This is one of those things that is going to sound tiny, but really isn’t.
There is NEVER a mirror in the disabled toilet. If you use them regularly, you’ll probably have spotted this. If not, have a look, if you see one that there’s nobody in and nobody waiting for – Just stick your head around the door and look for a mirror.
This bothers me. There’s often a lot wrong with disabled toilets anyway (Heavy doors, too small to turn a wheelchair in, rails which need really good strength and coordination to move, nowhere to hang up a stick near the toilet when you’ve got your weight on the rails instead, no condom machine or sanitary product machine) but right now I’m going to focus on the mirror.
I can understand the lack of sanitary towel and condom machines, in smaller venues – They’re probably expensive to keep maintained and take a bit of staff time to keep filled – but you never see them, even in the disabled toilets in places where you’d expect to always find one (I’m again going to direct you to the mental image of the insanely-frustrated disabled bloke in a pub, trying to back his wheelchair around the S-bend into the Gents, in an attempt to buy a condom, wondering whether it’s suave or cheap to just ask his date if they have one. And then to the much-less funny mental image of someone in a wheelchair realising that they’ve started their period and will bleed through into half a grand’s worth of expensive, hard-to-wash machine if they don’t get a tampon in the next ten minutes.). And you never, ever see a mirror, despite the fact that a general-access toilet with no mirror is basically unheard of, even if all there is a single stall with a sink. Even in the terrible public toilets at the market which are covered in graffiti and completely unmaintained and usually full of used needles, there’s polished steel mirrors so that you can at least vaguely see your reflection.
Why does it bother me so much then? Well, for starters, it’s another thing which suggests that a disabled person isn’t going to care about their appearance; Think how often a stereotypical woman goes to the toilets just to check her hair or reapply lipstick when she wants to look good, or how the stereotypical man would straighten his tie and smooth out the line of his suit. Well, once again, the disabled aren’t actually exempt from this urge (Whether an external pressure or a personal desire) to look good – If anything, we’re sometimes held to a higher standard than able-bodied people; Slovenliness on the able-bodied can sometimes be passed off as the aftermath of a late night, or a conscious choice to have bedroom hair, or a reasonable consequence of having spent all day in the same set of clothes, worked in them, sweated in them, and thus got a bit rumpled. On a disabled person, a single food-medal, missed button, untucked collar, loose shoelace or twisted skirt is immediately seen as a sign that we’re completely incapable of looking after ourselves and need to be spoken to like babies (Mental note – Even if someone is developmentally disabled, you don’t need to talk to them as if they’re a baby. If they need to you speak more slowly, or loudly, or use shorter clauses, or repeat yourself, do so, but there’s no reason to raise your voice two octaves, put on a big plasticky smile, and use phrases like “Ooh do you want a nice yummy cup of orange juice?” when you’d ask an abled person “Juice or water?”).
Secondly, we often have more of our appearance to worry about than an ablebodied person would, and we might have enough mobility problems that we need a mirror to see down to our outfits, as well as our faces. It’s not just the ablebodied who use their time in the toilet to compse themselves and make sure that they look the part. My whilst-in-the-toilet-and-in-smart-dress checks go as follows:
– Is my fly shut, and is my shirt inside it rather than outside it?
– Have my braces rotated, or have any part of them got detached whilst I was fiddling with my fly?
– Has my waistcoat got tucked under my waistband whilst I was moving my TENS machine?
– Are the cables of my TENS machine sticking out from under my shirt, or indeed out through my fly?
– Are my hips and shoulders properly located?
– If I have had to apply ointment to a sore limb, has it stained my shirt?
– Has re-setting either hip or shoulder put my shirt, collar, waistcoat or jacket in disarray?
– If I have had to untuck my shirt, is it now tucked back in all the way around and lying straight?
– Have my cufflinks shifted or come loose as I took off the wrist-strap for my cane?
– Has my sleeve been creased or rolled up from taking off or putting on my cane?
– Have my knee-braces altered the line of my trousers, and if so do I need to take my trousers off to fix them?
– Has the sleeve garter on my left rolled up higher than the one on my right from walking with a cane?
– Is my hair a mess, and if so is it a good mess or do I need to find a comb and wax immediately?
– Do I have any food medals, and can I fix them?
Atop this, if I’m suspecting a migraine I will also want to check for uneven pupils, bloodshot eyes, unusual-even-for-me pallor and a dozen other tiny signs. Something else which I prefer to do in private.
And this is even without needing to fasten or unfasten things to a feeding tube, check that a stoma bag is folded the right way, adjust a neck-brace or electrodes, change a wound dressing in an odd location… All pretty reasonable things that many disabled people will have to do on a regular basis.
Now, that’s a long list of things, and I’m not particularly neurotic about my appearance – You’ll not that plenty of that is just “How to hide from the ablebodied people the fact that the rather nice dress cane isn’t an accessory, it’s a lifeline”. An ablebodied person in the toilets wouldn’t have to do half of that, and they’re less likely than many disabled people to even get food-medals (terrible coordination) or set-in creases (from sitting in a wheelchair). So however much they need a mirror, we need one just as much, and then a bit more. Someone who really cared about micromanaging their appearance, or anyone wearing makeup, would have an even longer list of things to check (And that’s the other thing – there is NEVER a little shelf next to the sink in the disabled toilet, so there is nowhere to put medicine bottles and/or eyeshadows).
It’s all part of the same schema which suggests that disabled people aren’t attractive, aren’t concerned with their appearance, and basically just “Aren’t like normal adults”. And it’s bollocks. We’re just as vain as the rest of you.
I want to start a national campaign (Possibly in conjunction with the people who make RADAR keys) to get mirrors installed in every disabled toilet in the UK. Help me work out where to start.