Why plan for All Gender/Gender Neutral facilities?
We’ve heard from building users that toilet facilities that include all genders “provide a sense of ease on arrival" for individuals who have previously been made to feel uncomfortable or unsafe in separate gender spaces. Commercial and public organisations are increasingly allocating a portion of their toilet facilities as All Gender/Gender Neutral Toilets to communicate that everyone is welcome. The fact that a recent study has found that nearly a quarter of Gen Z identify with non-gendered personal pronouns such as ‘they/them’ suggests that the demand for All Gender/Gender Neutral Toilet facilities will continue to grow.
All Gender/Gender Neutral Toilet facilities help meet a basic need regardless of a person’s sex, gender reassignment or identity, and as such can also help service providers and employers to meet their duties under the Equality Act 2010.
Language helps people to identify spaces they feel included in, so getting it right for a specific group is crucial. Language is also incredibly personal, with people who identify with a particular group often having opposing preferences. While this may sound challenging, taking these two steps will help businesses along their journeys:
1. Run user engagement groups from the outset, ask people their preferences, and listen to their responses.
2. Do the above regularly so that you can evolve as the users of your space and society as a whole also evolves.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) describes ‘sex’ as ‘characteristics that are biologically defined.’ So, the term ‘unisex’ broadly refers to both biological males and females which are binary categories assigned at birth, but excludes people whose bodies did not represent either sex at birth (i.e. intersex or sexual differentiation).
‘Gender’ is instead ‘based on socially constructed features’. Over 60 terms exist to describe various gender identities and expressions, which can be experienced differently depending on people’s self-perception and the ways that others label and treat them throughout a lifetime. 'Gender neutral' indicates having no gendered characteristic or affiliation, making it a common preference for people who do not wish to commit to a single gender identity.
By engaging building users we typically find that the term ‘All Gender Toilet’ and/or 'Gender Neutral Toilet' are generally preferred and accepted by the majority because they explicitly affirm that facilities are inclusive to any gendered or non-gendered identity.
Inclusive graphic signage
Signage should not leave people guessing which toilet facility will best meet their personal needs. Images such as a half-man icon combined with a half-woman icon use male and female identifiers, which can create stereotypical assumptions about who the facilities might be designed for. Likewise, a sign illustrating a urinal next to a toilet without any accompanying wording can quickly cause confusion as to whether the facilities located beyond a door are meant for anyone, or for ‘biological’ males only.
Global architects Gensler’s participatory research with transgender people offers a widely agreed upon symbol for All Gender/Gender Neutral toilets: a toilet. Just as a knife, fork and plate icon can signpost an eating area, the image of a toilet communicates the function of a space, rather than who can use it. It is a symbol that can be understood by a wide range of users internationally, regardless of cognitive or neurological condition or language spoken. For total clarity, we advise that the words ‘All Gender Toilet’ or 'Gender Neutral Toilet' accompany the toilet symbol.
The graphic below is one we created for a specific client where it was agreed through user engagement sessions that the words 'All Gender' were preferred. The graphic incorporates principles of inclusive sign design to enable easier identification and multisensory wayfinding.
An option, not a replacement
All Gender/Gender Neutral Toilet facilities suit many, but not all. For example, some parents and carers are relieved when they can safely accompany their young children of different genders to the toilet, while some transgender individuals prefer to use the gender-specific toilet that they identify with. In communal toilet layouts, some women have voiced safety concerns regarding sharing facilities with men due to traumatic lived experiences such as harassment or assault.
Beyond gender, many people with paruresis (‘shy bladder syndrome’) benefit from being able to access a fully enclosed and private space. Our preferred approach is to enable accessible single-sex and All Gender/Gender Neutral options that can be used according to anyone’s needs, whether pertaining to identity, faith, safety, hygiene, health or otherwise. Space can be optimised depending on how these are delivered.
In an ideal world, “Truly inclusive toilet facilities would be large enough to incorporate accessible toilets, preventing anyone from having to self-segregate,” says Motionspot Founder and CEO, Ed Warner.
Until All Gender/Gender Neutral Toilets and multi-user facilities become more standardised, at a minimum their location should be promoted so the people that need them know where to find them. The more these facilities are made available, the more we may see why they are a worthwhile investment.
To discuss how the team at Motionspot could help you to meet your accessible and inclusive toilet design needs, please get in touch via firstname.lastname@example.org.
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