Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Gotta Go?

Toilet sign
This morning quite by chance, I ran across this Huffington Post article:

Time for New York State to Pass the Restroom Access Act
Rebecca Kaplan, Huffington Post

It's about a bill to require public places that have restrooms but only for employees to allow customers to use them anyway ... if they have "inflammatory bowel disease".

My first thought was, "Damn! I thought it was going to be about making public bathrooms wheelchair accessible!"

My second thought was that the law sounds like a good idea, but a bit narrow. Why couldn't public restroom accessibility be addressed more broadly, encompassing wheelchair accessibility AND overall access? One reason is that simply allowing someone to use your restroom doesn't require you to do anything to it to make it bigger or more maneuverable; it's just a matter of saying "yes" instead of "no".

Another thought occurred to me as well. Apparently, the proposed Restroom Access Act would require people asking to use restrooms under these special circumstances to prove the legitimacy of their need. The article even mentions an already existing calling card of sorts that is part of the Medic Alert institution ... a sort of get-to-use-the-restroom-without-being-hassled card. I can see how something like that might be useful, especially for a disability or medical condition that doesn't disclose itself ... that's "invisible". It's like something I've seen a few times in my life ... a deaf person using a card they carry around that explains to people that they are deaf and what accommodations would be most helpful.

I have thought on occasion that something might be useful to more people with a variety of disabilities. It might be useful to me, even though I usually manage to speak for myself when I need help from strangers. I'm uncomfortable, though, with the idea of something like this being "proof" or "certification" of my disability. Proof of need implies some terrible downside to someone getting something they don't deserve. Where, exactly, is the downside to getting a little extra help from staff in a public accommodation ... or getting to use an employee restroom when you have to go really bad, whether you have inflammatory bowel disease or not?