I have been thinking about how to tackle the subject of travelling, toileting and personal care and it is a tricky subject. Tricky because each person’s needs are so different and I am certainly no expert. However, this is something I am asked about regularly. It isn’t a subject that is easily broached with friends or family who are not in a similar position. It’s personal and a sensitive area so I feel it is one that does need to be discussed here in our ‘safe’ space.
I have previously declared my obsession with good public restrooms and therefore I feel barriers have already come down. Here are a few tips from myself, another well travelled family and Heidz who has a spinal injury. These people have kindly shared their experiences with me.
TRAVELLING AND MANAGING INCONTINENCE
Thanks to our well travelled family who share how they manage travel with their loved one who requires continence aids.
BEFORE THE FLIGHT
Using the bathrooms last minute before the flight (or as close to last minute before the flight) to freshen up and immediately at destination or stop over point works well for us.
Not all airports have a Changing Places bathroom (Changing Places provides bathrooms with height adjustable adult sized change tables, hoisting and other facilities for people with high support needs). We are fortunate that our loved one can bridge while in the wheelchair to be changed. Baby change tables became too small years ago.
We double up ‘super’ pads and reduce fluid intake in flight (but always catch up at destination as dehydration when travelling can be dangerous).
For those dealing with bowel incontinence wishing to avoid an ‘accident’ in flight we have found using a ‘Fleet’ enema prior to a long flight ensures the bowel is empty and risk is greatly reduced. Being soiled is uncomfortable for the person wearing it and for fellow passengers if you cannot use the bathroom in the plane to freshen up.
DURING THE FLIGHT
If travelling with someone unable to use an aisle chair or who requires continence pads you need to plan ahead. Continence pads can be doubled up or booster pads can be inserted for long haul flights.
Discretion and dignity for the person should always be a major consideration and if you are carrying someone onto a plane or down to the bathroom on the aircraft, consider dressing them in clothing that will ensure continence aids are not revealed in the process.
We have had a hostess hold the curtain closed in the staff rest area while our child lay on the floor to freshen up but this isn’t possible as they get older. I do not recommend this for teenagers or adults as there is no dignity in lying on the floor.
If your destination does not have an accessible bathroom then bed-bath wipes and shampoo caps become your friend. We have been known to sit our loved one on the shower floor on a towel to have a shower with someone standing behind to provide support but there is a risk of infection, even when you have disinfected the shower floor (yes, we carry disinfectant with us.)
We have been able to pre-order a delivery of continence aids to our destination. These are bulky items to carry. Make sure you order your aids allowing plenty of time for delivery. Ask for the company to provide discreet packaging if delivering to a hotel and phone the hotel to advise that you are expecting a delivery. Please keep in mind some hotels charge a handling fee on packages and it is wise to check with them prior to ordering your products. Contact the continence aid company in your country and ask for details for ordering at your destination.
Always remember when packing to put a few extra pads in, in case of a delayed flight or suit cases go astray. We always have 1-2 sets of spare clothes in the carry-on just in case.
Thanks to our anonymous family for sharing such valuable insights above.
FROM THE POINT OF VIEW OF SOMEONE WITH A SPINAL INJURY
Before I leave my place I make sure all my continence goods are packed. I’m somewhat pedantic so I buy individual glad bags for each day I need to do my bowel routine (morning daily). So for example, recently I stayed at Homebush on business for 3 nights so in 4 separate glad bags (1 more just in case) I have microlax enemas, disposable gloves, lubricant, nappy bag. (Love these, they are great to use when doing your routine as they are scented and you can just tie them up and chuck them in the rubbish)
Usually if I go overseas I will sit and plan with flights how I need to ‘restructure’ my routine according to flights. To do this I eat a bit less a couple days before and take something like Imodium to prevent my bowel routine from happening mid-flight!
I usually have a ‘just in case pack’ for bowel accidents in my hotel (not that it happens but can never be too sure!) it has blueys, gloves, wipes and garbage bags in it.
For bladder management, while flying sometimes I drink less so that I don’t need to empty my leg bag. However just in case I will have an extra leg bag or a ‘Uribag’ urinal to empty my leg bag in and whoever I’m travelling with can empty in the on-board toilet.
I’ve always got a spare leg bag, flush kit and spare catheter in case of emergencies and wherever I go I make sure I know what organisations are around to perform this duty as I have a Supra-Pubic Catheter.
Thanks to Heidz Haydon, Education Officer at Spinal Cord Injuries Australia for sharing. You can find out more about SCIA peer support team here.
