rear view of man on wheelchair going to the toilet adapted for disability person

For billions of people, accessibility to toilets, sinks and dispensers are an afterthought in public restrooms. Yet for many others living with physical disabilities, using those same amenities can be a difficult — or in some instances impossible — task. 

Looking to simplify the process for all, Upper Canada Mall in Newmarket, Ontario, Canada, recently completed a two-year project to open the complex’s first fully accessible universal washroom, according to NewmarketToday. The initiative was sparked through a petition by York region District School Board special education teacher Derek Bunn in 2018 after highlighting the challenges faced by many physically disabled visitors to conventional restrooms; an effort that ultimately garnered over 26,000 signatures.

“Children, adults and seniors who visit the Upper Canada Mall or any mall, and need to use the washroom, must be physically lifted from their wheelchair and be laid on the floor near toilets and the garbage in order to be changed. This type of activity is happening every day. Does this seem fair?” says Bunn in the petition.

The efforts culminated in a ribbon-cutting ceremony showcasing a 238 square-foot private restroom, conveniently located nearby the mall’s food court. 

Key features include a 40-inch doorway for wheelchair accessibility, grab bars fastened along the walls, a child-sized toilet and change table, an adult change table equipped with a lift and 600-pound capacity sling for maneuverability around the restroom, a privacy curtain, an accessible sink, dispenser and hand dryer, a waiting area for any support workers, a curtain for privacy, emergency bars to call for assistance and a security system with buzz-in capabilities for guest access.

Steve Foglia, chairsperson for Newmarket’s accessibility advisory committee, believes the new universal restroom could be used as a blueprint for future facilities and renovations. Collaboration between the committee and Petroff Partnership Architects was instrumental in making the restroom’s layout and capabilities come to fruition. 

“If you build an accessible washroom by the Ontario Building Code, it’s not accessible,” says Foglia. “If you build it by the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act standards, it’s better but it’s still not 100 percent accessible. This universal washroom is doing everything you could possibly need it to.”

Public restroom improvement has been a pressing topic over the past year. Two Wisconsin state representatives and a state senator recently introduced the “Baby Bathroom Bill,” which would require changing tables to be placed in any men’s and unisex restroom of any newly built or substantially renovated public building. Read more on the implications and reaction to the proposal here