The alarm is not enough

When I want to find out if an establishment is accessible for persons with disabilities I do a simple test. I get inside the accessible toilet and press the alarm. It’ll ring, but no one comes. And if nobody’s coming, the office isn’t accessible.

The work on accessibility in built environment often consists of action plans and checklists, and in the background some housing Authority in its enigmatic way tries to present these regulations. But what is the problem that we’re trying to solve? In all these checklists it’s stated that there has to be an alarm in the accessible toilets. Check, and you can tick that box during an accessibility inventory.

But it doesn’t really matter if you have an alarm if no one comes to the rescue in case of emergency. Therefore you need to conduct tests. Get inside the toilet, press the alarm button and wait. Please bring a book, or a snack, because you should be prepared to wait, for a long time. Usually no one will come to your rescue. You can lie inside with spasm, you may have swallowed your tongue or got stuck with your tie in the toilet roll holder. No one will come. I’ve tried this at many of the offices of big Swedish authorities. No one will come. Not at smaller authorities either, or at Swedish municipalities. Only in some care units someone will actually come to your aid. That’s because they’ve experienced real emergencies. Somebody in need of help has pressed the alarm button. So my basic tip is: no one will come.

And if someone actually comes, the next problem arises. Nobody knows how to get the door open! The idea in having an alarm inside an accessible toilet is that there might be people inside in need of assistance. The next stage should be people on the outside rushing to help. Between me on the inside, and the people outside is a locked door. This door has to be able to unlock quickly. There must be a tool ready nearby that can be used to get the door opened. That’s the point in having an alarm in an accessible toilet. If we don’t complete this line of reasoning, then it doesn’t really matter that there is a checklist that says there must be an alarm.

When I’m sitting there contemplating it may not matter if it takes some time. In case of emergency we are talking seconds. I could be dying. In that case my colleagues can’t be standing around considering how to get the door open. Well, right now the problem is that they won’t come at all. Try for yourself. Get inside the accessible toilet and press the alarm. What happens next is a measure on how big a problem you have with accessibility at your workplace.

Stefan Johansson