The public restrooms that set the world standard for accessibility

Toilet for disabled people with a red emergency pull cord placed next to it.

Depending on where you live, the accessibility, frequency, and sanitary quality of local public bathrooms wildly vary.

In the United States for example, it speaks to a specific lack of both care and understanding, that local authorities do not invest in accessible and clean public bathrooms, where not only are the facilities perceived as a symbol of deteriorating and underfunded public infrastructure, but demonstrative of the lack of respect that we have as a nation towards cleaners, who are often the most low-paid workers in society.

Despite being one of the most basic of human needs, the Public Toilet Index, a study by British Company Q Supplies, identified that the United States offers only eight public restroom facilities per one hundred thousand people. This falls massively short of countries such as Australia, with thirty-seven, and the world leader Iceland, with fifty-six.

In Japan, cleaners are well-respected (and compensated) for their public service, with Tokyo often being cited as the world leader in terms of cleanliness. Additionally, cleaner overalls are even designed by well-known fashion brands, and some of the most innovative public facilities, such as Architect Shigeru Ban’s toilet design integrate panels of color glass that become non-transparent when in use.

Meanwhile, in Norway – local architects are refurbishing roadside restrooms into literal tourist destinations in which restrooms are strategically placed to integrate the impressive local scenery into the design, which supports tourism and actively encourages usage. Compare this to the public attitude in the United States, where the design (or lack thereof) encourages us to perceive public restrooms as a last-minute necessity rather than something halfway desirable.  

In both cases mentioned, the accessible features that we, as access auditors encourage, are standardized, including lever style and/or automatic taps placed at varying heights, handrails placed within reaching distance from the toilet pan and sink, color contrasted amenities, cord alarms, as well as new innovative ideas that push beyond the minimum requirement.

Despite the obvious necessity for inclusive public bathrooms, their absence is an often-cited issue when we deliver public accessibility consultations, with many counties offering very few facilities to none at all.

Broader investigative research has uncovered that many Americans with disabilities offer similar sentiments to those our team has met at consultations, with the Public Toilet Index revealing that New York provides only 4 restrooms per one hundred thousand people, Miami only six, and Washington only ten.

Moreover, laws exist in only twenty States and D.C. which require private businesses to provide bathroom access to anyone with a medical condition. However, patience must provide proof, such as a medical card or doctor’s note – which is a lot to ask when someone desperately needs to use a bathroom!

Direct Access can help authorities deliver accessible and inclusive restroom facilities by providing accessibility audits that identify areas for improvement, granting our clients the knowledge to not only comply with local laws, but receive the knowledge of world-leading best practice innovations. Building on the ADA and the efforts by the United Nations (“Access to water and sanitation are recognized by the United Nations as human rights – fundamental to everyone’s health, dignity, and prosperity”) to ensure that accessible bathrooms are available everywhere.

By incorporating a blue-sky thinking approach and our experience as a team of disabled people we can help you unlock the financial support of disabled people in your area, who offer significant spending power in the multi-millions but are let down by a lack of understanding for their specific access needs.


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