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Nation’s public toilets ‘failing to respond to need and to local context’

Nation’s public toilets ‘failing to respond to need and to local context’
April 9, 2021

A Queensland researcher has called for a national approach to public toilets to increase accessibility and participation in social, economic and civic life.

Churchill Fellow Katherine Webber has proposed that key stakeholders able to influence public lavatory design and management (including the Australian Local Government Association and Infrastructure Australia) develop design and functionality guidelines based on principles such as:

  • Public health and hygiene;
  • The need for safety and privacy;
  • Inclusion and consultation;
  • Ease of maintenance;
  • Sustainability; and
  • Clear communication around availability.

Webber was in Canberra last month to brief government policy-makers on a report she prepared as a Churchill Fellowship recipient.

She told ABC Radio Brisbane “I think there is legislative change required around who has that planning and provision responsibility around public toilets.”

Webber said public toilets were generally built on a site-by-site basis rather than a planned network considering accessibility, travel, and other issues.

Webber feels the need for change had been underlined during the COVID-19 pandemic when several councils that had failed to provide soap dispensers in their facilities because of vandalism or environmental concerns were forced to backtrack and install them.

Anecdotal reports of public toilets being closed to reduce virus transmission prompted frustration from people with accessibility needs and concerns over access for vulnerable people.

Webber travelled to the USA, Canada, Britain, Germany, and the Netherlands as part of her Churchill Fellowship investigating increasing accessibility and inclusion in public toilets.

Advising that it was evident from her conversations and meetings with local governments, community groups, NGOs, and other groups, Webber stated “barriers exist to different users in locating, accessing and using public toilets demonstrate the need for a wider application of universal design in public toilet design and provision.”

Image: The public toilet at Ringwoood Lake won the Best Bathroom Award 2016 by Total Facilities. Credit: Duracube.

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