Sunday, June 3, 2012

KEEP OUT: When It's Not OK to Use the Disabled Stall in a Public Restroom

After a week on a road trip, I’m sick of public restrooms. From rest stops to restaurants, you never know what you’re going to find. That goes double if you are disabled.
Very rarely am I pleasantly surprised. It happened on this trip in Scottsdale, Arizona at the Barrio Queen. The women’s restroom there has two stalls and both  (BOTH!) are handicapped accessible.
Hallelujah! Cue the heavenly choir.
The restroom was empty when I entered it. So anyone could have picked either stall, regardless of their abilities.
But I’ve really had it with insensitive people who insist on taking the only accessible stall in the room. I believe a refresher course is needed on when it’s OK to use the handicapped stall if you are not disabled.
Well, not a course. Just a rule: You may do so only when other non-accessible stalls are occupied and only when you haven’t seen a disabled person nearby.
Some handicapped stalls have changing tables in them, so mothers with infants are exempt from this rule. (Although I prefer when the table is outside the stall so moms don’t tie up the disabled toilet for what’s guaranteed to be a long time.)
Before I became disabled, I would occasionally use a handicapped stall. But only when all the other ones were taken and only when there wasn’t a disabled person to be seen.
But now that I am forced to use accessible stalls, I really don’t understand the rude behavior I’ve seen behind ladies’ room doors. 
I am by nature a nice, trusting person. But some gals, albeit a few, are really testing me.
Once, during another road trip across the desert to Phoenix, my husband and I stopped at a rest stop. It was hot and windy that day. And from the disabled parking spot to the ladies room, it was an uphill walk. 
Not a steep incline, but anything other than flat, to me, seems like a mountain climb. 
My husband got my “good” walker out of the trunk -- a triwheeler that performs well on asphalt. I crept my way up the walkway in the wind and the heat. When I was getting close to the entrance,  a woman passed me and walked in the door.
“Hope she’s not taking the handicapped stall,” my husband said. He’d been around me enough to know that this sometimes happens.
No, I told him. Why would she? She was perfectly abled and she could see I was struggling to get to the bathroom.
But when I finally got inside, I found she was in the only accessible stall in the empty room. There were two others, but I couldn‘t get in them.
Here’s the deal: It’s not that we disabled folks just love the spacious stalls with the extra hand railings. Those are the only ones we can fit into with our walkers or wheelchairs. And those are the only ones where are able to get up off the toilets. 
Now I’ve occasionally run across abled women who emerge from the disabled stall and apologize immediately to me when they see me waiting. A couple have said they prefer those stalls because the toilet seats are higher and they like the hand railings.
Others won’t look at me.

I forgive those who offer apologies because I wasn’t there when they entered the restroom.
But I have no patience for those who walk by me or see me and take the accessible stall for themselves.
It happened again last week on our way back across the desert. 
My daughter and I had stopped at a truck stop, trying to avoid the flies we found on the toilet seats at the last rest stop.
We walked a long way into the establishment to find the restrooms around the corner. Inside the women’s room were six empty stalls, one of them accessible. When I paused to get something out of my purse, an able-bodied woman walked in, passed me in my walker and entered the handicapped stall.
I had to wait until she was done. I couldn’t fit into the other five stalls.
When she came out, she avoided looking at me and walked straight ahead to the sink to wash her hands.
When I got inside the stall, I found she hadn't even flushed the toilet.
Since I was diagnosed with cancer seven years ago, I have had plenty of infuriating, embarrassing moments. Most of them involve tests and hospitalizations and my  battle with lymphoma. And while I am always one to put a positive spin on things, I do not appreciate being inconvenienced by rude, inconsiderate people.
We can have all the Americans with Disabilities Act guidelines in the world in place to make life easier for the disabled. But it only takes one ignorant person -- someone who parks in a disabled space when he doesn’t need it or a non-disabled woman who hurries past me to nab that handicapped bathroom stall -- to ruin things.  
Disabled people don’t deserve this. I don’t deserve this. It’s hard enough trying to get through the day with a smile on my face, not cursing the cancer that attacked my brain and left me unable to walk unassisted.
Jennifer Longdon, a brilliant Arizona blogger who advocates for the disabled, wrote that the miracles of disability are found in “those who learn to live average lives in trying circumstances. Those who find grace and courage everyday to face a world that is inadvertently hostile to their existence.”
We don’t need thoughtless people making our lives worse. 

