“Before, and during, diagnosis, Grace sometimes needed me beside her during toilet trips, as they could take a long period of time. Being young, and in a lot of pain and bleeding, having me with her helped. I would always say that “normal cubicles” are not built for two, so most of the time we would use the disabled toilet. I became aware of people looking at us but it wasn’t until Grace got talking to a lovely volunteer from CCUK about the challenges that are faced that Grace became more aware of the reactions of others.
Grace decided that she would try to change the way people reacted to those who use a disabled toilet, and she thought the best way to do this was to change the sign. She wanted others to be kind and understand that you don’t have to be in a wheelchair to have a disability, and that some disabilities are not visible.
Grace designed a sign and asked where she could send the sign that may help raise awareness. The sign, along with an A4-page letter written by Grace, was sent to Iain Gray, MSP at the Scottish Parliament. Not in my wildest dreams did I ever think that anyone would respond. But Iain did: he put us in touch with a couple of agencies and Grace had her story published in the Big Issue.
A couple of visits to the Scottish Parliament later − and a message from Gemma at a design company in Edinburgh called Teviot Creative, who helped take the design from a drawing to artwork − and we had “Grace’s Sign”. Around this time, it was decided to try to change the way people’s perceptions of the toilets by using the word ‘accessible’ rather than ‘disabled’ toilets. The love heart on the sign is for two reasons: the first is to symbolise invisible illnesses and the second is to remind others to have a heart, and not judge a person using an accessible toilet. We also added Braille to ensure that this sign would benefit all.
A motion was raised in the Scottish Parliament just after World Toilet Day and Grace was invited to the Scottish Parliament to watch Iain gain cross-party support for her campaign.
Then we received the call we had been waiting for to tell us that the Scottish Parliament had decided to place “Grace’s Sign” on their accessible toilet doors. This coincided with Disabled Access Day and what better way for the Scottish Parliament to raise awareness than by launching the first sign.
The heading in the Big Issue was “Can changing a door change an attitude?”. This was exactly what Grace was trying to achieve. She doesn’t want people to tut or shake their head, or worse.
Shortly after launching this campaign, it became apparent that this is a crucial step, not just for IBD but various other illnesses. It is also not just in Scotland; we have had messages of support and people who have shared stories from the UK, Ireland, and as far away as America, Canada and Australia.
Grace would love to see her sign all over the world, and maybe one day it could become the globally recognised sign for accessible toilets.
Can changing a sign change an attitude? Grace hopes so.”
Words by Grace’s mum, Judith.