British Columbia

Lack of accessible toilets keeps disabled B.C. girl stuck inside

Amy Diaz loves swimming as much as any 10-year-old but she doesn’t go to pools very often.

Most public bathrooms aren't accessible enough for 10-year-old Amy Diaz who has cerebral palsy

Lucy Diaz, 12, her sister, Amy, 10, and their mother, Carmen Aguilera, are pictured at their home in Port Coquitlam, B.C., on Thursday June 27, 2019. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Amy Diaz loves swimming as much as any 10-year-old but she doesn't go to pools very often. Rec centres, movie theatres and other public places are usually off limits, too.

Bathrooms are the problem.

Even if they are labelled as accessible, they're not accessible enough for Amy, who has cerebral palsy and is too big for child-sized changing tables.

When Amy needs her diaper changed, she is lifted out of her wheelchair and placed on the floor, which breaks her sister's heart.

"It's just yucky," Lucy Diaz said. "I know it's uncomfortable for her."

Lucy,12, says she has found a solution — Changing Places washrooms.

Unfortunately, she is one of only a handful of Canadians who knows what they are.

Lucy Diaz shares a moment with her little sister, Amy. (Ben Nelms/CBC) (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Changing Places

More than 1,300 Changing Places washrooms, which include height adjustable changing tables and power hoists, have been installed in the United Kingdom since 2006.

They're also becoming increasingly popular in Australia, which has more than 90, and dozens can be found in the United States.

Lucy is disappointed that Canada only has a handful.

"I want to see Changing Places everywhere," she said. "It's undignified to put someone on the floor."

The Diaz sisters play together on the floor of their living room in Port Coquitlam, B.C. (Ben Nelms/CBC) (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Young advocate

Lucy signed up for the B.C. Heritage Fair competition where students make presentations about important figures or events in Canadian history.

She focused on accessible washrooms instead and her performance at regionals earned her an invitation to the provincials on July 6 in Victoria.

Lucy, who lives in Port Coquitlam, also met recently with her MLA, Mike Farnworth.

"Ms. Diaz was an excellent advocate, far beyond her years," Farnworth said.

Her advocacy work caught the attention of B.C. Social Development Minister Shane Simpson.

"I am sorry to hear about the difficulties that Amy and her family have experienced while trying to find properly accessible public washrooms in B.C.," he said.

"I would be pleased to meet with Lucy to discuss how we can work together on our common goal of making B.C. a truly inclusive province for people with disabilities and their families."

Lucy Diaz reads Amy a story. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Advocacy in B.C.

It's unclear how many British Columbians require Changing Places washrooms but census data suggests the total is substantial.

More than 1.5 million people in B.C. reported having specific health and activity limitations at least some of the time, including nearly 600,000 whose limitations are permanent.

David Willows, who has a five-year-old son with cerebral palsy, started a Changing Places B.C. group on Facebook.

Eventually, he wants to see more accessible washrooms included in the B.C. Building Code but he says public awareness needs to be raised first.

"Hopefully, some of these organizations will start putting them in voluntarily until there's a potential legislative requirement for it," he said.

"There's a duty to accommodate people with disabilities."

Lucy Diaz lifts her sister out of her wheelchair so they can play together on the floor. (Ben Nelms/CBC) (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Progress in Victoria

Willows acknowledges Changing Places washrooms are expensive and require more space.

When he asked the Victoria Airport Authority to include one in its expansion project, he expected to have a long conversation about whether the benefits are worth the investment.

Instead, the VAA said yes on the spot.

Director of facilities Scott Cunningham says the hoist and changing table cost about $15,000.

"The costs are relatively small compared to the bigger project," he said. "We felt that was an easy thing for us to do."

He expects the bathroom will open in April 2020.

Lucy Diaz hopes shopping malls, restaurants and other facilities follow VAA's lead.

"I want to go places with my sister," she said. "I want her to have a life."

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.