* This post is kindly sponsored post by Cleen. *
If you follow us on social media, you may have seen that we are working with Cleen to create a series of blog posts surrounding the importance of accessing clean, safe and accessible toilets. My first instalment discusses the benefits of using the app, and the second part highlights the importance of having clean bathroom facilities within motorway service stations.
Since the coronavirus outbreak hit the UK, people seem to be more conscious about using hygienic facilities! Something the Cleen App helped me access during a special trip before the current crisis, which involved travelling via Eurostar from Ebbsfleet International to Marne La Vallee in Disneyland Paris. Naturally, we didn’t always encounter the best facilities, but thankfully I was able to feedback my thoughts via the app after my visit, preventing someone else from wasting their time using problematic facilities in the future!
For anyone that doesn’t know, the Eurostar is a train that connects London with Europe and you can reach Disneyland Paris in just over two hours! Thankfully in recent years travelling via Eurostar has become even easier for passengers with disabilities, both in terms of physical access within the trains, offering heavily discounted tickets, free upgrades to Standard Premier class and being able to book wheelchair spaces with a companion seat online. You also don’t need to prebook passenger assistance when buying tickets through Eurostar, making it a quick and easy booking experience - a welcomed change for anyone who is used to the struggles associated with travelling via train in the UK, where you can typically only book assistance in person or over the phone!
This small train station is very easy to access, either via the different car parks, multiple drop-off bays or public transport. The main concourse is all on one level with the Eurostar check-in desk situated in the centre. The staff throughout were extremely helpful and didn’t rush us, which is much appreciated when you have many items requiring manual checks, such as an oxygen concentrator, a powered wheelchair attachment and various battery packs.
Best of all, unlike flying you aren’t bound by liquid limitations, meaning passengers with large volumes of liquid medications don’t have to carry as much documentation! They also took the time to ask any necessary questions without making it obvious and discreetly checked my intimate items such as catheters and bowel treatments. Finally, they were extremely gentle when carrying out the security pat-down and for anyone travelling with an assistance dog, this is where they will take the time to do all the necessary checks.
Once you have bypassed security and passport control, you will be met by the passenger assistance team in the international departures hall. Like most of the facilities at this station, the shops, cafes and toilets were a little cramped. Even though I use a small manual wheelchair, I had to ask one of my carers to wait outside of the disabled toilet cubicle with our suitcases, whilst the other squeezed in to assist me. However, this meant there was barely enough room to shut the door, so any visitors dependant on turning their wheelchair around so they can directly transfer onto the toilet would probably struggle!
It's also worth noting that you can only transfer from the right-hand side and there were no changing places facilities on-site. The only positive was that the cubicle was very clean, but sadly this was outweighed by the fact the red emergency cord was tied up, there was no mirror and the sink water was FREEZING cold, causing my hands to instantly cramp up.
Because of this, my carer discovered that the standard gender-specific toilets had warm sink water, so I ended up leaving the disabled cubicle and using the sinks in female toilets, where I could surprisingly roll straight under and access warm water! In fact, the standard gender-specific toilets were even cleaner, albeit small in size meaning you couldn’t take your suitcases in the cubicle with you. But there was plenty of toilet roll, warm water and multiple large mirrors! Overall, I wouldn’t necessarily recommend this disabled bathroom, but considering it is the only accessible option in the departures lounge, Eurostar passengers don’t exactly have much choice!
When it came to boarding the train, the passenger assistance team took all passengers with additional needs down to the platform to board first - for me this included a providing a wheelchair ramp and assistance with luggage! The train was easily accessible and both Standard Premier carriages included two wheelchair spaces and two companion seats. Despite arranging to travel in my wheelchair, the train was very quiet so I was able to transfer from my wheelchair to one of the single passenger seats opposite by raising the armrest.
Unlike the regular train tables, the table situated in the centre of both wheelchair spaces was half the size and more of a triangular shape to allow passengers with different sized wheelchairs to comfortably fit underneath. It could then be extended with the click of a button and/or could extend further to provide individual lap trays and emergency assistance buttons!
The onboard toilet situated in between the two Standard Premier coaches could comfortably accommodate me, my carer and my assistance dog. It was also surprisingly clean and mainly contained automated facilities, such as the hand dryer, tap, toilet flush and sliding door. That being said, some of the onboard facilities I have used in the past were very cramped and didn't have enough room for my carer, but this was on what seems to be an old train. Regardless of the onboard toilets, the staff on board were always extremely accommodating and regularly came by to check if I needed anything. They also respected the fact my assistance dog was working and didn’t make any attempt to distract/pet her.
Upon arrival at Marne La Vallee, the passenger assistance team were waiting on the platform with the wheelchair ramp. From there they accompanied us to the station exit, where we were able to immediately board the Disneyland Resort shuttles that took us directly to the entrance of our hotel.
During our return journey, I was pleased to discover the facilities at this station we all wheelchair accessible and much more spacious. It's also worth noting that most of the staff with the shops, cafes, and toilets were able to speak/understand English. Whereas the international ticket offices and assistance desk require some assistance from Google Translate unless you have your travel documents to hand and are simply communicating about your journey.
The toilets within the station are located on the upper floor and require 1 Euro to enter both gender-specific toilets, along with the wheelchair accessible and baby charging facilities. The gender-specific toilets are only accessible via a turn-style barrier, meaning they are not very accessible for guests with walking difficulties as the turnstiles were narrow and left minimal room for walking aids. So I recommend speaking to the attendant and requesting access to the accessible bathroom. However, as there is only one accessible toilet, the queue can become quite long, particularly if you are visiting before/after using their international trains that accommodate several wheelchair users, so please ensure you allow enough time.
Sadly I did not have any change on me by the end of our trip, but after presenting my toilet card from Bladder and Bowel UK, I was able to gain entry to the wheelchair accessible cubicle. It was very clean and extremely spacious, meaning there was also lots of room inside for our luggage and assistance dog. To my surprise, it had two toilets (one for left transfers and one for right transfers), an accessible sink with warm water, plenty of toilet paper, a lowered mirror, and even a disco ball! I don't recall seeing a red emergency cord, but this is not something that you typically see within France, which is also sadly the case for changing places facilities.