A brand new, fully accessible toilet and changing facility has been constructed at Dundalk Institute of Technology, following a campaign by a student who lives with cerebral palsy who needed an adapted bathroom to meet his needs.
Students returned to campus for the 2020/21 academic year last year and this week, the college unveiled the much needed facility which has been custom built for students and staff with disabilities and complex needs.
Conor Byrne, from Clogherhead, who studies English and Politics is a wheelchair user who requires special assistance to use toilet facilities. Before starting at Dundalk Institute of Technology last September, he was told the third-level institute would need to build a specially-purposed bathroom to suite his needs.
By the time the college shut in March as the Covid-19 pandemic took hold, Conor was still waiting on his promised bathroom, despite stating that the promise of the adapted bathroom was the reason he ultimately decided to pursue his third level education in Dundalk.
Between September and March, Conor had been forced to use facilities in the neighbouring O’Fiach College – despite the college telling him a dedicated bathroom would be constructed on site by Halloween last year. In March, they set a revised new date for the bathroom – the start of the new academic year.
Speaking on Tuesday, Conor – who had previously aired his frustration and disappointment with the situation – said the new facility was “fantastic”.
“It is vital that accessible units such as these are available to students, like myself, so that we can have independence like everyone else to learn, socialise and participate in student life. I am pleased with the work that has been completed and I would like to see more of these types of facilities available across the country.”
The new accessible changing unit (pictured below) includes additional assistive technology of a hoist, height adjustable adult-sized changing bench, height accessible basin and toilet.
DkIT say they are currently in discussions to make this facility available to the general public and updates on this will follow in due course.
The new facility is located on the ground floor in the Main Restaurant building and includes height-adjustable, adult-sized changing bench, a ceiling track hoist system, adequate space for a person with disabilities and up to two assistants, centrally located toilet with space both sides for assistant and a privacy screen.
“I am pleased that DkIT has completed works on this important facility and it is great that it is now open to students and staff at the college,” Independent Cllr Power said. “The new changing and toilet unit will, without question, have a significantly positive impact on Conor’s life and the lives of many others and I commend the institute for prioritising the works.”
“Sadly however, facilities such as these are a scarcity across Ireland and we estimate that there are less than 20 such facilities nationwide. This is a matter of major concern for people with disabilities because it can significantly limit the quality of their lives.
As a society we must strive to change this and make the necessary changes to make our world more inclusive and accessible for all. It is wonderful that County Louth is now leading the way in this regard, however we have much work still to do.” he added.
In comments made on Tuesday, DkIT President Michael Mulvey acknowledged the delay in proving the much needed toilet and changing facilities.
“We acknowledge that unfortunately, we did experience some delay in getting this facility ready for public use, however we are now delighted with the finished work,” he said.
“The new unit has been completed to an extremely high standard and has been well received by students and staff alike. I would like to extend my sincere thanks to our student community for their patience and understanding during this transition period and I would like thank our neighbour, O Fiaich Institute of Further Education, for their support in sharing facilities over the past year.”
In March, Conor – assisted by Cllr Power – had hit out at what he perceived to be poor communication from DkIT management. In response, DkIT said they regretted the inconvenience and undue stress caused to their students.
There are currently only 14 Changing Places toilet facilities nationwide – with eight of them in Dublin. The nearest is at the IKEA furniture store in Dublin.
Changing Places are different from standard disabled toilets in that they have extra space and facilities like a hoist and a changing bench. Without these specialist facilities, many carers are left having to change their loved ones on the floors of public toilets.
It is estimated it costs €15,000 to install Changing Places equipment in a specially designed bathroom. The Changing Places Ireland have lobbied the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government to grant aid to local authorities and voluntary organisations to install Changing Places facilities in every county.
The Dundalk Sports Centre, in Dundalk has all the features of a Changing Places, however their room does not meet the required size of a Changing Places which is 12m. It is 10.5m.