What a difference an idea of service makes


I had a chat recently with a friend who works in the NSW Department of Customer Service (DCS). It is a public service agency whose customer base is the whole of the NSW community. My friend has a deep passion for accessibility, and he thinks about it in ways I find deeply inspirational.

Here are some reflections arising from our chat. I focus on inclusion rather than accessibility. You can’t have inclusion without accessibility – but you also can’t have accessibility without a spirit of inclusion.

Service means different things in different contexts

In one sense all public sector agencies serve their community. They are all services. But sometimes that service is fraught because the service users, or those upon whom the service is imposed, do not endear themselves to the service providers. In other cases, the services provided are more remote from the community. They make the other services possible.

What makes DCS different is that its customers/service users are generally seen in a positive and direct way. I have dealt with DCS often. Its commitment to customer service is sincere. You can explore what it does here – https://www.nsw.gov.au/departments-and-agencies/department-of-customer-service

Because of its different approach it has engaged its internal audit team to assess its services in terms of their accessibility. That’s a strong positive move which reflects confidence in DCS’s willingness to be held accountable.

This is in stark contrast with other agencies which provide services in areas which engage with community members in deeply problematic situations – like police, corrective services, child protection and housing and homelessness. Issues of accessibility and inclusion are no less relevant, but the complexity of these roles is such that it doesn’t lend itself readily to an internal audit assessment. This is not a criticism, just an observation. There are complex reasons why this is so, and its not a theme I can cover here.

In essence you can do some things with the idea of service in one context, but not another. This distinction is important because it tells us a great deal about how we understand what service is, and how we apply that understanding.

Accountability is a problem

Bullying and harassment of staff with disability is an ongoing issue in the public sector. It could, theoretically, be solved simply by having an effective reporting and response mechanism. Reality is different. Our psychology gets in the way of ideals all the time.

There is a huge difference between accountability in the delivery of accessible services in a positive spirit of service delivery and holding staff in leadership roles accountable for the mistreatment of subordinate staff. It should happen, but it mostly does not unless the offence transgresses against norms severely and cannot be downplayed.

In recent months I have been made aware that NSW public sector agencies have been obliged to develop and implement policies related to sexual harassment and bullying and harassment. This misconduct is clearly a breach of the sector’s code of conduct, but instead of strengthening response processes which affirm accountability, the policies are revised – as if the policy is the issue. It isn’t. It’s the failure to act effectively in response to complaints that is the problem.

Service and accountability on a personal level

DCS demonstrates that understanding service in a particular way can make a desire to be accountable a matter of pride. But we don’t see how an organisation operates as a form of service – more a kind of managing a mechanism. The messy business of managing how staff conduct themselves isn’t seen as a service. It is a necessity that is difficult to do well at the best of times. This attitude is changing among organisations who are committed to adopting the latest research-based thinking on how to attract and retain high quality staff.

There is a need to distinguish between managing how an organisation operates and what it does – but please do see that the idea of service applies in both cases. These days staff members are not mere cogs in the ‘machine’ of production but more like the tools (as intelligent moral agents) without whom the business of the organisation cannot be realised. Part of the function of managing staff is providing a service to them – giving guidance, ensuring safety, providing accessible working conditions and so on. 

While staff members may be subordinate in a necessary organisational hierarchy, they are not so when it comes to dignity, status, or value. In days gone by hierarchical inequity also embraced organisational and social status. In a way it still does in the sense that more power/responsibility usually means higher pay which can translate as opportunities to participate in specific social groups. But that seeming inequity is relative rather than absolute – as it used to be thought to be.

There is some interesting thinking on the idea of the ‘servant leader’ in which leadership is an act of service rather than the exercise of power. Please do google the idea. 

The wealth of work on leadership and service to be found does suggest that being a leader/manager is much harder than it used to be. The NSW Public Service Commission released a campaign to support employment of people with disability a few years ago. It included a manifesto which included the phrase: “Today leaders inspire with self-awareness and empathy.” What the campaign lacked was guidance on how that might happen. 

