The dos and don’ts of designing dunnies has modern public toilets flush with special features


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October 12, 2018 08:00:00

Public toilets are steadily becoming hands-free environments, making it easier to navigate the hygiene pitfalls of communal facilities.

While sensors may not be able to handle every aspect of going on the go, modern public toilets increasingly catering for germaphobes.

Upgrading the plumbing

Social science researcher Dr Lisel O’Dwyer said concerns around public toilets had come to the fore in most Western countries with ageing populations.

“There are now more people who need to use toilets more often,” she said.

“Toilets need to be designed for the particular needs of the population.

“If we want people to continue and having a social life and being included in work and social activities outside the home, they need toilets.”

In the absence of hands-free technology, users have come up with all sorts of alternatives to touching things with their hands.

It could mean waiting for another person to open the door, using elbows to turn taps on and off, or just even holding it in.

Most facilities were designed decades ago and are expensive to refit.

But airports are frequently renovated, with bathrooms featuring door-less entries as well as sensors for flushers, taps, soap dispensers and hand dryers.

“They deal with a huge range of different users so they’re the ideal place to set up new technology and introduce new ways of doing things,” Dr O’Dwyer said.

“Cost factors would have a role in explaining why they’re not available at every public toilet in your local park or shopping centre.

“I think as facilities are upgraded over the next few years … we’ll see that these features do become standard.”

Stalled advent of unisex bathrooms

While hands-free features might make public toilets more accessible for many, there are some demographics that need more consideration.

It’s been suggested that blind people could benefit from braille layouts at the entrances.

More changing places in capital cities and regional centres have helped disabled people and carers use public toilets.

“Changing places do take a fair bit of space but they make a world of difference,” Dr O’Dwyer said.

“They provide aids such as hoists and plenty of space for people to be able to turn around in a wheelchair and for them to be able to carry all their things.

“But still they’re a rarity and we do need more funding for more such facilities.”

The lack of unisex bathrooms has made accessibility difficult for transgender people or non-binary individuals.

Bathrooms in the average household will usually be unisex, and everyone is forced to deal with the bad habits of opposite genders.

That could explain why people prefer to keep everything separate when it comes to public toilets.

But being forced into one or the other can marginalise transgender users when they’re out in public.

“It’s a difficult one, because people should be able to use the toilet that they want to use,” Dr O’Dwyer said.

“It could be more of a cultural shift in perceptions that’s needed there, which is going to take time.”

Gender equality lacking in toilet spaces

Space is an important commodity when it comes to designing public bathrooms.

Males usually benefit the most, with the inclusion of urinals in most toilets, while women often queue for a limited number of cubicles.

Dr O’Dwyer estimated a 2:1 distribution of space in favour of males.

“A lot of the toilets that we have today were actually designed 30 or 40 years ago,” she said.

“At that time most of the designers and architects were male, but now that we have increasing gender balance in those particular professions, things will change.”

There’s a reverse disadvantage for older men when it came to public toilets.

Most female toilets will include sanitary disposal units for hygiene products.

However, older men who suffer from incontinence have often been forced to carry soiled materials until they find a sanitation bin.

Smart, secure and sanitary

Dr O’Dwyer said the main things to consider in public toilet design were security, cleanliness and accessibility.

“The most requested features of public toilets are good security and hygiene,” she said.

“We need to have preferably daily visits of toilets to check that there is sufficient toilet paper and soap available.

“We also need to be careful about the layout of the facility and whether there are bushes obscuring pathways to and from the facility.

“People also need to have a bit more of a concern for other users; if you make a mess, clean it up. Don’t just leave it.”

Topics:

health,

community-and-society,

human-interest,

social-sciences,

people,

disabilities,

australia



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