I have to admit that I was a little puzzled by a news item that I ran across last week about a grass roots campaign in the UK to make it “more comfortable” for people with invisible disabilities to use the accessible toilets there. Apparently when seemingly able-bodied people walk out of the accessible NKS toilets across the pond, they are getting “the look” or an audible “tsk-tsk” from passers-by. To alleviate this, there is a push to change the symbol on the accessible toilets from the standard wheelchair pictogram, to a pictogram of wheelchair with two able-bodied people. OK, that part made perfect sense to me, as there certainly are folks with invisible disabilities who need accessible facilities.
The part that was a little puzzling to me was that this campaign was the work of the good folks at Crohn’s and Colitis UK, in an effort to help folks with Crohn’s and Inflammatory Bowel Disease gain access to the disabled loos without public recrimination. Which of course led me to ponder, why these folks need to use an accessible restroom. I totally got the urgency issue, but beyond that I was stumped. So I did what I usually do when I’m stumped – I asked my Facebook tribe for help. And boy oh boy did I ever get it.
First and foremost, after a long discussion I discovered that folks with these issues could need an accessible restroom because of the following reasons.
- Because of painful cramps, sometimes a grab bar is needed for stabilization.
- In cases where folks don’t quite make it to the loo on time, it’s nice to have a private sink to clean things up a bit (the NKS units have sinks).
- If the person requires an aide, there is the need for a larger stall.
- And finally, as one Facebook friend put it, “Crohn’s can include embarrassingly loud gas, and someone with it might not want to use a crowded public restroom for that reason.” (NKS units are private)
OK, that pretty well wrapped things up for me. Case closed.
Well not exactly.
It opened up a whole new can of worms of who should (or shouldn’t) use the accessible restrooms. And in this case, we are talking about everything from a stall to a family restroom unit. So here’s the breakdown of folks that the majority of my wheelchair-using friends felt should NOT use an accessible toilet.
- Moms with kids who need the extra room
- Morbidly obese folks who can’t fit into a standard unit (although this opened a huge debate about if these folks were actually disabled)
- People who want privacy to take a dump
- Folks who want to change clothes (this happens a lot at airports)
- Able-bodied people in general, when another standard stall is available
And for the most part I agree; however I also think that if you are too large to use a standard restroom, you really do NEED that wide door on the accessible stall.
That said, I think we do need to allow for the fact that some folks with invisible disabilities also need the accessible facilities. I mean, we don’t know what goes on in there – and trust me I don’t want to know!! Sometimes seemingly able-bodied people need to use the accessible loo too. Case and point is when I had a very painful strained groin muscle, and although I looked pretty able-bodied, sitting down and getting up was extremely painful. I’ll spare you the gory details, but suffice it to say that I was very glad for those grab bars and raised toilets in the accessible stalls when I was on the road that memorable summer!
So let’s try and give folks a little slack. Well except when they are obviously abusing the privilege – like changing their clothes in the accessible stall. Then feel free to let them have it!
My mantra is, if you need it use it; but if you don’t, then don’t abuse it.
I think that pretty much says it all.