A long walk for relief

Why is it that the ablution facilities in virtually all modern buildings, particularly shopping malls and airports, are very far from the general shopping and walking areas? It would seem that, as the centres increase in size, the passages to the ablutions increase in length proportionately. Living in the Durban area I am speaking from that perspective in particular but I have had the same experience in other cities as well.

I am not quite sure of the reason for the need to have the toilets as inconveniently situated; a long distance from the other facilities. The other day I was at the  Westville Pavilion and needed to use the toilet on my way to the car. I had to climb 2 flights of stairs and then walk up a long passage to eventually reach the toilets. In fact, I counted my steps – 97 each way! From the direction signs it appeared that they were ‘just there’. Fortunately it was not a real emergency that time.

On Monday evening we arrived back at OR Tambo airport and when I enquired about the toilets I was directed down the floor for at least 100m. It was the only facility in the entire area where the carousels are to be found. Then my husband waited until we had checked in for our onward flight and only to find that there were no toilets anywhere near the Gate from which we would board our plane. He had to walk over half-way back to where we had just come through security.

I really feel for those who cannot walk fast, mothers with children and those with bladder problems. There are many mothers who have, at the most inconvenient times been asked by a 3-year old to get them to the toile NOW. It is not too much of a problem if you have only one child with you but much more of a problem when you have 2 or 3.

Then there are the elderly and infirm. They cannot use the stairs and the toilets are not always on the same level as the shops. Imagine yourself having to use a walking stick or some other aid so cannot walk quickly or up the stairs whihc means waiting for an elevator. When it eventually arrives it is full or going in the opposite direction. Very often once one has reached a certain age, bladder problems are expereienced so the extra time and effort spent in accessing the toilets can result in accidents which cause serious embarrassment.

Westville Pavilion, Gateway Shopping Centre and Ballito Junction each proudly advertises on their websites that they have clean and modern ablutions for both men & women. Ballito Junction emphasise that these are on both the lower and upper floors with baby facilities on the lower floor. As this is not a very large centre this arrangement is probably adequate but the Pavilion and Gateway are huge. Further to this, they each have a number of entrances and where one parks, depends entirely on how much parking is available.  It is not always possible to choose a parking near facilities, unless one is handicapped or has small children.

Bearing this in mind, herewith extracts from the 2 websites.

Pavilion: Wheelchairs are available for use in the Centre by persons who require this service. Wheelchairs are available from the Afripark Office – just outside Entrance 2; … [Suitable] Ablutions are also available. Keys to the ablutions are available from the attendants.

Gateway:  Wheelchairs can be obtained from the Customer Service Desk on the Ground Floor of the centre. There are no fees involved.  However, your identification document will be required in order for all your details to be confirmed.

I iterate that there are a number of entrances to these malls so to say that something is available from ‘Entrance 2’ one needs to know this in advance and where to find such entrance.

I realise that the trend seems to be to make malls and shopping centres bigger and bigger but is this really in the best interests of customers. To have to walk up and down stairs and passages to access toilets just makes the shopping experience that much more painful. Let’s go back to smaller, more customer friendly centres where all facilities are available with ease of access in both time and distance. One thing is certain, do not go shopping at a big centre if you have diahorrea!

There is further research which shows that current ablution facilities discriminate against women, but that is a topic for another blog.



  1. Guess you gotta make sure you go before you go and stop for a coffee at the wimpy or some other of the many restaurants, they always have loos available!

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