Tom Gordon has a background as a master locksmith and now produces RADAR keys for accessible loos. He has developed a helpful app for disabled people or carers to find their nearest Changing Places. Here, he speaks to Care & Nursing Essentials editor Victoria Galligan about the product development and what else needs to be done to make the UK truly accessible.
Tom explains the difference between types of loos available, saying, “Disabled Toilets are correctly called ‘Accessible toilets’ but not all accessible toilets are the same. Changing Place toilets have been designed for use by people who have a carer and include a full-size changing bench, a hoist and a peninsular toilet. Changing Places 'U' toilets and Space2Change toilets are similar but don’t have all the features of the full Changing Places standard.”
Tom adds that Changing Places are not normally available for independent disabled people who can use a standard accessible toilet.
As for the number of facilities available, Tom says, “There are 20,000-30,000 accessible toilets and 1,400 Changing Places in the UK, but there are never enough – partially because many councils are saving money. A dozen more are being built every month. Wales is particularly short of facilities.”
So are all accessible loos locked with a RADAR key? “There is no standard which demands public accessible loos are locked with a RADAR lock but the vast majority do use them, if they are locked. It all depends on the toilet provider – some have a local key or a code or an intercom or a card. Some you have to pay for entry. Our phone apps tell you how to get in to each loo at www.loo.org. Eire and Europe and Australia all have their own National Key Scheme key – the links are also on www.loo.org.
Tom’s RADAR key only costs £250 plus P&P, and he adds that they are available for bulk orders too from www.radarkey.org.
He continues, “We have discontinued the steel keys which we supplied to RADAR for 25 years (until the charity shut down). They all still work all the locks but our new solid brass keys are improved in three main ways: the unique raised rim to the head gives much better grip; the computerised keycutting and other manufacturing and design improvements give a more reliable key, but we still have a master locksmith check every single key on two RADAR door locks (not the simpler mechanism of the padlock) to ensure that when a disabled person is outside the only toilet nearby which is suitable for them, they can reliably get inside; and it looks pretty, which is not irrelevant – why should a disabled person be forced to have an ugly product?”
At www.loo.org you can check out Tom’s app "Changing Places Toilet Finder" which also features Spaces to Change, and he plans to produce apps for UK public toilets and accessible toilets too.
Tom adds, “The website has the same data as the phone apps but the larger screen and power etc means that we can add extra features compared to the app.
They all show where 1,400 Changing Places are, who can use them, opening hours, how to get there, how to find the toilet once you are there, how to get in and if it doesn’t comply with the full CP specifications, how it falls short. It even tells you the time of the next train or bus to get there.”
Tom also offers free signage for the loos as he says a lack of information at the site is “a universal problem”.
He adds, “This means it is difficult to identify them, even when you are nearby. Also, it’s not clear who is meant to use each type of toilet or what key is needed. It can be difficult to find out about other toilets nearby and a mystery who to report faults to.”
Tom explains, “As we do business with most of the toilet providers, it was easy for us to contact the right people to get the necessary information and then use our existing skills and technology to solve this problem.”
As campaigners continue to urge businesses to invest in Changing Places, it’s imperative that people can actually find and get into them – and through the app, key service and sign production, Tom is ensuring that loo.org is pulling all the factors together to make the country more accessible.