Monday, June 13, 2011

Public Handicapped-Accessible Bathrooms are Often Challenging

On a recent Sunday, my friend was accompanying me to a public restroom on a college campus. It was a tiring journey for me, pushing my seated walker that I had selected for the outing over a variety of walking surfaces.
I don’t usually let on and I may look as though I can navigate OK with my walker, but every step is an effort. Nerve damage has wreaked havoc on my balance and my legs. I have neuropathy, so I have little feeling in my feet. I have to concentrate or I will lose my balance or trip. 
And my legs feel extremely heavy. While I walk for exercise, it’s never easy or fun. It’s as if I’m lugging around two concrete blocks.
We walked on, following the signs that led us around a corner and up the ramp to the bathroom. I noted handicapped accessible signs along the way. But when we entered the restroom, my friend pointed out that the handicapped stall was the furthest from the door. 
So I had longer to walk than those for whom walking was not a problem.
“That doesn’t seem right,” she said.
I agreed, saying that’s usually the case in public restrooms.
“Unfortunately, they didn’t consult with me when they built these bathrooms,”  I said.
I often wish someone would. 
While I’m not one of those types who make a career out of measuring doorways and railings and sinks to make sure they are ADA compliant, I welcome the resulting attention to the needs of the disabled. Unless you have mobility issues -- or you are close someone who does -- you don’t notice how difficult it is for us to navigate the most basic facilities.
While I am grateful that the Americans with Disabilities Act has tried to ensure that facilities are accessible to the disabled, the reality is there is much to be improved upon. And some of it is just common sense.
Nobody asked me, but if they had, here’s a few things I would advise to whomever is designing handicapped accessible restrooms used by the public.
Place the handicapped stalls near the front of the restrooms. It’s disheartening and sometimes disruptive to finally get to a facility and then have to walk to the very, very back (in the larger restrooms) to find the stall.

Install doors to the stalls that swing both ways. Very few restrooms have these. Do you realize how hard it is to open the door toward you while you are using a walker and have balance problems? Can you image how nearly impossible that is for someone in a wheelchair? When I was alone in a wheelchair at one of my lowest points and had to use a small stall with a open-out door (I’m having flashbacks), it seemed downright cruel.

Please place the paper towels or dryer, and soap, for that matter, near the sink. It seems logical but I’ve been in bathrooms where the sink and the towels or dryer are on opposite sides of the room. Annoying for someone in a walker. Borderline insulting for someone in a wheelchair.

Those safety bars in the stalls help a lot when they are right on the wall beside you. (My favorite are the ones on both walls.) Handicapped or infirm people really need those to sit down and get up. Some stalls I have been in have them only against the wall two feet or more away or behind the toilet itself. What’s the point? To catch me if I am catapulting to my right? Or hurling head-first into the toilet? Or are they for disabled people with freakishly long arms?

Why not install safety railings in the non-handicapped stalls? That way, if someone is in the big handicapped-accessible stall and they are, um, taking a long time, those who can collapse our walkers or are using canes can actually use another stall, knowing we’ll be able to sit and get up. 


  1. I'm with you -- bad public restroom design abounds!

  2. Ok, this article is kind of scary in a way. Because I don't remember writing it, but I swear I could have!

    Several years ago, I was temporarily in a wheelchair. That experience taught me a LOT about how actually UNaccessible bathrooms are.

    I agree with you on every single point in what you wrote - from the bars in weird places to the soap and paper towels in places that can't be reached to the doors that don't swing both ways.

    I'm so glad to know I'm not alone! I'm not in a wheelchair anymore, but this issue is still very much close to my heart, because I now know what it's like to not be able to use the bathroom easily because of a chair. So how do we get these things fixed out there?!

  3. Thanks for your comment, L! Glad to know others can relate to what I've experienced. But sad, too, because there are so many people every day who have to face these challenges. Don't know what the answer is regarding how to get things changed, but it starts with speaking up about it, which I and you have done.
    Anyone else have any ideas?

  4. Saw this today and thought I'd post it here. How sad is this? Granted, it's not in the US, but this same thing does happen in the US as well. I know, because I had to fight tooth and nail to get my old apartment complex to put in a ramp just so I could get to my own HOME back when I was in that chair. They didn't want to do it. It was too much money. It was too much work. It wasn't a priority for them. It wasn't their problem. I got a lot of excuses. When they finally put a ramp in, it was so steep that it was almost dangerous. But I couldn't complain; I had a ramp (sigh).

    1. Thanks for the link, L. It perfectly captures how frustrating it is to be disabled and merely try to get around. And even when people, such as those at your apartment complex, think they are doing the right thing, many have no clue.
      I recently asked via email if a local wildlife establishment was accessible, particularly restrooms. I got a reply saying sure, it should be no problem. But then he said the only portapotty was not accessible, but it was ONLY a 6-inch step up, so it shouldn't be a problem. Really?

  5. Thanks for this blog sharing. There are lots of things to be considered while designing bathrooms for handicapped or senior people like height of sinks, handicap grab bars, shower designs and many more.

    ADA Shower

  6. There are many companies now days offering their services for Handicapped Bathrooms, Home & Kitchen design. Those planning to design design their home, bathroom or kitchen for disable or senior people at home, they should go for their services.

  7. But if you consider those in wheelchairs, an immediate right angle turn would be difficult and the wider door that usually swings outward would cause problems near the entry of the restroom.

    1. Good point. But I have seem a larger restroom that has both a far away disabled stall and another close to the door. It's designed in a way that doesn't impede traffic. And another smaller one I use regularly has a closer disabled stall with a door that opens both ways. It's not in a high use building, so although it can block someone entering to use the other stalls, it's only momentary. There's no easy answer, I guess, but there is definitely room for improvement in so many public restrooms. Thanks for your comment.

  8. Some designes are poorly thought out.