Self-awareness and empathy are not attributes included in selection criteria for manager/leadership roles. It seems that we expect that people in those roles will spontaneously acquire those attributes simply because they are asserted to a good thing.

On a personal level, being self-reflective and self-critical can have limited appeal, unless one is self-motivated in that direction.  A job is generally taken to be a means toward self-fulfilment because of the income earned. It is not necessarily seen as an act of service in itself. This is an important distinction because if we see a job is a means to an end, we assume it to be the same for everyone else. The goal is to get by and get to the chance to be self-fulfilled outside of work.

This makes perfect sense, and in days gone by that was the pretty much rule. There were exceptions, of course, but they were exceptional. These were people who found fulfillment in their work as acts of service. The norm was that the staff member was essentially a ‘wetware’ component in the means of production – whatever the output was. Customer service was a thing that stood alone, externally focused. That was the only kind of service imagined.

Leading with self-awareness and empathy sounds nice. It is a form of service towards those who are led. But to suggest that it will naturally arise is to view how organisations work with great naivety. There will be some for whom such is a natural expression of who they are, but they are in the minority. To get to that quality of servant leadership there must be a cultural commitment to it at organisational level.

Things have changed

In the past few decades, organisations have recognised the need to treat their staff differently. This became pertinent when the idea of ‘knowledge work’ gained a foothold. What that meant was that apart from possessing certain knowledge staff had to be also able to exercise judgement, communicate effectively and be competent in interpersonal relations. The means of production shifted from processes to people in whom knowledge, skills and attributes of character are key requirements.

This change has arisen from changes in social values, reflected in the expectations of staff to be treated as a person of inherent worth and dignity. Disability inclusion has arisen as a theme because of this change – as have other DEI themes.

But what has changed more slowly than the social values has been the capacity of organisations to adapt. They are still locked into the habits of how things have been done since way back when. Staff are still seen as subject to organisational control rather than care. The cobwebs of the command and control mentality still linger in our workplaces and exert their dragging influence.

In a control mentality causing harm to a staff member as a component of the means of production is no big deal, because they can be replaced. With a care mentality causing harm invokes a sense of empathic concern which triggers action to ameliorate the harm and address the cause.

For many organisations this transition is slow. The control mindset is so entrenched and pervasive it is difficult to dislodge. Back in late 2020 or early 2021, before I quit fulltime work, my employer released a new policy on grievances/complaints handling. I was astonished and dismayed to see references to ‘managers’ and ‘workers’. Such out of date language is possible only if the old mindset still endures. I thought the policy persisted in the same old quasi-legal adversarial mentality that forced a separation between the interests of the organisation and the interests of staff. Staff injured by misconduct (for that is the cause of so many injurious consequences) are seen not as people needing care and empathy, but as risks to the leadership ingroup to be managed. It’s the old ‘them and us’thinking and not the ‘we’ of shared care and responsibility that mark emotional and psychological maturity.

The watershed moment

We are in a transitional phase at the level of organisational culture – moving from component thinking to real caring. Our legislation and policy champion caring but our management and leadership recruitment practices still echo component thinking. How do we hit the top of the ridge into a new watershed territory?

Typically, we are dominated by prevailing mentalities which resist the new. We resist investing in the emergent insights because they devalue old authority, and the cost is seen as an impost rather than an investment. We naturally resist change, and the object of organisational leadership should be to work through that resistance, not reinforce it. 

Leadership guides are clear here – you must model the change you want others to adopt. If you want inclusivity, behave inclusively. If you want accessibility, make it a priority in your own conduct. If you want accountability, allow yourself to be held to account.

Businesses live and die by their vision and capacity to adapt and embrace the new. Kodak, once the definitive name in photography, missed out on the digital revolution. It didn’t make it to the top of the ridge.

