Most noticeably most of them were lacking depth,” says Colin Mooney, who was a researcher for the Victoria Disability Resource Centre.
Mooney went to all eight of the public washrooms funded or subsidized by the City of Victoria or the government. Measuring tape in hand, he checked the dimensions of stalls against the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) guidelines, only to discover most were too small for a wheelchair to fit in.
That wasn’t the only design flaw he found, which he outlined in a list with brief descriptions.
“One of the things that was more surprising, but equally annoying, was they’d have an accessible stall in a bathroom but there was no ramp and a step up to get to the bathroom. So it was like why did you bother to put accessible stalls in the bathroom if you were not going to have a way to access the bathroom itself?” Mooney said.
ADA guidelines are not enforced in Canada, which can lead to many design flaws that are overlooked by able-bodied engineers. The Accessible Canada Act was only introduced in June this year, and has not been implemented yet.
Wendy Cox, the executive director of VDRC, said common barriers are sinks that a wheelchair cannot get close enough to for hand washing, and toilet paper just out of reach. Paper towel dispensers far from the sink mean people have to use their wet hands to touch their wheels, making washing their hands redundant.
“I have personal experience with trying to access accessible washrooms, especially because one of the secondary conditions of my disability is I actually have to use the washroom quite frequently. Whether or not a place has an accessible washroom impacts my ability to go there or to go out and enjoy life,” Cox, who uses a wheelchair and manual chair, said. “My life pretty much revolves around accessible bathrooms.”
In Victoria, the Market Public Square washrooms have multiple staircases leading to the courtyard. Even though there are larger stalls in the washrooms, you can’t get to them without using at least two staircases.
The Langley Street Loo and the urinal at the Government and Pandora intersection were both installed within the last few years to combat public urination, but are not accessible according to ADA guidelines.
The urinal is too narrow to get a wheelchair or walker inside the spiral design. Even if they could get that far, there’s only a railing to support yourself with — making it impossible to use for anyone who can’t stand. It’s also labelled as a men-only stall.
“Those ones just aren’t that practical,” Mooney said. “The design of the Langley Street Loo, the door swings out in a weird way that would make it difficult for someone with a disability to use without assistance.”
The most accessible washroom on Mooney’s list is the one below the Information Centre in the Inner Harbour.
Although there are many staircases, a slope from the parking lot leads to the washrooms’ locations inside. They’re not open 24 hours a day, but there are two separate washrooms with a railing, ample room for a wheelchair and a changing table. A sign that designates each as an “all genders” washroom was one of the highlights on Mooney’s list.
On his most recent visit to the washroom, however, Mooney noticed a new sign no longer had braille on it.
Cox said even she didn’t know about how accessible some of the washrooms in Victoria were before Mooney completed his research. The results, she said, go to show how important it is to consult people with disabilities when trying to create a barrier-free washroom.
“In an ideal world, people who have the power to make those sorts of changes would take notice and take the initiative to design a more accessible city,” Mooney said of what he hopes his washroom list will do. “Until then, ideally the list would be able to help people who do have different abilities to navigate what we have at the moment.”