Thursday, September 20, 2018

Editorial: Access to public toilets

TOILET ADVOCACY. To trim costs, many business establishments leave out or take shortcuts in operating a toilet that barely meets the legal requirements of accessibility for persons with special needs, such as the disabled. It is good corporate citizenship to provide for the health, safety and dignity of persons with disability, among other people discriminated by society. (File foto)

To know a people, begin where they bathe.

The insight from this advice written by an explorer of Russia applies to any culture. There is wisdom in not just discovering people when they are without cover or pretenses.

There is astuteness in gauging a society by the manner it provides for basic needs. All creatures have to void their waste; only among humans does the matter become political and complicated.

In a corner hugging the separation of a national highway is a newly opened fast food establishment.

Aside from the gigantic mascot mounted on a tall spire visible to traffic for miles, the sprawling moat of paved, planned parking spaces is more than an adequate magnet for the crisscrossing streams of vehicles.

The landscaped evergreen domain was surely created with an eye out for design aesthetics as well as for ecological balance. The interiors of the “family retreat” are several scales better than what one expects of a fry-and-run place in this country.

Yet, a discordant note is struck when an elderly customer has to wait to use the toilet. After undergoing knee-replacement surgery and rehabilitation, she and her companion have to wait to use the ground-floor toilet. Despite bearing outside the universal sign for persons with disability (PWD), the toilet is heavily used by other customers because it is the nearest one. There is also no staff member to enforce the PWD-priority rule.

Inside the toilet ostensibly for “PWDs,” the elderly lady and her companion face more aggravations as the facility does not meet the requirements of accessibility. The water closet or flush toilet and the wall urinal are placed without considering the extra space required by a person using a wheelchair or crutches. There are no handrails required by those needing these aids for support.

The basic sanitary requirement of a toilet seat is even absent. Several liquid spills and discarded paper left uncleared on the floor pose hazards to persons challenged by mobility constraints, weakened eyesight or advanced age.

Clearly out of place in an edifice reeking of modernity and aspiring for enlightened capitalism, this toilet speaks volumes, though, of the actual regard this enterprise and its franchisee has for PWDs.

More tellingly, the existence of such toilets resonate with the failure of government to enforce, regulate, and sanction the failure of establishments to implement Batas Pambansa (BP) 344, or An Act to Enhance the Mobility of Disabled Persons by Requiring Certain Buildings, Institutions, Establishments and Public Utilities to Install Facilities and Other Devices.

Aside from “washrooms and toilets,” the law provides for the accessibility of other architectural facilities and features: “stairs, walkways, corridors, doors and entrance, lifts/elevator, ramps, parking areas, switches, controls and buzzers, handrails, thresholds, floor finishes, water fountains, public telephones, and seating accommodations.”

Current compliance with BP 344 has lapses in all these areas. Yet, Sun.Star Cebu singles out a trend among many establishments to take shortcuts in operating toilets that barely meet the requirements for accessibility. This facility is not just needed for the health and sanitation of the disabled; a fully accessible toilet is essential for the dignity of those with special needs.

It is not only those with physical disabilities that are discriminated in our nation’s public toilets. Other genders beyond the heterosexual female and male have yet to be recognized through a “gender-neutral” toilet.

In other countries, a toilet that is accessible for all—whether one has or does not have special needs; whether one is male, female, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex or asexual; whether

one requires the assistance of a companion, as with a young child or an elderly person—is termed as an “accessible toilet.”

It is a concept that still needs realization in this country.