The public sector has no such imperative to adapt to survive. The worst it may face is limitation in funding and be subject to political guidance of variable merit. As such adaptation to the emergent paradigms about valuing the dignity of staff is patchy – uneven in distribution and quality.

What I love about DCS is that it is modelling the idea of service as a discipline governed by principles and standards. True, this has a primary external focus, but it must have an internal reflection as well. True, this might have an initial focus on accessibility, but accessibility benefits all because it is inherently inclusive. Its something that could infect the whole culture.

DCS also has a cultural steering committee. This is an idea new to me, and one I will explore and write on. In essence such a committee intentionally influences the organisation’s culture. At some stage the culture must shift into care-centric territory in a way that will steadily accelerate the rate of evolution toward workplaces that are inclusive, equitable and diverse – and compassionate, caring and kind.

You can’t be outwardly caring while remaining internally locked into component thinking. It’s been tried and it doesn’t work. Authenticity is necessary – if only we could see that at every level of our organisations.


Shifting from a control mindset to a service mindset is a stage along the evolutionary pathway, and what we can do to move it along is important. 

A friend, Ernesto Sirolli, the pioneer of enterprise facilitation in the 1980s, wrote of the importance of doing enterprise facilitation as if “people really matter.” (see https://sirolli.com/philosophy) That was my first encounter with a formal idea of a methodology for doing anything in which the individual mattered most. The enterprise facilitator served the client. It wasn’t a case of an expert delivering instruction and information. It was a relationship of care.

These days there is abundant evidence that staff who are cared for work better and harder than those who are not. A diverse and inclusive workforce isn’t just nice to have because legislation and policies say we must. It is more productive and more stable. The cost of making this happen is an investment.

That cost isn’t just money. It is time and attention. There’s an intellectual, emotional, and cognitive effort required. There’s also a philosophical shift that is necessary.

There is one thing that is blindingly apparent in organisational development over the past few decades, and in management and leadership in particular. It is that there is an expectation of higher levels of psychological maturity as a necessity among knowledge workers. This includes emotional intelligence. We are not going to see such qualities predominant in our workforces unless leaders and managers embody them and model them. 

We will get leadership that is routinely self-aware and empathic only when those attributes are intentionally sought in recruitment and fostered development practices by leaders who already possess them.

We are disposed to be biased toward those who are like us. That can cause problems for how we realise our ideals for diversity at times, but it also gives us insight into why bullying and harassment of staff with disability remains a problem despite all the fine words about how such conduct “will not be tolerated.” It may also explain accessibility is still not assured in procurement practices. But bias can have positive outcomes when the right people are the decision-makers.

It is time to reimagine the idea of service as something that applies to every aspect of public sector employment and not just in engagement with external customers/service users. Leadership as service, not control, is more grown up, more emotionally mature.

Finally, organisational workplaces are communities in which intense human relationships are formed. A relationship between a leader and a subordinate staff member is more complex than we mostly understand. There’s an imbalance of power often between social equals expressed in ways that are emotionally stilted. When that power imbalance is inexpertly handled it can trigger biases that lead to exclusion and conflict and eventually unintended psychological harm.

The idea that the ‘higher’ serves the ‘lower’ is alien to many – and yet it is fundamental to our best ideas on leadership. The experience of exclusion, bullying and the persistence of inaccessibility familiar to many staff with disability wouldn’t be a thing in a servant leadership culture.

This week I was obliged to pay $1135 for a major ‘service’ on my car – a 2012 Toyota Aurion. I paid it gladly despite the pain. I have deep affection for the car, gratitude for its performance and reliability, and pleasure in driving it. It is ‘serviced’ regularly. The cost of servicing the car is an investment in my ability to be mobile. I look after it in a pragmatic respectful way. I make sure it performs well and is safe to drive. Now if I could treat people as well as I treat my car… 

Exclusion is a feature, not a bug, and what we can do about it


What triggers and perpetuates our capacity to engage in exclusionary behaviour in the face of earnest assertions that such conduct will not be tolerated? It is not as mysterious as it may seem.

