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21 April 2021

Thomas and Sam

My name is Sam and I am a student. A few years ago I was privileged to care for Thomas – a disabled boy with cerebral palsy.

Thomas Thomas was 10 years-old when we went on an organised holiday, travelling all around the north west. He used a wheelchair and because it was rather large and cumbersome, excursions of this kind were usually few and far between. Thomas loved every minute of the holiday.

I’ll never forget his smile as we arrived at the theme park. And yet there had been something bothering him before we set off. He had told me that last year when he visited the theme park, he had been changed in some dirty toilets. This year one of his legs was in a cast and he didn’t want it to get dirty in the toilet. He feared that if the cast got dirty, he would need to have a new one fitted, with all the pain it involved. I reassured him. “Don’t worry,” I said dismissively. “I’ll make sure that doesn’t happen.” I hadn’t wanted his excitement about the trip to be dampened by what seemed like a trivial concern.

For Thomas, being changed perhaps eight times a day was a normal part of his life. As I packed the necessary supplies, I got a couple of bin liners from the kitchen, just in case Thomas was right about the floor. I still assumed that as we were going to such a big place and as they knew we were coming, some kind of facility would be made available. I was wrong.

When the time came to change Thomas, I made some enquiries at customer services, and they directed me to the baby changing facilities in one of the park’s restaurants. But the room was too small: something of a broom cupboard with a shelf to change babies, which pulled down from the wall. The room wasn’t just not ideal, it was unworkable. Feeling rather frustrated at the poor advice I had received from the woman at customer services, Thomas and I persevered in finding somewhere appropriate.

Several toilets and enquiries later, it had come to this: a large disabled toilet with a door that wouldn’t shut properly and a white tiled floor that revealed the footprints of the many who had been here before us. It was the best I could find and it made me feel sick. I lay out the bin liner and completed the task in hand with as much positive chit chat and distraction as I could muster.

“I told you it would be like that,” Thomas said to me as we left. I was gutted. “Good job you brought that bin liner!” he chuckled.

Similar scenarios greeted me on our other excursions. I felt exasperated – and I can only imagine how Thomas felt.

I have joined the Changing Places campaign to change the unacceptable facilities which currently exist. I hope you will do the same.

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