Changing Places, Changing Lives

People are missing out on life experiences and it just isn’t right.

Most of us tend to take for granted that whenever we attend an event or enjoy our great Aussie outdoors that we will have access to a loo and running water – we’ll even have a changing place if called for . The requirement for personal elimination is barely a consideration – we’ll just duck in and out – no problems at all.

But I am one of up to 20% of Australians who have to plan and organise to fulfill this most basic human need. And to do it with the same dignity and discretion afforded to the majority is a dream situation . The ever present condition of Limb Girdle Muscular Dystrophy means that the spontaneity and living in the moment often taken for granted by the majority simply cannot be part of my life.

For every physically disabled person and their support personnel the function of toileting is generally the first thought when any outing is mooted – and the more profound the disability the greater the requirement to have somewhere safe, hygienic, dignified as well as being appropriately equipped. These spaces need to be large enough to accomodate support people, wheelchair transfers and medical equipment and historically they simply haven’t existed. 

Wally Tew Reserve – Autumnal hues

However, it is truly exciting to know that over the last 13 years these issues are being addressed, and problems are being remedied with the creation of the Changing Places project. 

The grand unveiling

I had the honour of attending the opening of Melbourne’s Knox City Council’s inaugural Changing Places facility in outer Melbourne’s leafy Ferntree Gully. This fully accessible public bathroom and change facility is custom designed and built to accommodate the ablution needs of those of us on any disability spectrum.

image of two men in between woman in wheelchair. She has blonde short hair, they all have sunglasses on. Man oon right in dark grey suit with dark hair and beard. Man on left in jacket and black pants. they are all n front of row of adjoined rooms with pitched steel roofs and terracotta totem type poles with Aboriginal art work on them holding up verandah.

Wally Tew Reserve is a picturesque little pocket of parkland where Australian native flora mixes with deciduous oaks and birches.  A fenced off modern playground and the local library are mere metres away woven together by small patches of verdant lawn and accessible friendly pathways. The adjacent oval is home to local Aussie rules footy club, the Eagles, and hosts annual community festivals such as Carols By Candlelight and the Knox Festival to name a few uses. In short – it sees a lot of community action.

Innovation strikes again

I am constantly in awe of those people who are true social justice warriors, overcoming barriers and reshaping not just how we do things but how we think. The Changing Places concept was designed by just that calibre of persons. The project was initiated in 2006 by a socially minded consortium in the UK which now boasts over 1000 facilities . 

The key requirements of a Changing Places space are : 

  • a height adjustable adult-sized changing bench
  • a tracking hoist system – BYO sling
  • enough space for two support workers, medical equipment and wheelchair turning circle
  • safe and clean environment
  • shower (optional)

An Australian consortium called Changing Places Victoria led by the Maroondah City Council established a relationship with the UK led group in 2012 and continued this advancement of human equality down under.  Australian businesses, governments, councils and agencies can easily access the design guidelines and industry support required to install these life enhancing spaces by visiting the Changing Places website.

Key planning – MLAK

We all know that vandalism is a societal anathema and we have all experienced downright disgusting public toilet experiences as a result of such defacing and destruction. This problem is eliminated by the genius deployment of the MLAK locking system used in most Australian Changing Places facilities. These relief centres are always left clean and tidy.

Label on wall of toilet displayed in braille and writing showing  MLAK required to enter
MLAK required to enter

MLAK stands for Master Locksmiths Access Key and was developed in 1994  for use in National Parks and many Council municipalities as well as railway station elevators initially.

An MLAK can be obtained with written proof of disability or a medical authority or copy of a Disability Parking Permit or Disability Card. I have added the application form, accurate as of May 2019, in this post. The online application process is quick and easy and I had my MLAK within 5 business days. For those travelling to Australia from overseas you can apply online the same way as long as you have an Australian point of contact for the mailing out of the key.

image of MLAK with 'MLAA access key system 'and 'restricted' written on key. Key is sitting on paper with the Master Locksmiths Association of Australasia contact details

Some areas may have spare MLAK’s in adjacent venues to lend to those in need. The local Ferntree Gully library in Wally Tew Reserve offers this service .

In conclusion – inclusion at it’s best

The advent of these facilities has not only made social inclusion a reality but moving and playing within our communities is more enjoyable for families as a whole while the safety of both the disabled and their carer is protected. 

With the MLAK we can be assured that the disgrace of lying down on germ ridden floors, sitting on hard, cold and dirty toilet seats or having no running water is becoming history. Support personnel no longer need worry about the physical effort and potential harm that comes from manually assisting their disabled charge. 

You can be the change

In Australia we currently have 89 toilets in various States and Territories. It’s a great start but we have a long way to go. If you are involved in a local community group or council organisation or business you could be the agent of change to introduce the installation of a Changing Places facility as a truly socially responsible act.

Someday soon all of us can nonchalantly roll and walk around any local community event, enjoying and living in each moment, untainted by indignity and difficulty. 

References and resources:

Disability Access Consultants

Changing Places Information kit

MLAK Order Form

Equal Access – Disability Consultants

Melbourne Access Audits

Changing Places Changing Lives – Information Guide and Technical Standard

Other posts you may be interested in:

Ableist Me

When Car Driving Can No Longer Be

National Arboretum, Canberra – Review

National Public Toilet Map

2 thoughts on “Changing Places, Changing Lives

  1. Leanne says:

    That’s so fabulous to hear Lorraine . These are the innovations that truly make life more enjoyable for the person with the disability and you can all share family times together now !!! The Changing Places website seem to be updating regularly with new locations too!! Happy exploring and thank you for sharing your experiences . All the best , Leanne 😁

  2. Lorraine Gerbes says:

    Leanne, how refreshing to discover the Changing Places facilities. We came across them when Lorraine expressed her desire to watch her football team at the MCG in March ’19. (Lorraine is non-ambulant as the result of a stroke in 2009 and has no inkling of when she uses her bodily functions. She communicates verbally quite well and can use her right hand to feed herself) It was when researching disabled parking at the G when we came across the Changing Places facility. We have been to the football twice now, knowing that it was there should we need it. In May we travelled to Shepparton and used the facility in the CBD. We reside in Wonthaggi and when we planned any trips we needed to be very mindful how far we travelled. The Changing Places has eased some of these concerns. Thank you for you blog. Lorraine and Henk Gerbes

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