Most of us are kind and caring, although we don’t always make this known to others readily. Some folks are not. Mercifully they are not common in our organisations. Though there enough of them to make their conduct dangerous to vulnerable people.

It is tempting to see failures to act inclusively and find reason to assign blame. Efforts at promoting inclusion are often information-based. There is an old myth that if we give people information, they will adapt their behaviour. When this inevitably doesn’t happen, we assume a lack of interest and caring – and thus we see a moral failing. We can feel excluded from a moral framework that affirms our human value – and it can feel uncaring. It isn’t, or rather, it very rarely is.

In advocating for disability inclusion, I was, early on, frustrated and bewildered by the way organisational leaders, who were so enthusiastic to my face, so often failed to follow up. The sense of righteous urgency I felt ran into resistance and obstruction, a lack of accountability, and an unreflective insistence that certain conduct “will not be tolerated” while evidence it was being tolerated was everywhere abundant – and apparently ignored.

We got changes and improvements by persistent, insistent effort. But these changes were not as great as sought, nor as timely. Perpetrators of egregious conduct against staff with disability remained unrebuked and unrestrained despite what seemed to be reasonable efforts to intervene.

What was going on? When I quit my full-time job in June 2021 after 19.5 years, I finally had the time to explore this question in depth. I spent the next 18 months in close to fulltime research. Below is a summation of where I am up to in the quest to understand. I wanted to know if I was diagnosing the problem correctly.

The question is complex

Large organisations like government departments are novel developments in human history. They are evolving a behaviour we described, a few decades back, in terms of organisational psychology – and as our knowledge has advanced this has fragmented into myriad specialisations. 

Organisational behaviour, and the culture that is generated is constantly evolving in response to social, economic, and technological changes.

A significant social change for us [and here I am thinking specifically of NSW, though it is generally the case] is our continuously changing pluralistic multi-cultural community. Government commitment to ensure that the public sector workforce reflects the community it serves is an essential, but novel goal. This also comes with an obligation for mutual respect and inclusion within the workforce – a necessary expectation. But it is one that places an interesting burden of intentional behaviour upon staff. Exclusions and even enmities that might be normal in one’s private life should not be continued in the workplace.

Organisations and communities are made up of individuals and groups. This brings in individual psychology in two important ways. A certain amount of our behaviour is hardwired and inherited from our primate ancestors. We have reflexes and biases built in. Then we have our individual experience-based behaviours. These are complex and influence every aspect of our lives – at home and at work.

Let me summarise all this briefly:

  • Our organisations are novel and evolving forms of behaviour.
  • Our community is a novel and evolving form of living together.
  • Our workforces and novel and evolving forms of working together.
  • While we are generally people of goodwill and kindness these qualities are not uniformly distributed, while there is an expectation that a public sector workforce should/must exhibit these qualities in a uniform way.

The goal of creating an inclusive workforce which is universally safe for the diverse array of people who make up our community is a necessary one. But we have hugely under-estimated the effort needed to achieve it. We need to step back and review our beliefs in the light of contemporary research. This isn’t an easy task as it is scattered through books, articles, and podcasts.

Exclusion is a feature?

It is. Inclusion is intimate. We reflexively don’t reject those who look/behave like us, but neither do we actively include, unless they are known intimates – like family members – and even then, not always.

In terms of include/exclude options we are more disposed to exclude. That’s safer on the whole. This is a reflex that goes way back to when survival was tough. But its not all black and white. We will exclude strongly or mildly, motivated by fear or strong aversion all the way down to mild dislike or lack of interest.

We overcome a reflex to exclude by re-assessing the individual or group in a new context. I was born in Northern Ireland. My father’s family were staunchly Protestant and militantly anti-Catholic. When I was growing up in western Victoria, while my father joined the Protestant church and perpetuated his loathing of Catholics, I thought that was a dumb attitude in a small country town. I had schoolmates who were Catholics, and I valued their friendship over any nonsense my father was into. His beliefs and passions didn’t fit my context, and I had no motive to perpetuate them.

