The north Dublin dad of a 12-year-old wheelchair user is leading the charge on a campaign for more changing places to be installed across the county for people with disabilities.
Adriaan Pretorius is dad to Ben, who lives with a rare genetic disorder called SPXBP1, and relies on his dad, mum Dianna and carers for day-to-day assistance.
Adriaan is campaigning for more changing places to be installed across Ireland. There are only 15 registered changing places across the country, compared to more than 1,300 in the UK.
Speaking to Dublin Gazette, Adriaan – from Clonsilla – said many people think that a disabled toilet is enough, but for people like Ben, these toilets are too small, and do not have the right equipment.
He said: “When you have been caring for someone for 12 years, there’s a lot of things you just accept, but as Ben is getting older, it’s more difficult to do things, like changing him.
“People think: ‘There’s a disabled toilet, that’s fine’, but it’s not. Some 80 to 90% of these people [who need changing places] struggle and they don’t go out [because of the lack of facilities], and that’s a problem.
“It’s heart-breaking for me, having two other kids and knowing that they can go out and do what they want, when they want, but with Ben, we have to plan it from the moment he leaves the house.
“His life is really affected, but it’s not Ben’s fault – it’s the lack of accessibility out there.”
He praised the help and attitudes shown by some people, including Joe Gavin, the general manager of Blanchardstown Shopping Centre, who met with Adriaan, Ben and a representative from CRC Hartstown about installing a facility in the shopping centre. Plans for this are currently under way.
“This facility is going to change people’s lives as it will mean they can go out to the centre for day trips, stress-free and without any worries when they need to use the toilet.”
A representative from the Changing Places Steering Committee told Dublin Gazette that Ireland has “a lot of catching up to do” in regard to the development of changing places.
They said: “There are more than 1,000 changing places facilities in the UK and Northern Ireland, so we have a lot of catching up to do.
“In reality, changing places mean people with disabilities can take at will be before they can use the bathroom again.
“We’re delighted to see local authorities and businesses getting the ball rolling and installing changing places facilities in their counties.”
Adriaan and Ben have recently taken part in a video campaign for the Central Remedial Clinic to highlight the lack of changing places in Ireland, and the impact that this can have on disabled people and their families.
In the video, Adriaan demonstrates how a disabled toilet is not big enough to change Ben, and that he has to lay a jacket on the floor to lay his son on in order to change him, due to the lack of appropriate facilities.
He said: “It’s very heart-breaking to do something like that [showing Ben’s and the family’s plight in the video], but I felt like it had to be done.
“It’s inhumane – you need to shock people, because if you just tell them, they don’t really understand the issue, they don’t see it.
“The main thing for me is trying to raise awareness of this, and with that you can see opportunities and people that can come along and do things.
“Special needs people are having to stay at home, and that’s not right – they should be able to go out like everybody else.”
A relevant bill brought to the Dail by Senator John Dolan is currently in the third stage of being passed through the Seanad, but is still in the very early stages.
The Community Participation (Disability) (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill proposes that all new builds and renovated buildings will have to have an obligatory changing place.