DISABILITY: Not always obvious

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Anyone seen leaving a disabled toilet who is not in a wheelchair, or who is not showing any signs of a limited ability to walk, can be the subject of a disapproving look or verbal abuse.

What some people fail to realise is that not every disability is immediately visible, as is the case with anyone whose waste exits the body via a surgically created opening called a stoma.

The waste is collected in a disposable bag, which needs to be emptied on a regular basis, and there may be occasions when a leak occurs, necessitating speedy action. Changing a stoma bag in a clean, spacious environment is essential to avoid infection.

This is the reality of life for around 130,000 people of all ages in the UK – one in 500.

Many people will have heard of a colostomy or ileostomy, both life-saving stomas. Few, however, will have heard of a urostomy, the most common outcome for conditions requiring removal of the bladder.

Using a disabled toilet is a right for anyone with a stoma, but even then most facilities need to be improved.

A shelf near to the toilet is needed to lay out all the equipment and the basin should be within reaching distance of the toilet. Most disabled toilets have a waste bin that is suitable for disposal of stoma bags, but some do not.

There should also be a sign on the door, making it clear that not every disability is immediately apparent and the facilities are not just for wheelchair users.

For more than 45 years The Urostomy Association has been supporting and informing anyone with any form of urinary diversion.

Problems associated with the disposal of urine are still the subject of a very outdated taboo mentality, and one of our biggest challenges is raising awareness of the needs of an estimated 10,000 of the UK population who are affected.

The next time you feel like challenging someone who is not in a wheelchair leaving a disabled toilet, think again.

Brian Fretwell and Hazel Pixley

The Urostomy Association