For many people disabled toilets are a vital part of their lives.

Yet in many places, they’re not up to the standard that they need to be.

Facilities don’t always meet people’s needs and can be outdated, while some are less than hygienic.

Sharyn Castelow, day service manager at Hexham’s Gateway into the Community, says it’s an issue she’s often encountered whilst supporting vulnerable people.

She said: “I think generally they’re just seen as rooms, and they get forgotten about.

“You sometimes wonder whether they’re on the cleaning rota. Companies don’t seem to think that they’re actually well used. A lot of them aren’t really that accessible.

“They’re put in because they have to, they’re not really usable.

“Some of them still just have a little hand sink, and people sometimes need a bigger washing facility.”

It’s not all bad, however. Sharyn singled out Adapt on Haugh Lane for its excellent disabled changing facilities. The organisation provides community transport for people with disabilities and its facilities include a hoist and a changing table for wheelchair users.

She added that Gateway’s ‘den’ on St Mary’s Chare was soon to improve its own toilets to meet the needs of more service users.

And now, other organisations could soon follow suit, after a new guide was released which aims to encourage businesses and anyone who provides toilets for public use to make their toilets more accessible and available for disabled people to use.

The 16-page guide, entitled Nowhere to Go, has been produced by researchers at Newcastle University working with Carers Northumberland.

It sets out a range of low cost, easy to implement changes that organisations can make to ensure toilets are accessible for people with additional needs and their carers. Professor Janice McLaughlin, professor of sociology at Newcastle University, said: “Toilets are not a luxury – they are a basic right.

“For disabled people, who have complex or additional needs, having access to good quality, clean, accessible toilets that are easy to locate is vital. Even an everyday trip to the shops can be problematic.

“This guide aims to highlight the simple changes that can be made so that going out becomes easier for people with ‘hidden’ disabilities and they feel less isolated as a result.”

During the development of the guide, researchers spoke to disabled people, their carers, and volunteers from a range of organisations across Northumberland.

Some participants said they’d had to return home or had been prevented from leaving the house in the first place due to a lack of access to appropriate facilities.

As well as unclean facilities, others talked about negative attitudes from members of the public who challenged them because their disability wasn’t obvious. There was, perhaps unsurprisingly, a widely held belief that there needs to be more, better signposted accessible toilets.

Nowhere to Go proposes simple changes, such as making sure facilities are clean, that there are clear signs showing the way in and out, and that outward opening doors are replaced with sliding doors.

Nowhere to Go was launched at County Hall in Morpeth on December 10, along with a short film made with people from Northumberland.

The free guide is available to download