While public toilets are not usually a big consideration when most people make travel plans, they are often a deciding factor — and sometimes a matter of life and death — for the physically challenged.
“Whether there are fully accessible public toilets at a destination is a big deal when I’m making the decision to go out or stay home,” said James Liu (劉金鍾), a board member of the League of Welfare Organizations for the Disabled who is partially paralyzed and relies on a wheelchair for movement following a spinal-cord injury.
He made the remark at a press conference yesterday held to reveal a list of 1,285 accessible public toilets around the country. Initiated by the Association for Promotion of Handicap Accessibility (APHA), the project was competed with the help of more than 1,000 volunteers from the China Youth Corps who did a one-month survey of the nation’s toilets.
Without accessible public toilets, Liu said, he sometimes had to sit in his car, cover the lower part of his body with a towel and urinate into a bottle or a bag.
For more complicated needs, “I could only ask for help from my wife,” Liu said, adding that he has seen physically challenged women using umbrellas for cover because they were unable to find accessible toilets.
“It’s very embarrassing for us — it’s humiliating,” Liu said.
Liu said that many people try to take care of the toilet issue before leaving their homes, with some “trying not to drink anything outside or holding it if necessary.”
APHA chairman Chen Kuo-chia (陳國嘉) recounted stories from his experience.
“One time I traveled to Japan with a group of physically challenged people and a girl in the group had to hold her water from 9am when she left the hotel until 6pm when she finally got back to the hotel because she couldn’t find any accessible toilets,” Chen said.
In another case, a handicapped person traveling in Sydney, Australia, had to be rushed to the hospital after holding it for an entire day.
“The doctor found that he had 2 liters of water in his bladder — normally a person can hold only up to 0.8 liter,” Chen said.
“The doctor said his bladder could have exploded if he held it any longer,” Chen said.
As a result, Liu said, 40 percent of paralyzed members in his organization suffer from some kind of urinary infection.
“You could lose your life that way,” he said. “There are only about 1 million handicapped people in the country, but if you count those who become disabled because of old age, then the total number of physically challenged people reaches around 2 million.”
“We’re in a rapidly aging society and the elderly will account for 20 percent of the population by year 2026 — that’s a lot of people and any of you could be in need for these facilities by then,” he said.
Although toilets for the physically challenged are available at many public places, “a lot of them “are not really accessible; they were built only to meet legal requirements,” Chen said.