Spinal Cord Injuries Australia have some great tips on their website.
Our family booked on Qantas to Los Angeles on our last couple of trips because the A380 aircraft have dedicated accessible bathrooms. These are larger than your regular aircraft bathroom. It is hard to describe how these work but the door of the toilet opens and locks open into the passage way and another door opens to make the bathroom a larger cubicle. It made it much easier to assist BJ in the bathroom. We still needed to allow time as the flight crew need to set up the toilet arrangement with the doors.
In general, aircraft facilities are a challenge and at the moment the majority of airlines do not have disabled toilet facilities. It seems a no-brainer that there should be a disabled toilet facility on every aircraft just as there is in any public toilet block. In the meantime here are my bathroom tips:
- On long-haul flights, discuss using the bathroom with the flight attendants when you board. Even though this is not an easy conversation, be assured flight attendants have heard it all. It will be an ice breaker if nothing else.
- Allow plenty of time to get assistance with an aisle chair to the bathroom. Flight attendants can assist you to the bathroom but cannot help in the bathroom.
- The busiest time for the bathrooms is after the meal service so try to go before, or at another quiet time during the flight.
- The Continence Foundation of Australia have some general travel tips on their website which may be of assistance.
Travelling with a portable commode can be cumbersome but it does allow more flexibility with property choice and ensures a person has what they need. There are many on the market but we are yet to find one that suits us that fits into a suitcase so we made our own. Luckily Hubby is handy.
Travelling with additional protection for beds and seats is a good way to avoid embarrassment if an accident could happen. I was recently sent some samples from Brolly Sheets General Store. I think my obsession with toilets is getting me a bit of a reputation.
Anyway, Diane sent me the products and I thought the company tag-line “Big solutions for wee problems” sums up what people are looking for in a solution to this problem. I love the fact that this is a home-grown business, started by a Mum who saw the need for a quick and easy solution to changing a wet bed in the middle of the night. Not only that, like me, she doesn’t believe that something that solves a problem has to be dull and boring. Brolly Sheets come in a range of colours, are 100% cotton and hold up to 2 litres making them suitable for adults. Unlike other products they don’t have noisy plastic backing and the cotton breathes. I’ve folded up the sample I received to see how easily it would travel in a bag and it is perfect for travel. Check out the Brolly Sheets website to see their full range of products including waterproof sheets, doona protectors and bandanas.
TRAVELLING IN AUSTRALIA
If you are travelling and need to be assured of accessible toilet facilities, try planning your trip using the National Public Toilet Map.
Changing Places have an interactive toilet map which lists fully accessible public toilet facilities which cater to the needs of people with severe or profound disabilities.
Three types of facilities are listed on their interactive map: Fully Accredited Changing Places, Changing Places pending accreditation and Adult Change Facilities. Check the Changing Places Australia website.
We have put together a guide to the Best Accessible Toilets in Sydney and the Best Accessible Toilets in Brisbane. We hope to keep adding to these guides and expanding the areas we cover. If you know of an accessible bathroom facility worthy of mention, please let us know below in comments.
Travellers Aid, which is located in Melbourne, provides an exceptional range of services for locals and visitors who have a disability or mobility restriction. Their page states, “Everyone has the right to transit into or out of Melbourne independently and confidently for work, study, or play.” Hear, hear I say!
They say, “We maximise peoples’ ability to participate in day-to-day activities, such as employment, education, volunteering, social and community events. No referral or appointment necessary.
Our friendly, experienced Client Support Officers can provide:
- Meal assistance
- Personal care
- Communication assistance for people with speech impairments, or who require assistance with filling out forms
- Fully accessible bathroom facilities with ceiling hoist and adult change table
- Wheelchair/scooter recharging facilities
- Accessible public internet computers with JAWS software available
Clients’ friends, family, and personal support workers are also welcome.
The service is available at Flinders Street Station (Sunday to Thursday 8am – 8pm, Friday to Saturday 8am – 10pm) and Southern Cross Station (Monday to Friday 11am – 5pm and Saturday – Sunday 11am – 4pm).” These times are taken from their website as of September 2015 but I suggest you refer to the Travellers Aid website for full details and to check these are correct at the time of your travel.
This leaves me wondering why more cities do not offer this service.
To purchase products to have delivered to your accommodation in Australia try BrightSky Australia.
We have a MLAK Key attached to BJ’s wheelchair which gives whoever is with BJ access to disabled bathrooms which are key locked and to the Liberty Swing (wheelchair swing). Attaching it to the wheelchair means you never leave home without it. You can get your MLAK Key cut by a Master Locksmith. Details of eligibility and locations can be found here.
