Disabled toilets: What is a Radar key?

 
Disabled toilet

It is a large, conspicuous, silver-coloured key that opens more than 9,000 accessible toilets in the UK like magic.

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Radar key

People who need to use a locked disabled loo can now 'go' in peace”

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The loos we're referring to are those with wide entrances and disability symbols on the door, found in public areas, office blocks, pubs or restaurants.

Unlike regular public toilets, there is often a need to lock the doors and so they are regularly only available for use on request.

Chances are that when someone needs to use it, the only compatible key is nowhere to be found and the person who might know where it is has gone awol. Hence the need for a better system.

So how about if one key existed that could unlock all the disabled toilets in the country, and only those considered eligible were allowed to have one? Voila - the Radar national key scheme. People who need to use a locked disabled loo can now "go" in peace, and quickly, without the indignity of asking someone if they can have a wee, please.

Why do accessible toilets need to be locked? You might want to avoid reading this section if you're squeamish or easily shocked.

Disabled people's toilets are big, private and less likely to be occupied than regular-sized ones. As a result they are open to misuse by the general public. Most notoriously, they are sometimes occupied by drug users or people having sex.

Some non-disabled people simply use them to avoid the queues for the "normal" loos. As lots of disabled people have bladder or bowel problems, this can have dire consequences. In our research we spoke to a woman with cerebral palsy who said she once wet herself while waiting for a disabled toilet to become available.

Part of their purpose is that they don't get used too often and so remain cleaner for longer. Like any public convenience, accessible loos can end up in bad condition if used too many times between cleans.

This causes problems for disabled people like Lisa Egan. "If a toilet is too filthy to sit on," she wrote on the Ouch messageboards, "a non-disabled woman can squat over it. I can't. I have to sit down or I'll fall down." Lisa also struggles to keep her balance if a toilet floor is covered in urine. "If I do slip over on a wet toilet floor, I'm at a much higher risk of seriously injuring myself than a non-disabled person."

Why are Radar Keys so big?
Radar key and Yale key

At 4in long, they are over double the length of the average Yale lock key. There are two heads to choose from, one designed for good leverage and a bow-shaped one - introduced in 2011 - for people with arthritis.

The large size of the key (sorry to go on about it), the ergonomic turning head and chunky ring, are all designed to be easier for people with physical impairments to get it out of a bag and in to the lock.

Sarah Cosby, of Disability Rights UK, is the modern-day guardian of the Radar key and has an even more basic explanation for its uncomplicated bulky shape: "[The lock] is a very simple mechanism which has to last for a long time and must withstand a lot of people locking and unlocking it daily. We could have designed a much better one but the main aim was for people to realise that they are not supposed to go in."

The first Radar toilet opened in 1981. Since then, more than 400 local authorities and thousands of businesses have joined the scheme. Some 9,000 toilets are now listed as being accessible via the Radar key but the figure is probably much higher.

Graeme Hardman from Nicholls and Clarke - the builders' merchants who have been producing the keys and locks since day one - estimates that more than a million of the distinctive keys are in use.

The idea for the key came from the Royal Association of Disability and Rehabilitation, aka Radar. It is now part of Disability Rights UK after merging with Disability Alliance and the National Centre for Independent Living in January 2012. Disability Rights UK still coordinates all things Radar key-related today.

How much does a key cost?

The key's simplicity has led to wide spread piracy - a quick web search brings up tens of unofficial sellers pedalling cheap copies. This is something the creators hope to combat when they relaunch the key later in 2013. Detail about the changes is scant.

Official Radar keys cost about £5, including postage and packing. These can be bought from participating local authorities or the Disability Rights UK shop. Some councils give them away for free.

A National Key Scheme guide is produced for purchase each year, which lists the location of every Radar loo on record. A smartphone app is also available, with added walking and driving directions. Both are £5.

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Comments

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  • rate this
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    Comment number 21.

    Oh and if you do catch someone smoking in a toilet inside it is a criminal offence so call the police that's what they are supposed to be there for isn't it? If you have a smart phone take a picture, more evidence for the conviction right, that is if they ever bother to show up.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 20.

    The real issue is cleanliness in all public toilets especially male facilities very often I find a bush would be a cleaner solution. You really have to wonder how these supposed people were raised even a cat can be trained to use a flushing toilet just look it up on YouTube. Still I suppose it's nothing that couldn't be solved with a freshly peeled piece of ginger and a cable tie could not fix.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 19.

