If you’ve been a member of our Have Wheelchair Will Travel community for a while, you’ll know that I take photos of accessible bathrooms wherever I go. Usually I take the pictures to accompany a review of a hotel, attraction or airport. My obsession began years ago when a mother at Braeden’s school told me that the lack of bathroom facilities prevented her family from travelling with dignity. She told me that laying her son on the bathroom floor was her only option for changing him. Over the years, many of our HWWT community have shared stories of how the lack of facilities on planes and at attractions stop them from travelling or even having a full day out. It breaks my heart that a basic human right, like being able to use a toilet or change an older child, is so often overlooked by designers and builders. As a result of my research, I feel I’ve seen some of the best and worst accessible bathrooms around the world.
Sharing information is how I hope to bring awareness and provide an example of best practice and what should be avoided in accessible bathroom design. Here’s my list of some of the best and worst accessible bathrooms.
The Best & Worst Accessible Bathrooms Around the World
From signage to accessible equipment, I find that accessible bathrooms vary greatly. In my mind, a good accessible bathroom should be unisex (this means a male can help a female or vice versa), stand-alone (stand-alone means that it’s not an accessible stall within the men’s or women’s bathroom) and offer plenty of circulation space. Ideally, it should not double as a baby change facility. And for the many people who require a hoist or a height-adjustable adult-size change table, there should also be these facilities provided in some bathrooms in key locations like shopping centres, central places within city centres, stadiums, theatres and playgrounds. There needs to be enough of these facilities to allow dignity and for people with a disability to be able to stay out for the day and not have the need to return home due to a shortfall in disabled bathrooms that cater to their needs.
Loud & proud accessible bathrooms
I always welcome design which acknowledges that accessible does not need to mean clinical and boring. While I like it, I know some of our community find it an overwhelming assault on the senses. Here’s a few fun accessible bathrooms I’ve found in my travels.
Bangkok Airport accessible bathroom
The accessible bathrooms at Bangkok Airport certainly win an award for use of colour but for some it may be simply too much.
I particularly liked the fact that there was a promise of a ‘Happy moment’ on the signage on the exterior of the bathroom.
You can read about accessibility at Bangkok airport in my review.
Sydney’s Inner West – Marrickville Metro Shopping Centre
Honouring (I think it’s an honour) AC/DC guitarist Angus Taylor, Marrickville Metro offers a Changing Places style bathroom equipped with ceiling hoist and adult-size change table.
I’m not sure if having Angus Taylor hovering behind the toilet would ensure a speedy visit or cause stage freight. For those wondering, Angus Taylor was school in the Inner West and thus his inclusion in the bathroom.
Hamilton Gardens, New Zealand
The Changing Places bathroom in Hamilton Gardens New Zealand is still one of my favourite bathrooms. Not only does the interior decor reflect the beautiful garden surroundings, but the fixtures are the best I’ve seen in any accessible bathroom.
My full review of the Hamilton Garden’s Changing Places bathroom is worth the read. The fob key system is unique. Let me know what you think in the comments below.
China’s Accessible bathrooms
China’s general infrastructure is not well developed for people with a disability. In my travels I did find various attempts at accessibility but the accessible bathrooms I spotted were some of the worst I’ve seen. I can only share what I saw in my travels while in China, perhaps in other areas they are better.
One of the main issues in the public accessible bathrooms is the lack of circulation space and the fixed hand rails that seem fairly standard on either side of the toilets.
I found the Chinese trains extremely comfortable and clean but the accessible bathrooms on the trains were narrow and didn’t offer circulation space.
If you’re interested in knowing more about my experience on the Chinese bullet train you can read it here.
Even in my hotel, Holiday Inn Chengdu, I found that the toilet rails were fixed.
I also shared my tips on travelling to China in a blog. Please keep in mind it was written pre-Covid.
First Aid accessible bathrooms
At many attractions there are no accessible bathrooms with an adult-size change bed so if you need this facility try First Aid. If I find this is the case I pop my head into the First Aid to see what they offer in the hope that sharing the information will assist our community to travel with knowledge around the facilities you’ll have access to when you travel.
