The Great Leveller

Mark the day……… I have been waiting two and a half years for this moment. I finally got to cut the ribbon at the official opening of what has become known as “Anika’s toilet”.

I’m serious, we had a cake, ribbon and sparkling white wine to celebrate, with an audience of 12, two of whom had travelled about 50 miles to be there. The only thing I didn’t have to do was a test use of the facilities with everyone watching, although I was photographed flushing it.

I will tell you how this moment came about. I had been volunteering with the Dyslexia Association of Staffordshire for 4 years, and also receiving support for my academic writing from them, when 3 years ago they were in financial difficulty. Fortunately, they were able to find cheaper premises to reduce overheads and moved there in January 2011. However, there was a bit of a snag, the new premises had no wheelchair accessible loo. This was to make life very interesting for me. In order to continue volunteering, I had to limit my fluid intake for 12 hours before going in and continue limiting my drinking for the time I was at the centre.

It gets better, at lunch time the centre manager and I would undertake a mini expedition to the local supermarket which had accessible facilities. Well, they were accessible if you could find the person with the key to the padlock on the door. The first time I saw the size of the lock I wondered what else they were hiding in there?

These expeditions lasted for over 12 months and resulted in many a lecture from health professionals who couldn’t understand why I persisted in volunteering in a place without suitable facilities. They continually reminded me about the danger of urine tract infection and catheter block-offs if I did not have sufficient fluid intake. I am fascinated by people who think like this, as well as the ones who think that since the implementation of Britain’s landmark Disability Discrimination Act almost two decades ago, some kind of architectural magic occurred and all buildings became wheelchair friendly, a state that we are still many years away from achieving. Thus I have to point out that if my life was determined by the provision of suitable facilities then I would be at serious risk of being bored, depressed and home-alone.

Last year I had to admit the health professionals had a point after fighting off a particularly nasty urinary tract infection. I had to stop attending the centre and received my support at the local library which, being a new public building, had an accessible loo.

Such became our obsession with toilets that one morning as Louise (my support worker) was pushing me into the library she noticed a sign attached to the glass door that said, “Apologies for any inconvenience – due to repair work, the W.C.s will not be open to the public today”. We arranged ourselves on our usual desk and Louise went off to find out more about this closure.

“Excuse me”, she said to the librarian, “is the disabled loo closed too?”.

“Too?” queried the librarian.

“Yes, your sign says the loos are closed to the public due to repairs, I just wondered if that included the disabled one too.”

“I’m not sure what you are talking about?” said the librarian with a puzzled frown.

“The sign about the loos on the way in.”

“Could you show it to me please?”

Louise patiently took the librarian to the front door and pointed to the sign.

With a kind smile, and speaking slowly the librarian read aloud, “The sign says, ‘Apologies for any inconvenience – due to repair work, the P.C.s will not be open to the public today’ dear.”

After apologising profusely to the lady, and laughing a lot at the error, Louise returned to me and told me what had happened.

“Well Louise, it must be contagious.”

“What is?” she asked.

“Your dyslexia,” I replied.

This story has done the rounds with my family and friends now and still makes me chuckle when I think about it. It is reassuring to think that we can all make these sorts of mistakes, even the woman who corrects my spelling because of my specific learning difficulty.

Flushed with success!!
Flushed with success!!

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