When traveling in another country (or even your own!), what to do when the call of nature strikes is an issue whether you are disabled or not. However, for those with disabilities it can be even more stressful of an issue than for others as there are far more regular washrooms in the world than accessible ones. In comparison to many other countries, Japan certainly gets it right in making wheelchair accessible toilets usable and numerous.
In my native Canada, there is generally a toilet stall at the back of the washroom for wheelchair users. Unfortunately, it is often just big enough for a wheelchair and doesn’t account for personal care workers or transfers. Additionally, if the person assisting you is of the opposite sex, it can be difficult to decide which toilet to use – men’s or women’s.
Japan has an excellent answer to this – the 多目的トイレ (tamokuteki toire, “multipurpose toilet”), also called a 誰でもトイレ (daredemo toire, “everyone/anyone tolet”).
Instead of being located near the back of one of the public toilets, these accessible toilets are either placed between the men’s and women’s toilets or just inside. Occasionally, it may be only on the woman’s side, but not far enough in to create an awkward situations. They are designed not just for people with disabilities, but also for seniors and mothers with young children. As such, they typically adhere to the following concept:
wide enough to adequately allow strollers and wheelchairs to enter in addition to caregivers, equipped with handrails, diaper changing board, baby chair, sinks for cleaning ostmate bags, and emergency call buttons
These toilets are also readily available. In case of a pinch, your safest bet is to find the nearest train or subway station (which are plentiful in Japan!) as a majority of stations are equipped with accessible toilets. They can also be easily found at tourist attractions, public buildings, department stores, larger supermarkets and even in parks. There is even one on the bullet train!
Of course, nothing is perfect. While the above gives a general description of an accessible washroom, aside from the space criteria they can vary widely. Of particular concern to people with balance issues, many toilets do not have a tank or backrest to lean on. The second problem may arise from the naming choice. Everyone/anyone toilet linguistically suggests, well, anyone can use it. While most people are understanding, you may occasionally need to wait while an able-bodied girl fixes her make-up or guy changes from his suit.
On a final note, many of these toilets in Japan have automatic door openers – a green button to open, and a red one to close the door. There are buttons inside and outside the washroom. The one outside just opens and closes the door, whereas the close button inside will also lock the door. Sometimes people press the outside close button while entering (thus leaving the door unlocked). The bigger problem can occur when someone is leaving. As the buttons inside the toilet are often near the door, sometimes people close the door using the button inside the toilet as they leave – meaning the toilet locks with no one in it and making it unusable until a staff member opens it.
Here is a sampling of accessible toilets: