Hamilton mother takes on mission to roll out fully accessible bathrooms across country

A Hamilton mother has made it her mission to roll out fully accessible public bathrooms right across the country. 

Jenn Hooper says existing ones aren't properly equipped to cater to thousands of severely disabled Kiwis like her teenage daughter. 

It's something most of us take for granted, but for around 20,000 severely disabled Kiwis, using the toilet isn't easy.

"Things are that much more difficult," Hooper says. "And you've got to segregate in order to get life done"

Hooper would know, her 15-year-old daughter Charley was deprived of oxygen at birth, leaving her blind and immobile. 

"She can smile like if you touch her nose or whatever you can get her to smile, but I'll never hear her laugh."

And even though there's a disabled toilet in most public places, Charley will never be able to use one either. 

Hooper says public disabled bathrooms often require a higher level of ability than one may initially assume. 

"The irony is you actually have to be quite able in order to use one."

So Hooper launched Changing Places New Zealand to build and run fully equipped bathrooms. 

The first fully equipped bathroom is in Hamilton gardens and the second has just launched at Auckland's Westfield Newmarket. 

National manager of Scentre Group, the company behind Westfield, Paul Gardner  says the new bathroom has been welcomed. 

"The community have responded with some level of delight and some level of surprise because of course, it is not an expectation across the country that at a shopping centre this would be a facility we provide."

There's more space, a height-adjustable toilet and basin and unlike an ordinary disabled cubicle, there's an adult change table and ceiling hoist. 

"It's also about the caregivers," says Hooper. "And it's really the first time anyone has cared about the caregivers."

and in an ode to Charley, there's even wall art with her favourite flower and bird. 

"It is about dignity, it is about inclusion it's about safety."

It also means they don't have to stay at home or use catheter stomas for bladder release so they can use an ordinary disability toilet, because they don't have a facility suitable for them. 

But at around $50,000 for the equipment alone the bathrooms don't come cheap. 

Westfield is aiming to roll them out across it's remaining four New Zealand malls and Hooper is lobbying local and central government to do the same in every region. 

"I'm not expecting your local cafe to put one in but if there can be one every say 10 or 15 minutes drive of each other I don't think that's asking too much."

Hamilton is already in line for a second bathroom, and Auckland's Takapuna beach after that.