TRAVELLING IN THE UK
The Great British Public Toilet Map is a project to help people across the UK to find toilets that meet their needs, particularly people with reduced continence.
RADAR KEY – The Radar key allows access to locked disabled toilet facilities and I believe some wheelchair swings in the UK. You can read more about the Radar Key here. You can purchase the Radar Key here.
Changing Places have an interactive toilet map which lists fully accessible public toilet facilites which cater to the needs of people with severe or profound disabilities. Check the Changing Places.
TRAVELLING IN THE USA
While travelling in the US we found that major department stores, pharmacies and grocery stores all had good disabled toilet facilities. We even found stores like GAP in the Hollywood area had a fantastic wheelchair accessible restroom which was locked but staff were happy to open it for us to use it.
In New York you can check NYRestroom for accessible restrooms.
USE THE LOCAL TERMINOLOGY
If a person requires assistance in the bathroom it is usually easier to use a stand-alone unisex bathroom.
In Australia I would simply ask for a unisex disabled bathroom facility. In the US I soon learnt to ask for a companion restroom or family restroom.
In theme parks we have found that the First Aid centre often has the best disabled toilet facilities (see photo at top of blog). In Disneyland and California Adventure Park the First Aid Centre has adult size benches for changing in a large room with a toilet and accessible sink. There were several rooms within these facilities and they were only made available for people with a disability needing them so there were no queues. When arriving at a theme park ask the questions at the beginning of the day rather than waiting until you are bursting for the toilet.
If you have any tips not covered in this blog please post them in the comments below, privately message me on facebook or email me at [email protected] It is great to be able to help others see that travel is possible despite this obstacle.
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Wonderful practical tips! Mailing incontinence pads to your destination is genius! Also really liked the zip lock bag idea with everything you need for the bathroom visit in separate zip lock bags.
Thanks Cindy. It is great when our community shares on subjects which people don’t really want to talk about with others not in the same situation.
Deborah Robins says
Handy information indeed. Even if we are all different individuals, there’s always crossover. We’ve a handful of managing toileting infographics and one on airplane travel for adolescents with neuromuscular disorders in particular on this state website. I hope to write more in response to questions I receive. http://mdqld.org.au/about-md/debs-tip-sheets/
Jackie Greenham says
For those who use intermittent ( in/ out) catheters.
You can get very discreet sets which have a bag attached to them and are sterile, fully lubricated and ready to use.
Especially useful on long haul flights, or when accessible toilets are hard to find.
Speedicath compact set is the one my husband uses, and has been an absolute god send for emptying his bladder in these circumstances
Really helpful information thanks Jackie
Elke Moritz says
For Germany and parts of Europe (disabled restrooms at train stations, autobahn services, in pedestrian malls and some shopping malls) the “Euro-WC-Schlüssel” is available. Unfortunately the web page seems to be in German only, so I don’t know if you could order the key from Australia or elsewhere before a longer trip: https://cbf-da.de/de/angebote/shop/euro-wc-schluessel/
Oh that’s interesting to hear there’s a similar key. I wonder how visitors get one. That would be so good to know. Thanks Elke.
Margaret Harrison says
Thanks for tips which I did not think of. Last May we flew to the UK and as a paraplegic the disabled toilet in Business class on an A380 was NOT accessible to me. The friendly staff took me through to the First class bathroom which even had a lay down bench seat! We will be travelling with that airline again this year.
Maria Reinertsen says
Thankyou for sharing Margaret, I have asked to use the business class toilet for my son when on board a particular airline as their ” disabled toilet” was not of any help for our loved one. We were outright refused! I would love if you could share which airline was so accommodating please.
I believe it was Qatar but not 100% sure. Margaret may reply if she sees this.
Andrew Hewitt says
Great blog Julie. As a wheelchair user I have always found toilets on aircraft a problem, even accessible ones… I generally eat up big so I can go before I board and have a pee bottle hidden at my feet. Aisle chairs on planes can be a drama because of the widths of the aisles… so I generally only move from my seat when I really urgently need to. We often book window seat for me when we can… for 2 reasons.. more privacy for when I do need to use the bottle… but also so that people aren’t having to climb over me to get in and out of their seats. While most long haul aircrafts do have accessible bathrooms… some don’t… we found the Lufthansa Airbus 380-800 didn’t have toilets nor did the British Airways 777-300.
Thanks for sharing Andrew. It’s so helpful to have a variety of experiences shared on the website.