DISABILITY: It’s not always clearly visible

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Anyone seen leaving a disabled toilet who is not in a wheelchair, or who is not showing any other signs of a limited ability to walk, can often be the subject of a disapproving look, or even of 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 from a stoma is collected in a specially designed disposable bag, which needs to be emptied on a regular basis. There may also be occasions when a leak occurs, necessitating speedy remedial action.

Changing a stoma bag in a clean, spacious environment is essential in order to avoid infection.

Estimates vary, but this is the reality of life for around 130,000 people of all ages in the UK — that is one in 500.

Many people will have heard of a colostomy or an ileostomy, both life-saving stomas for anyone with a severe bowel condition. Few, however, will have heard of a urostomy, the most common outcome for conditions requiring removal of the bladder. In the majority of cases bladder cancer is the root cause.

Using a disabled toilet is a right for anyone with a stoma, but even then conditions are often not ideal and most such facilities need to be improved.

For instance, a shelf very near to the toilet is needed to lay out all the equipment, and the wash basin should also be within reaching distance of the toilet basin.

Most disabled toilets will 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 that the facilities are not just for wheelchair users.

For more than 45 years, our UK-wide charity The Urostomy Association has been supporting and informing, both before and after surgery, anyone with any form of urinary diversion.

Somehow, problems associated with the disposal of urine are still the subject of a very outdated taboo mentality and one of our biggest challenges is raising awareness of the needs of an estimated 10,000 of the UK population who are affected by this.

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