    I think the author of this article needs a reality check on what constitutes "dire consequences".

  • rate this
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    Comment number 18.

    All men are equal when suffering from a full bladder. locking these toilets is a form of discrimination!

  • rate this
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    Comment number 17.

    I thought "disabled toilets" were always for everyone's use but priority was given to disabled people. Nowadays, most baby change facilities are in the "disabled toilet" due to the space in the room. If these are locked, it's going to mean a lot of parents of small children having to search for someone with the key.

    I don't see why they have to be locked and have a key scheme. Seems madness.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 16.

    The trouble is, when you've got to go, you've got to go. The lady who wet herself waiting for a disabled toilet to become available is no different from a non-disabled person who wets themselves waiting for a non-disabled toilet to become available. If I was desperate (and I have been) I wouldn't soil myself waiting while there was an empty disabled toilet available.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 15.

    I appreciate that providing a disabled facility is a necessary requirement, there is no arguing that. But tell me why the facilities should be exclusive for disabled people only? If there is a queue to the abled body toilets and the disabled toilet is available then why can abled body individual not be able to utilise the facility?

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 14.

    I have to say I often use disabled toilets when I take my two young boys out, it's safer and easier having us all in one room when one or more of us use it. I always make sure it's left clean and tidy though.

    PS Chris L don't be so daft.

  • rate this
    -3

    Comment number 13.

    Don't know why anyone would want to use a public loo. Use your own before you leave the house and spare yourself the misery.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 12.

    At a service station a few weeks ago, somebody had made some unholy mess in one of the available toilets with a lock. This person managed to use the very last of the paper and used it all "cleaning himself" whilst not even bothering to attempt to flush it away. And it stank. It was incredibly busy as well, all other toilets taken and funny to watch everyone going into it, coming straight back out.

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 11.

    Just to clarify. The lock and Radar key are not being changed so you can use an old key. The key scheme is not a money making exercise. We consider ourselves fortunate if we break even.

  • rate this
    -3

    Comment number 10.

    I'm not happy with the inferences of "Like any public convenience, accessible loos can end up in bad condition if used too many times between cleans.".

    So are you saying disabled people have to put up with these facilities being cleaned less often, or are you saying disabled people have a greater right to clean facilities than able-bodied people do?

    Whichever way you cut it this stinks!

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 9.

    @8
    TBH I can't blame you for that, it seems no matter where you go, be it a fancy restaurant, a family pub or an art gallery, you can guarantee 2 things.... 1) Someone will have soaked the floor and 2) Someone will have kicked the cubicle door in and broken the lock.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 8.

    I routinely abuse unlocked 'disabled' toilets when I'm out with my two small children: trying to swap places in the cramped, phlegm-, urine-, fagash- and fecal-streaked confines of the common public cubicle is the stuff of nightmares.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 7.

    The relaunch will not stop any existing genuine Radar key from working.
    The two keys shown above are not genuine Radar keys -it's simple to tell the difference - look for the word "Radar".
    They have to be long because some of the doors have thick cladding on the outside.
    There are two different heads -one for people who have wrist and grip issues and one for people who want a normal sized head.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 6.

    Great(!) So now Im gonna have to pay for a new key just so I can pee?! Why not get those who already have a key to swap it for a new one? Im sure the old keys can be melted/re-used in some way. I know its a one off payment but Ive been fighting to get my benefits sorted & have so far not claimed DLA but if Im gonna have new expenses like this then I may have to put a claim form in! :(

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 5.

    this is going to be unfortunate for people who are temporarily "disabled" - I know when I broke my foot and still wanted to go out and about, I had to use the disabled toilets, as I wasn't able to balance on one leg and sit down, and get back up - the bigger cubical, higher toilets and handrails was a great help to me. but now, people on crutches for short periods won't have access to them.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 4.

    What? Being relaunched? What about the thousands of people who already have keys? More details needed. Who will buy a key if they think it will obsolete in 6 months time? http://livingwithdisability.info/radar-key-disabled-toilets/

  • rate this
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    Comment number 3.

    Not just smokers - the RADAR key system is much abused by drug addicts, particularly where I live (Wirral).

  • rate this
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    Comment number 2.

    What's to stop a key being abuse just like the disabled parking badge?

    I can't say i've EVER seen disabled toilets being abused, except the odd occasional lazy individual or women sick of queing.

    Effectively this smells like a money making scheme that holds disabled people to ransom, "pay us £5 or you might be unable to find a toilet".
    1.3million x £5 = £6.5m

 

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