Some changes are simply down to intergenerational changes in context, like mine. The young adapt quickly. But sometimes cultural aversions are deeply rooted and do not fade quickly. There can be many motives to exclude that begin as a cultural foundation, and which may be added to by personal experience. This is especially the case with intergenerational trauma, which may lead to complex PTSD being experienced in a home or community setting.

This may seem like it has nothing to do with disability inclusion, but it has a lot. Many cultures exemplify the unblemished. We may be heirs to cultural values that do not honour disability as being just part of the spectrum of being human.

Our instincts are to favour those without disability when it comes to choosing a mate. But if we have close family members with disability our responses may be very different. We encounter caring and inclusion up close.

While we can recognise that exclusion is something we are hardwired to enact, the reasons for doing so may not be valid all the time.

For example, advances in technology, such as JAWS and screen readers, mean that blind people can no longer be justly excluded from roles they were unable to perform in in the past. Activation of an exclusionary response must now be modified by insight into the context and by extending personal inclusion to the individual.

There are multiple reasons why disability might trigger an exclusionary response. They can be contextual, cultural, or personal. Because of the changes in our cultural values, technologies, and social obligations we must be careful in running with any impulse to exclude, lest we are unkind and unjust.

Disability and intersectionality

People with disability are distinguished from other ‘diversity groups’ who are subjected to exclusionary and discriminatory behaviour because we add the attribute of requiring accessibility. In that sense people with disability can have an impact that benefits all people, whether they are a member of a ‘diversity group’ or not, because improved accessibility can help us all.

However, we must not see people with disability only in terms of accessibility. We cover the spectrum of human attributes and identities. No ‘diversity group’ will have no people with disability as members. As a result, inclusion challenges may arise from a ‘diversity group’ attributes, or identity, as well as the simple fact of living with a disability and the accessibility challenges associated with that disability.

The difficulty of changing behaviour

Changing how we behave is more about motivation than information, as anybody trying to break a bad habit knows. Motivation driven by goodwill and compassion is better than feeling forced to comply, although, to be honest, fear can be a great motivator to change, as well as stay the same. So, kind persuasion is better than policing.

Changing behaviour takes effort. It imposes a cognitive load on our brain. It requires attention, repeatedly, and sometimes constantly. The extra energy required isn’t just mental, it’s also emotional. And for that extra energy to be applied it must be redirected from somewhere else. That can include feeling angry or fearful. We change our behaviour because the new behaviour serves us better than the old, and the new thoughts and emotions are better than the old ones.

Most staff work hard at jobs that demand their attention because of workload and the nature of the job, and they may have private lives that may also demand their emotional attention to a very high degree. They don’t have a lot of extra energy to put into being more inclusive, no matter how much they may want to.

Change on a personal level, even when we are willing, may take much longer than we hope for.

In-groups and out-groups

We all form in-groups and out-groups – the people with whom we feel we belong, and those with whom we feel no great connection. Often these groups are formed unconsciously, because we are more inclined to belong to a group whose members are more like us. We can thus unintentionally exclude people, not because we don’t like them, just because they are not sufficiently like us for us to feel comfortable about bringing them into our in-group.

There are, of course, intentional exclusions from group membership because of biases or fears that are not based on reality, and which are unjustified by any measure of fairness.

In-groups and out-groups also occur because of organisational status. Managers and executives may prefer each other’s company over their direct reports. This becomes a problem when it comes to holding a manager or executive to account over discriminatory or abusive conduct. It can seem like in-group disloyalty to hold one of your own to account, whereas disciplining a direct report is much easier.

The challenge for in-groups is to become more self-critical and to set high standards for their members. This is especially the case where the in-group’s organisational status gives them high influence in setting workplace culture and maintaining conduct standards.

