Mobility study: ‘half of wheelchair users could not find accessible toilets’

April 24, 2018

As UCan2 gets behind the Changing Places campaign, an international mobility study has found that almost half of UK wheelchair users have been unable to find an accessible toilet when they needed one.

The poll by ComRes on behalf of the Toyota Mobility Foundation also found that nine out of ten wheelchair users in the UK say that they experience pain as a result of their mobility device, while 23% say they have been declined entry to public transport because of their mobility device.

And more than a quarter reported feeling frustrated because the design of their mobility device felt outdated.

The research comes as people with lower-limb paralysis, around the world, are being encouraged to take part in a global conversation about the types of mobility technology innovations they would like to see, using the hashtag #MyMobilityUnlimited. 

This data highlights the need for investment and innovation in the development of assistive technologies for people with limited mobility – and the need for more accessible toilets around the world as campaigned for by parents, carers and disability rights groups using the hashtag #changing places.
The research, which polled wheelchair users in five countries, found 50% say they experience back pain at least once a day, 32% say they experience shoulder pain at least once a day, 26% say they experience neck pain at least once a day and 21% say they constantly experience back pain. The study also found that wheelchair users in the UK experience repetitive strain injury (RSI) and pressure sores (32% and 23% respectively).  

The study revealed that more than 51% of UK wheelchair users report needing assistance travelling to destinations, while 46% say they have been unable to find an accessible toilet when they needed one. Furthermore, 29% of UK wheelchair users reported having to wait for multiple buses or trains to pass before one had space to accommodate them, while nearly a quarter (23%) say they have been declined entry on to public transport. 

While the survey found that more than a quarter (26%) of UK wheelchair users say they have felt frustrated because they design of their mobility device felt outdated, it explored the kinds of improvements that would be most helpful to them. The top five suggestions were devices that allowed wheelchair users to:

• move around faster (41%)

• perform regular day to day tasks more easily (40%)

• feel more relaxed & comfortable with a device that feels more natural and like an extension of themselves (34%)

• feel more confident and able to socialise with friends (31%)

• feel a sense of spontaneity, freedom and independence (29%)

The Toyota Mobility Foundation in partnership with Nesta’s Challenge Prize Centre commissioned the research in order to better understand the day-to-day experiences of wheelchair users as part of the Mobility Unlimited Challenge. The Toyota Mobility Foundation launched the $4 million dollar global challenge in November 2017, with the aim of changing the lives of people with lower-limb paralysis. The Mobility Unlimited Challenge is seeking teams around the world to create game-changing technology that will help radically improve the mobility and independence of people with paralysis. The Challenge will drive and reward the development of personal mobility devices incorporating intelligent systems and solutions of the future could include anything from exoskeletons, to artificial intelligence and machine learning, from cloud computing to batteries. Entries for the Challenge close on 15 August 2018, and the Challenge will culminate in the unveiling of the winners in Tokyo in 2020.

The Challenge encourages a user-centered approach and are inviting people with lower-limb paralysis across the world, to take part in a global conversation about the types of mobility technology innovations they would like to see, using the hashtag #MyMobilityUnlimited. The suggestions generated will be used to inspire entrants to create technologies which directly address the issues faced by users on a day-to-day basis.

Ryan Klem, Director of Programs, Toyota Mobility Foundation commented: "This research expresses the urgent need for innovation in this area. It's surprising that with all of the technology we have today, we still have people in constant pain as a result of their mobility devices. The comments we are receiving through social media show the kinds of developments that people want to see and we hope the Challenge will result in genuinely life-changing technologies."

Charlotte Macken of Nesta’s Challenge Prize Centre, commented: "While the focus of this Challenge is lower-limb paralysis, we absolutely do expect that the technology developed as a result will be transferable and have the potential to improve the lives of a much wider group of people. This Challenge is about achieving impact, and for that reason, we needed to narrow the focus. However we recognise that people have a wide range of mobility needs and hope to be able to help them too."

Around the world, millions of people have lower-limb paralysis (the most common causes being strokes, spinal cord injury and multiple sclerosis). While there are no statistics on paralysis worldwide, the World Health Organization estimates there are 250,000-500,000 new cases of spinal cord injury globally every year.

For more information please visit the Mobility Unlimited website.

* Currently use a wheelchair or have used one for at least 6 months in the last 5 years.

Watch a montage of the My Mobility Unlimited responses here


Sama Bullock

Mallory Weggemann

Ade Adepitan

Tatyana McFadden

Robert Buren

Mik Scarlet

Add new comment