To pee or not to pee?

Using a public restroom can be a hassle-free pleasure – or a pain.

have been in plenty of bathrooms throughout my life and I know that what happens in there doesn’t usually make for an interesting story. But two of my recent experiences highlight the contrast in available amenities and comfort.

I recently encountered a shower in which every bathroom fitting was placed in the most practical way and it looked very inviting. The physiotherapists and occupational therapists who’d taught me to transfer from my wheelchair would have been proud of the ease with which I handled my ablution routine there.

It was the bathroom that was the star of the show. The height of the wall-mounted shower chair matched the height of my wheelchair perfectly, which made the transfer a breeze. The grab rails were positioned exactly where needed to give me a sense of security. The controls were easy to operate with one hand as I steadied myself with the other hand. I had to applaud the ingenuity of the person who designed it so thoughtfully.

On another occasion, the opposite occurred. Not only are many public restrooms inaccessible, but you also sometimes have to pay to use them. Now this might be a great way of ensuring that they are kept acceptably clean, but the payment mechanism is often mounted so high that you cannot operate it without help. At one of the shopping centres in Cape Town, you need to insert a R1 coin in a slot to open the door. When I visited, I could not open the door on my own, so I had to ask the cleaning lady to do it for me. I went in and started to prepare to empty my bladder. This simple task, made easy by good training in rehab and years of experience, could go terribly wrong if the equipment is not arranged in a practical way. And maybe it was a case of Murphy’s Law but this was not my day.

First, the cubicle was not as big as I expected; I could just about shut the door behind me and turn sideways to face the basin. When I leaned over to open the tap, I was startled by the sudden buzz of the automatic hand dryer that growled at me when my other hand triggered the sensor! The tightly closed tap required extra force to manoeuvre and when it did open, it splashed water right into my face. The soap-dispenser nozzle was so clogged that I had to give it a violent shove before it produced a squirt of creamy liquid all over my trouser leg.

After washing and drying my hands, I was just about to take out my catheter, hand disinfectant, lubricating jelly and hand towel, when the latch suddenly clicked and a tall man pushed the door open. My infuriated shouts alerted a security guard, who came to my aid. I managed to shut the door and finish my business, and then emerged to find the would-be intruder still arguing with the guard about the fact that he’d paid his money but could not use the toilet!

Nothing further came of it, but it did open my eyes not only to accessibility issues but also to personal safety. Be vigilant and try to seek out the public facilities that make the routine moments in life a little easier.

Raven Benny is the chairperson of QASA. He has been a C5, 6 and 7 quadriplegic since 2000. He is married with five children, is mad about wheelchair rugby and represented South Africa in 2003 and 2005. He also plays for Maties. email:

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