Leaders lose their capacity for empathy

Researchers have been discovering interesting, but unsurprising, truths about being in charge. Leaders’ and managers’ capacity for empathy decreases with increase in their power and influence. In some sectors a lack of empathy was thought to be a good thing. Employees were no more than parts of the system of production and could be discarded when necessary.

This is another instance of what we think is a bug being a feature. In large organisations, like an army, too much empathy at the top will impede operations – if the general cares too much about the foot soldier for example. On a personal level I am all for lots of empathy in armies. But I do recognise why this might be a problem in the face of awful necessity.

However, government departments are not armies, and their workforces are not soldiers. The loss of empathy among those at the top has the potential to injure staff who are subject to bullying and harassment, exclusion, and other forms of discrimination because there is little empathic motive to stop it.

The risk is that those in charge do not invest the effort needed to understand the challenge to make inclusion a reality through intentional efforts. Inclusion becomes a peripheral matter to be addressed when the ‘real business’ is taken care of. But that’s when a workforce’s capacity to respond to change is already taxed heavily.

Declaring that discriminatory conduct “will not be tolerated” is pointless when the will to be intolerant is weak, and the means enact to a response to that discriminatory conduct are scant, unevenly, and ineptly applied. Misconduct by leaders in relation to their staff seems rarely to be called to account.

Yes, progress is made, but against a headwind of ingrained habit, reflex, bias, and little insight as to why that resistance persists.

There are strong arguments based on contemporary research that a safe and inclusive work culture boosts productivity, improves performance and increases the retention of skilled and experienced staff. From a ‘return on investment’ perspective, ensuring the welfare of staff should have high priority as part of the ‘real business’. 


I do not despair of the slow pace of change because I have been instrumental in speeding it up. We can do better by being informed by authentic, strategic and intentional insights, so we do not waste precious attention and willingness to act on efforts that are not productive.

The worst thing we can do misdiagnose the cause of resistance to the change we want to create. Misdiagnosis leads to the wrong treatment. The consequence may not be terminal, but it will still be injurious.

The NSW Public Service Commission is, I believe, requiring agencies to develop a bullying and harassment policy. Clearly bullying and harassment is an active concern, and staff with disability are disproportionately the ones most affected.

But these policies aren’t about preventing bullying and harassment, otherwise you’d think they’d be called a preventing bullying and harassment policy. This would, you’d think, make much more sense. The problem has been misdiagnosed and the treatment will be futile. The NSW public sector code of conduct forbids bullying and harassment. That’s a policy.

What can you do? Please think about what I have written here. I am not claiming it’s the full answer, but it’s a good start. We have only so much time, attention, and emotional energy to invest in bringing about the changes we want, and there are a lot of folks who are sincere allies with the same limited budget of time and attention. To make desired changes stick we need to understand why there is resistance and set our sails accordingly.

The challenge is to take a novel and complex reality for what it truly is and shape our efforts to get closer to our goal/ideal in the most effective and efficient way.

Google ‘Sailing into the wind’. We can still make good progress into a headwind. It just takes knowledge and skill.

Non-sense about ambulatory toilet cubicles


I take early morning walks at Wentworth Falls Lake in the Blue Mountains. There’s a toilet block there with a few design flaws in terms of accessibility in my case, but it’s okay. 

There are 2 male cubicles. One is ambulatory. The other is not. It is wider though. That means the ratio of ambulatory cubicles to regular ones is 1:1 – far higher than you’d find anywhere else. 

But why both cubicles are not ambulatory is the thing I want to discuss here. 

Toilets are not my favourite topic. Its just that an absence of inclusivity and accessibility can be limiting and sometimes distressing – and very exclusionary.

Why inclusive design matters. 

When it is possible for a single design feature to be in service of many, most, or all people, picking the all option makes the most sense. Of course, all is an ideal that may not be met – but it’s good to aim for it. 

For example, a sliding car seat can meet the needs of all but the very very tall and very very short. But within the practical limits of car design, it shoots for all. It costs more to make a sliding seat than a fixed one, but the benefits are worth the cost. 

