For any large establishment or organisation that doesn‚Äôt think they need a Changing Places toilet, Disability Discrimination Commissioner Dr Ben Gauntlett has one question: 

“Why do you think that?”

If the answer is because you haven‚Äôt seen a person with disability use your building or you haven‚Äôt had someone request a Changing Places facility, then Dr Gauntlett says it‚Äôs time to reconsider how inclusive that space really is. 

‚ÄúWe need to understand that some people with disability may not have left their house or visited certain places precisely because of the lack of those accessible amenities,‚Äù he said. 

The solution, according to the Commissioner, is to shift our mindsets from being reactive to proactive. 

“Think about the entirety of individuals who could use a space and build for them upfront.”

Emphasis on the word ‚Äòcould‚Äô is important. As Dr Gauntlett explains, including Changing Places in the design of buildings isn‚Äôt about meeting the needs of a certain few, it‚Äôs about ensuring all people ‚Äì including people with disability ‚Äì are given choice and autonomy about how and where they live their lives. 

‚ÄúWe do really need to be cognisant of designing for the whole population and not leaving parts of the population out,‚Äù he said. 

“It’s also about encouraging people with disability to be involved in those aspects of society that may traditionally have been thought too challenging or unable to be adapted in the right way.”

One of the spaces that don‚Äôt belong in the too challenging box is universities. Dr Gauntlett agrees, noting that educational institutions should be a place where all minds are welcomed.  

‚ÄúIt is vitally important that we have well designed universities that are fit for purpose for individuals who may go there,‚Äù he said.  

There has been progress on the mandating of adult change facilities in large public spaces, but universities are yet to be added to the list. Independently, leaders in the sector have been going beyond the standards set by building codes and making inclusion a priority. 

The Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT) leads the way with six Changing Places facilities and Deakin has been steadily adding more across their campuses too. Nevertheless, out of the 43 universities in Australia, only four have registered/accredited Changing Places facilities at their campuses.

For Dr Gauntlett, the addition of Changing Places toilets at universities makes an important statement to the rest of the community. 

Without accessible facilities, he says, “it doesn’t send a message of inclusion; it sends a message of ‘it’s too difficult’”.

Outside of adding Changing Places to long established institutions, it is particularly important that new buildings are designed with every person in mind ‚Äì because inclusion shouldn‚Äôt be an afterthought.  

‚ÄúProvided there was need and scale, [Changing Places] should be included in the design of all new large or busy public spaces,‚Äù said Dr Gauntlett. 

‚ÄúThe built environment is a part of inclusion, it‚Äôs not just about saying we want to be inclusive, it‚Äôs better to do it upfront it‚Äôs a lot cheaper to do it upfront and it‚Äôs something that we all need to consider,‚Äù he said. 

The key to ensuring Changing Places are considered from the start? Making them mandated in more building codes.  

‚ÄúMandating accessibility has been shown to work better,‚Äù said Dr Gauntlett. 

When it comes to inclusion, a Changing Places toilet is not just a utility, an accessibility amenity, or an add-on ‚Äì it‚Äôs a statement. 

It says volumes about who is welcome in spaces and who is expected to be there. 

By considering the whole breadth of people who might enter a building or place, we can ensure that people with disability, their friends, families and their support networks can be included in all aspects of society.