Monday, July 09, 2007

BC, Canada: hosting 2010 Paralympic Games PLUS wheelchair outhouses

“Where can I find a wheelchair accessible outhouse?” Honestly, not a question I’ve thought much about. A question I hope virtually no one in North America has to think about. Yet, here I was, only a 40 minute ferry ride from Vancouver on the famous Sunshine Coast where sea front lots go for $800,000 (no house, just the lot) and a mere 50 yards away from a $2 million house (with plumbing!) at the Sargeant’s Bay Provincial Park when I rolled up to my first “Wheelchair/Disability Use outhouse.”

For those urbanites who may not be familiar with pit toilets/outhouses: Often in remote provincial/state parks where there is no plumbing you dig a big hole, you put a seat on top, you build a shack and you are ready to go. In the 19th/20th century this was replaced with indoor plumbing. When we recently visited the Sunshine Coast of BC we went to Sargeant’s Bay because it was listed at the “prettiest small bay on the coast” plus it listed a wheelchair accessible trail. We parked the car in the bumpy dirt parking lot, we assembled the wheelchair, transfer and start looking for the trail. That is when I saw the outhouse; and more important, the universal blue sign attached to it. “A wheelchair outhouse?” I, of course, have to see this (it might be more wheelchair accessible if they didn’t put a ring of rocks around it!). And it really is a wheelchair designed outhouse. There is a specially made wide door with a low handle and inside..... Inside there is the traditional seat with shit splatter around it, about six flies just under the rim and the cone of excrement about four feet beneath. Vile! But it also has space to park a wheelchair, and indoor trash can and wheelchair bars for transferring onto the outhouse seat and back.

I am familiar with outhouses because my grandfather had a rule when I was growing up. I used to come up to BC in the summer to help him cut wood for the winter for his house in the woods. The rule was: once you went outside to work, you couldn’t come back until tea-time. If you had to go, there was still the outhouse he built when he first built his house. Of course, to get there you first had to push through a lot of spiders. After one trip there, just the thought of it became an early life experience in “holding it in.”

Now I am I in a wheelchair, I have a simple rule: never pass by a wheelchair accessible toilet. Two days before this, during our travels, I let Linda know I had to go. It took three hours to find an accessible toilet. So, here I was, wheelchair outhouse in front of me. Did I go? Hell yes. Inside, eventually I just couldn’t hold my breath any longer and odd screeches and swear words came from inside the brown hut (good thing I actually carry some Toilet paper in my wheelchair backpack). I rolled out sputtering to Linda, “That is wrong, that is just so wrong!” Indeed, I think the phrase “Wheelchair outhouse” is by nature a “wrong” phrase. It should never exist (who cares about sliced bread; indoor plumbing is human’s greatest sign of civilization).

I have to admit that Sargeant’s Bay was a nice place, it was very pretty and windswept with that driftwood thing on the beach (not wheelchair accessible). However, every single person I met on the trail I kept saying, “Do you know there is a wheelchair outhouse back there?” Yes, I was in emotional shock. I was having Post Traumatic Outhouse Syndrome. This also tended to make people have very short conversations with me. Because they might talk about seeing a beaver dam nearby and I would just keep muttering, “A wheelchair outhouse?” I mean honestly, are these two things you put together in your mind? When you see someone in a wheelchair do you immediately think; “Gee, I wonder if they are able to have full access to outhouses?” I live in Canada which has no disability act like the USA so my bank has two stairs to get into it, I can’t get into a lot of stores including grocery stores, a bus can have a wheelchair ramp but the driver can choose not to pick me up because no one is going to sue the transit company because public transportation isn’t a right. So somewhere in there I missed the crying need for outhouses.

