Are public toilets in Dubai special needs-friendly? Not very.

Have a look at this first, then read on:

 

Whenever we go out, and Karan needs to use the bathroom, it’s often a problem because it’s almost always just me and Mom with him. He can’t go to a public toilet alone and needs someone with him. Now we can’t enter the male toilets obviously. That leaves the female toilets. The problem is getting a 15-year-old, almost 6-feet tall male in there. Mostly we rely on the kindnessand understanding of the women inside who say it’s okay to bring him in. However, going out does provide unnecessary complications when it comes to using the toilet.

I still remember this one time when we were in Deira City Centre a few years ago; we were near the cinemas when he wanted to use the toilet. We poked our head into the female toilet and saw a group of abaya-clad women there. We were a bit shy/hesitant to ask them if it was okay to bring Karan in because we felt perhaps they wouldn’t really be comfortable with the idea. Believe me, they were one of the most understanding and kind people we’ve met. Far from having a problem, they insisted we bring him in immediately, asked us more about him and even greeted him when he came in, even though he didn’t give any sign of noticing them.

Anyway, I went to Dubai Mall with my Mom and Karan, and he needed to go to the bathroom. So, we poked our head into the female restroom and saw that the handicapped/disabled stall was right the edge, which was a relief because it meant we didn’t have to go all the way in and would not encounter many women who may or may not have a problem with a 6-foot-tall man in front of them, no matter how innocent. Anyway… there was no one else in the restroom save an attendant and two women sitting on the bench that was at the entrance of the restroom. We walked in, and the attendant piped up…

Her: Ehh…no no no…what is this?
Me: Oh hello. Sorry but my brother has special needs and I need to take him to the toilet.
Her: No, no, take him out.
Me: He has autism and he cannot go to the toilet alone and he needs someone with him, so I need to take him into the handicapped stall.
Her: No, no NO! He go to male toilet.
Me: I cannot enter the male toilet and he needs someone to go with him. He has autism…special needs? He cannot go alone.
Her: No, take him out.
Me: *trying to stop my mother from an all-out battle* Look, I don’t care what you think, I’m going into the toilet with him, because he can’t go alone and like I said, he has autism and one of us HAS to go in with him.
Her: No…I…he cannot…
Me: Fine, call the management and I’ll talk to them.
Her: *silence* Okay, but go quickly.

Quickly????? I didn’t even bother thanking her for grudgingly letting us go in and took him in. Do I even want to go back to Dubai Mall again with my brother? No.

Public places like malls and parks need to realize that a massive special needs population exists in this city, and in the country. We’re here and we’re here to stay. They also need to realize that some children and adults with special needs have a caretaker/guardian of the opposite gender. If they need to go to the toilet, how can they go if it’s either male or female??? I implore the management of such places to think about us, because as it is we’re thrown at the fringe of society and this is just another thing that makes us dread going out. If your intention is to keep us shut behind four walls, congratulations, it’s working. It is absolutely imperative to have disabled toilets that are really independent of the male and female toilets. If you want to guard against anyone and everyone using the toilet, have an attendant in each bathroom have a key or something, and give it only to those who really need a unisex washroom (for example, someone who has a special needs issue whether physical or mental, and their opposite gender guardian). Knowledge Village has unisex handicapped toilets near the male/female ones, why can’t everyone else?

We get well-meaning people (but those who don’t know what they’re talking about) to “take Karan outside”. Yes, we’ll take him. But how do we integrate into society if we’re denied the basic right of using a toilet? 

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