Hatfield toilet sign change for invisible disabilities has massive impact

PUBLISHED: 16:24 03 December 2018

Rachel Fowler supports the Crohn's & Colitis UK campaign to change public disabled toilet signage. Picture: Chris Leslie

Rachel Fowler supports the Crohn's & Colitis UK campaign to change public disabled toilet signage. Picture: Chris Leslie

Chris Leslie

One tiny change at Hatfield Galleria has made all the difference people with invisible disabilities - two women explain how.

Staff at Hatfield Galleria on Purple Tuesday with the new toilet sign. Picture: supplied by Crohn's & Colitis UKStaff at Hatfield Galleria on Purple Tuesday with the new toilet sign. Picture: supplied by Crohn's & Colitis UK

Sophie Nash from Old Hatfield was delighted when she heard that Hatfield Galleria, where she works, would be changing its disabled toilet signs.

In partnership with the charity Crohn’s & Colitis UK, they put new signs up on the accessible toilet stating that “not every disability is visible”.

The sign also includes standing figures on either side of the wheelchair user symbol.

Sophie, who is 32 and has Crohn’s disease, said: “I can’t believe it, I’m thrilled.”

Crohn's & Colitis UK charity staff with the new sign at Hatfield Galleria. Pictuer: supplied by Crohn's & Colitis UKCrohn's & Colitis UK charity staff with the new sign at Hatfield Galleria. Pictuer: supplied by Crohn's & Colitis UK

She explained why that small change makes such a difference to her in her daily work at the Galleria’s French Connection outlet.

When she was 26, she was diagnosed with the disease, which a form of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) that has numerous symptoms that can range from person to person, including complications with the lower abdomen such as cramps and diarrhoea, coupled with fever and low energy levels.

Symptoms can lie low for a while, and then can suddenly ‘flare up’.

People with IBD frequently need urgent access to a loo, and ideally with a bit more privacy. “When you have to go, you have to go,” as Sophie put it.

The sign that the charity would like all public toilets to adopt. Picture: Crohn's & Colitis UKThe sign that the charity would like all public toilets to adopt. Picture: Crohn's & Colitis UK

But the disability is not so obvious to onlookers, and 48 per cent of people with IBD have been challenged by strangers for using the accessible toilet.

“I’ve actually had people have a go at me for coming out of a disabled toilet because I don’t look disabled,” she said. “But it’s the only place you can have privacy.”

The privacy is really important, as people face cruel comments in public loos.

Once, Sophie had been given some medicine as part of the process of having an MRI scan.

Rachel Fowler supports the Crohn's & Colitis UK campaign to change public disabled toilet signage. Picture: suppliedRachel Fowler supports the Crohn's & Colitis UK campaign to change public disabled toilet signage. Picture: supplied

The dose affected her digestion badly, so she used a public loo. “I’ll never forget. There were these girls in the toilet, and they laughed and made fun of me,” she said.

Sophie was so upset she didn’t come out of the toilet for an hour. “It’s so hard to explain it to somebody,” she said.

Rachel Fowler from St Albans was diagnosed with Crohn’s in 2013. “It hasn’t been an easy journey for me, and my Crohn’s constantly throws me curve balls daily,” said the 27-year-old.

She also has had people frowning and tutting at her when she comes out of the disabled loo, as they think she’s queue-jumping. “I have also sometimes felt I can’t use it, as I will get grief from people queuing for the loo,” she said.

Beyond the issue of bathrooms, living with a condition that is outwardly insivible means that people frequently misunderstand how serious the condition is.

“People say, ‘oh, I have Irritable Bowel Syndrome, I know how you feel’,” said Sophie, referring to a common but much less serious digestive disorder. “You really have to bite your tongue!”

Thankfully, Sophie’s employer is now understanding, but she has had to adapt her life considerably to deal with the energy lows.

“It hasn’t just affected my life, it’s affected my whole family,” she said. “My boyfriend has been amazing. He didn’t sign up for a sick girlfriend, but he’s just adjusted to it.”

Rachel also has found ways to adjust. “I just have to learn to recognise when I need to slow down and rest,” she said.

But public awareness of the condition is increasing thanks to the work of Crohn’s & Colitis UK.

It was thanks to this Hatfield-based charity that the signs were changed at Hatfield Galleria, as part of the disability awareness day ‘Purple Tuesday’ on November 13, a disability awareness day.

On Purple Tuesday, the shopping centre put in place numerous other measures to improve the shopping experience for people with disabilities.

“So often I come across people who do not understand the disease and also what my needs are,” said Rachel. “But it is getting better thanks to the work Crohn’s and Colitis UK do.”

Crohn’s & colitis awareness week is December 1 to 7. To learn more about Crohn’s & Colitis UK, see: www.crohnsandcolitis.org.uk

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