The wheelchair accessible trail was loose gravel with clumps of weeds to block the front casters; it was under the “theoretically possible” side since wheeling in loose gravel is like doing a breast stoke in a swimming pool of treacle. But I took it slow, met some dogs and a few people none of whom (besides me) were pondering the existence of a wheelchair outhouse. Now this isn’t just because I approach the outhouse with my face fairly close to the toilet seat instead of several feet away, but rather the implications behind its existence. As, without any laws, there is no requirement for wheelchair toilet needs to be available at provincial parks. Indeed we had visited many in the last few days with no wheelchair toilets OR outhouses at all. That meant someone (hopefully not the same someone planning the 2010 paralympic games in Vancouver) had to say, “Gee, at this little park we could have some sort of wheelchair toilet about an outhouse?” Then a government employed engineer would have had to create the design, figuring out how much space inside, how wide the door should be, where to put the wheelchair bars for transferring and what material the outhouse should be made of in order for the bars to hold (and smooth concrete for the floor). Then all that would have to be commissioned for construction and inspected, all over a period of months to a year. I just have to wonder, with all that effort, couldn’t they have just brought in the water plumbing from 50 yards away? (If anyone from the government of BC is reading this I add a hearty “PLEASE!”)

Anyway, consider it a tourist attraction. Canadians don’t live in igloos anymore. No, here you can get your modern first world amenities, like drive through at Wendy’s or Pango Pizza and then come on down and see the wheelchair outhouse. Here in (the provincial motto coming up) British Columbia: the Best Place on Earth!


kathz said...

I'm always slightly startled by the way Canada has a "we are going back to nature and every Canadian is a pioneer" attitude to accompany modern amenities. I still remember the park in Ontario in which visitors were politely asked not to chop down trees if they wanted a barbecue but to use the fixed barbecues provided. (Do all Canadians carry axes just in case they're moved to fell a couple of trees?) But I'm with you on the plumbing - flush toilets are among the greatest inventions ever. The outhouse sounds utterly disgusting. (I was no good at camping because of the toilet facilities - wahsroom in Canadian, I think?)

Artistic Soul said...

lol - your description of the outhouse mirrored my own experience at a beautiful lakefront park during my trip. I tried very hard not to breathe, but it just didn't work.

GayProf said...

The thing to remember is that nobody uses outhouses unless they really, really, really need to do so. This means that probably they weren't feeling quite right, which means it's going to be reflected in their output. Yuck!

On the other hand, I am glad that there are places that are at least trying to think of people in wheelchairs.

Ruth said...

Post Traumatic Outhouse Syndrome! LOL I really have had that happen when I go to a tourist spot where people go out of their way to ask me if I've noticed the accessible, er, facilities. Always makes me laugh.

Uh, it's good to know that the outhouse is there. We have lists for accessible restaurants online - maybe there should be one for outhouses?

Sober @ Sundown said...

Guess you will have to add a gas mask to your wheelchair backpack.... for those trips back to nature....

KateJ said...

Flush toilets or no flush toilets, there's no reason why they can't be cleaned... and why users can't clean up after themselves. I bet many "able-bodied" people take the easy option and just dodge behind a handy tree rather than use the outhouse, but a wheelchair-user can't do that!
I had to laugh about the term "outhouse" itself. Over here (UK) that just means a shed, never a toilet, so it could cause some hilarious confusion if a Canadian was asking for an "outhouse"... or a "bathroom" (has a bath but may or may not have a toilet) "restroom" or even (my favourite) a "comfort station" all of which terms I've heard used by Americans and/or Canadians.
Wanna hear my favourite 'dodging behind a tree story? A friend was out camping near here and went out after dark to go 'behind a bush'. When she'd finished, the 'bush' got up and walked away, it was a soldier in full camo, out on night exercise. Embarrassing or what!?

Elizabeth McClung said...

Kathz: actually we also carry saws. Um, lots of fireplaces here so making handy with the available wood is not so unusual.

Artistic soul: yes, it is like trying to swim across a pool underwater, theoretically possible but not in my experience.

Gayprof - too much information! And I hope they think harder....with plumbing!

Ruth: Yes, I would love to know if another wheelchair outhouse exists!

Sober: my feeling was, if they wanted me to go like this, wouldn't they have provided a shovel attachment when I got the wheelchair?

Kate: That really is a good story, one I am glad never happened to me - since I am sure the story circulated the military base pretty fast.