MONDAY 25 SEP 2017 11:06 AM


Every day across the UK, 15 million people go about their daily lives while suffering from an ongoing, chronic medical condition. Many of these are completely invisible to passers-by; from mental health issues to diabetes to chronic bowel conditions, the illnesses can be vast and wide-ranging. Yet, while facilities often cater for those with clear physical disabilities, very little is currently being done to ease the burden of suffering from conditions less obvious to the general public.

There is perhaps no situation more pressing in which to need the toilet than while on transport, or in a busy transport hub. With transport, public or otherwise, a service on which millions of people rely each day, the need for adequate facilities for those with disabilities of all kinds is paramount. In response to growing demand for companies to make toilet disabled facilities accessible for people with non-visible conditions, Belfast International Airport is one of the first transport hubs to change its toilet signage to promote inclusivity for those with ‘invisible’ conditions.

The decision follows a successful UK public campaign for support by national patient charity Crohn’s and Colitis UK, which joined with UK pharmaceutical company Takeda UK Ltd to launch ‘Travel with IBD’ (Inflammatory Bowel Disease) in summer 2017. With over 46,000 emails now sent to UK airports, railway terminals and motorway service stations, Belfast International Airport was one of the first to respond.

Using the tagline ‘Not all disabilities are visible,’ Belfast International Airport and Crohn’s and Colitis UK hope to dispel the myth that only those with physical disabilities are eligible for accessible toilet usage. This is especially true for the approximately 300,000 people suffering with ‘invisible’ inflammatory bowel disease, which requires careful management and specialist additional equipment – yet can often cause anxiety for sufferers worrying about being challenged for their use of disabled facilities.

Managing director at Belfast International Airport, Graham Keddie, says, “We are delighted to be the first airport to work with Crohn's and Colitis UK to improve the signage to our facilities within the airport. Belfast International Airport is an airport for everyone and we are committed to ensuring all our passengers have a smooth and stress-free experience when travelling.”

Dan McLean, director at bowel disease charity Crohn’s and Colitis UK, says, “Belfast International Airport acted with good grace and swiftness to bring about this support for people living with Crohn’s, colitis and other serious health conditions, and on behalf of the whole community we offer them our heartfelt gratitude.”

Relatively recent efforts to raise awareness of those suffering from invisible conditions, such as the campaign demonstrated by Belfast International Airport, and Crohn’s and Colitis UK, is made possible due to effective collaboration between the charitable and corporate communities. In time, and as more partnerships follow suite, the positive material impact of such will hopefully also extend to public attitude.