Why wait more than you have to, or can?

There are times when there is a high demand for toilet cubicles and when this happens people with no disability will use accessible toilets. It’s bad enough, absent an ambulatory cubicle, that one may need to wait also because for some reason it’s okay to make an accessible cubicle do double duty as a baby changing station. Still, when you don’t have an accessibility need, the options are 100%.

But the flip side doesn’t work if you need the accessibility features. There is often only one option – and access to it may be impeded. 

These days this becomes an even more pressing issue because toilet breaks have become havens where a 20-minute head break on one’s phone is not uncommon. Time flies when you are having fun, but not when you are waiting on the person having fun.

So why not?

Why did the council who constructed the toilet block at Wentworth Falls Lake not make both cubicles ambulatory? It wouldn’t have cost much extra to do so. 

The answer is a fixed mindset rather than a conscious decision. Having one ambulatory cubicle seems to be not a minimal requirement, but the requirement on the presumption that this represents the least number to meet the percentage of users likely to need such a feature. You’ll find one ambulatory cubicle among five or more most places.

In this thinking is that an ambulatory cubicle is added because the others are exclusive, rather than inclusive (pause, by the way, to reflect that exclusive is often a term of privilege). But an accessible cubicle is inclusive only if it is available for use. 

It’s not uncommon to find the ambulatory cubicle is occupied by a person who does not need this feature while other cubicles are vacant but unusable to the person who needs that accessible feature. 

The absence of inclusive/universal thinking is what perpetuates fixed and narrowly focused thinking. It isn’t that the council did anything wrong or mean. What it did was right in the context of complying with standards. The standards are not, however, inclusive on a practical human level, even though that’s the intent.

The importance of universal design 

If all cubicles are accessible to ambulatory standard, we are all on an equal footing. If only one is, it can magnify the inequity. It may cater to the minority who needs the accessibility feature, but because access to an accessible cubicle is not assured at the same rate all cubicles are accessible to able-bodied people there is no equity of access.

Of course, a solution might be to ban able-bodied folk from using ambulatory cubicles. But who would police that? Telling an able-bodied person that they may not use an ambulatory cubicle when they have an urgent need would not be kind, and they would not comply. This is a persistent issue for fully accessible toilets. When you gotta go you gotta go. It would be nice if this was a universal and realizable right. This also applies to those 20 minute head breaks, apparently.

But nobody needs to tell a person with disability they cannot use a regular cubicle. Yes, some folk cannot get off a toilet seat without aids, and asking a stranger or workmate to help isn’t really a desirable thing to do, besides you can’t get up to unlock the door. 

An accessibility feature in all cubicles is the only fair thing. 

You’ll find this when you go driving around NSW. There are roadside toilets that are single fully accessible options. That’s a mathematical logic – if one – only go universal. So why not go 100% ambulatory accessible with all cubicles to get as close to that same universality as possible? Its an equity issue, not a math one.

Of course, retrofitting current cubicles to make them all ambulatory accessible isn’t always practical. There are size issues to be considered, given you need room to fit supports. But if you advocate for a greater level of inclusion in the loo, don’t be quickly put off by protestations of impracticality. It ain’t always so. Ask for compelling evidence. Sometimes a can’t do attitude masks a won’t do one.


Universal design not only makes sense, it establishes an argument for a sliding scale of possibility. You start off with all and if that’s not possible, go to most and then finally to many

Exclusive design is a conceit and should be reserved for private settings for people who know nobody who might need an accessibility feature – including themselves – as I found out in 2009 when I returned home after 10 months in hospital to realise just how exclusive my home was.

There are good reasons to make private and shared domains inclusive – we never know when we, or folk we share our lives with, might need these attributes. There are good reasons to learn to think in terms of universal/inclusive design as the standard mode. Here’s a good place to start https://centreforinclusivedesign.org.au/.

Equal loo rights are for all of us!