The facilities vary greatly, some providing a height-adjustable change bed and others do not. I always chat to staff and explain what would assist people needing the facilities in the hope it might bring about change. I feel in the major theme parks there needs to be a move towards Changing Places style of bathrooms. Nobody needs to lose precious time in the parks by leaving to go back to the hotel because the bathroom facilities are not sufficient.
Changing Places Bathrooms
I am pleased to say that in the last five years or so I’ve seen a groundswell of inclusion of Changing Places bathrooms around Australia. I recently wrote about the Changing Places Bathrooms at Sydney International Airport. It’s one of the many places that there is a real need for the bathrooms which are equipped with a hoist and adult-size change bed.
While the official Changing Places bathrooms are well listed on their website, there are bathrooms which follow the principals of this design that are not listed in a central website which is a shame. Information is power and we’d like to see bathrooms with a hoist and adult-size change table listed so those that need the facilities have access to them. You can read more about Changing Places bathrooms in the blog I wrote after my first visit to one here. And don’t forget to use most Changing Places bathrooms in Australia you’ll need a MLAK key. You can read about the MLAK key in this story, along with some other things that make travel easier.
Outback toilets (or dunny!)
Even in more remote areas we’ve found accessible bathrooms. They lack some of the finesse and rails of city bathrooms but they still offer space.
Bathrooms at Uluru in the Northern Territory are geared to tourists and are sizeable and well-equipped.
Ensuring the well-being of visitors less familiar with the outback conditions the bathrooms at Uluru also come with a handy hydration guide. Did I ever mention my family find my photography of signage and bathrooms to be highly embarrassing?
Accessible bathroom signage
Depending on where you live in the world, the signage for accessible bathrooms may be different.
In Australia I usually use the term stand-alone unisex accessible bathroom. In the US I see quite a few All Gender accessible bathrooms.
Companion restrooms also seem a popular term in the US.
The Changing Places bathroom signage features a change table and hoist.
While bathrooms are functional places, there’s no harm in a bit of fun in the signage. I particularly like the new Gold Coast Airport’s terminal’s nod to it’s beachside surroundings.
Assistance pets and relief areas
When it comes to accessible bathrooms it would be remiss of me not to include the relief facilities available for assistance animals.
From airports to theme parks, our best friends have not been forgotten. At Sydney’s Domestic Airport, their signage welcomes all kinds of furry friends, including koalas and kangaroos. I’m yet to see either at the terminal but never say never. After all, if San Francisco Airport’s Wag Brigade includes a cat and a pig, anything is possible. You can read about San Francisco’s fabulous animal pals here.
Most airports offer similar facilities with a relief area, disposal bags for deposits and hoses for clean up.
At Universal Orlando I found this outdoor area amongst one of the gardens.
I’m not sure who this character is but large stand-alone accessible bathroom stalls like this can be found around Paris.
Bathrooms seemed clean and spacious. But be warned, there is a time limit. I never got caught short as it seems a fairly generous time frame.
Pay-for-use accessible bathroom Florence, Italy
The lack of public toilet facilities and the pay-for-use nature of many of them curbed my a million cup of tea a day addiction. I will say, paying a Euro for a visit does ensure the toilets are clean as an attendant is usually onsite making sure they stay pristine.
Equality in action at the pay-for-use bathrooms with everyone paying for a visit. Accessible gates are available.
Although I’ve taken a tongue in cheek approach to this blog, accessible bathrooms and their availability is a serious topic. I hope I can continue to raise awareness about the need for them, especially on planes. It still blows my mind that this isn’t being changed more quickly given the fact that we are all more aware about the need for access and inclusion.
What will it take to make accessible bathrooms available on all flights?
Great article!! Oh we have had so many conversations about bathrooms over the years!!
Great read thank you, we live on the Gold Coast and have visited a few places with accessible toilets only in mens/women bathrooms, and my husband who is blind and partly wheelchair bound
has had to come with me into womens bathroom and my husband has had to point out to others his walking cane.
There’s a real need for unisex accessible bathroom exactly for the reason you mention. I find the same when assisting my adult son.
I’d recommend getting a MLAK key so you can access the key-locked accessible bathrooms.
Charlene Goosmann says
I have wanted to start a “STAR” rating system for hotels and rentals that advertise that they offer accessible accommodations. Often you get there and there is a roll in shower but 30” doors!!
Great article!! Thank you.
It would be super helpful for sure.