 

23 comments:

  1. Why is it when you hit me with "and she didn't even flush the toilet" I gaped! I'm amazed every day when I see people leave the restroom without washing their hands. But using the disabled stall and not even flushing just pushed me over the edge! Love you, Laura. Glad you survived the road trip and the bathrooms!

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  2. Yeah, sometimes it's a cruel world out there. Grrrr.

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  3. Thanks to you, last weekend when I chose the smaller stall and my daughter asked to use "the big one" I gently explained about my sweet friend Laura reminding me that we really need to leave the big stall available for those that need them.

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    1. I am touched, Charity. We could use more mommies like you showing their children the right thing to do.

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  4. People with disabilities are not only defined to those that use a walker or wheelchair. What about someone who needs a lifted seat if it's difficult to bend their knees? What about someone who's claustrophobic? I'm sorry you have health issues and can relate, I'm a breast cancer survivor but I feel no self entitlement. I would expect to wait for a stall, even if it's the only one I can use. Every man, woman and child that enters a public restroom is usually there for the same reason. How does the urgency of someone in a wheelchair override my urgency? In a perfect world ALL public restrooms would be larger, have handrails and raised seats but if they were wouldn’t a handicapped person still have to wait? What if I have IBS and need to use the next stall available ASAP and the handicapped stall door opens just as a woman in a wheelchair rolls in. Do I let her go ahead of me and go in my pants? It's against the law to park in a marked handicapped spot but until there's a fine for parking my butt on a handicapped toilet I won't be made to feel guilty for using a stall that fit's my disability weather you can see it or not.

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    1. What does breast cancer have to do with an accessible stall? Nothing. But you threw that in for what, measure? Claustrophobia and IBS can be debilitating and cause extreme panic but is NOT a disability. Sorry. Regardless of your anxiety disorder, YOU can still use a regular bathroom and be in and out as quickly as you wish.

      A person in a wheelchair CAN NOT. We just can't fit in any other stall. If there is someone in a wheelchair or walker is present, they get priority. What is this self-entitlement that you speak of? Do you want my disability so that you can use any restroom that you see fit?

      If you and I were in a bathroom, I guarantee you, I'd get in there first. Believe that.

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    3. To the first Anonymous: As I wrote in my blog, I am understanding if someone tells me as they exit the disabled stall that they have a reason to be there. And I am even kind of understanding if no one disabled is nearby and there are no other stalls.
      But I draw the line when women march right by me and the non-handicapped stalls to get the only one that I can use. If one of these women was suffering from IBS, she would have gone into the closest one, which is usually not the handicapped stall. We don't need a law. It's just common sense and courtesy.

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    4. To the second Anonymous: Thanks for your comments. They make a lot of sense.
      Some people just don't get it. It's not that people who use wheelchairs or walkers feel any sense of entitlement or are enjoying our time in the larger stalls. They are the only ones we can use!

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    5. You may not see my disability, my need for grab bars and a higher seat. Thankfully the ADA acknowledged all of our disabilities. Sometimes I'm in a wheelchair and sometimes not but I do NEEDS grab bars always. I am not required to prove to you or anyone my legal disability. As a disabled person, maybe you could be receptive to the FACT that disability access IS for ALL persons with disabilities. It is not limited to your opinion or your visual limits.

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    6. No one, ESP the OP had questioned your disability. The point of the post is that IF you do NOT need the larger stall/raised seat/hand rails, do not use the accessible stall when regular ones are available.

      According to your logic, I should assume that every woman that I've seen take the accessible stall when every stall was open had an invisible disability.

      Two women shop at my work and use the electric scooters provided by the business to get around. Both are 100-200lbs overweight. They both complain of knee pain, low energy, and one claims to have COPD. However, when only no scooters are available, they shop for 2+hours unassisted. Should we judge them because they are overweight? Should we assume they are just lazy? Maybe the knee pain contributed to their weight gain? Maybe there's more invisible disabilities? Perhaps when they shop without assistance, they are on horrible pain?

      My question for you is this... Since everyone is expected to give you the benefit of the doubt considering your invisible disability, how would you react to seeing someone like the women I described? Would you be as compassionate as you expect everyone to be, or would you be as angry and judgemental as you have been toward the OP?

      As the op originally said, the need for space for a chair, children, railings for assistance, are valid reasons to use the accessible stall. But an able bodied person CHOOSING to take that stall based on personal preference when a disabled person is in plain view is clearly wrong. Invisible disabilities exist, and I'm sorry that you've had to deal with that. But please don't let yourself develop a social disability: "being an a-hole" because of it.

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  5. Stumbled across this site. I have dealt with this. I'm a cancer survivor and the surgery left me with a tendency to "flood." I sometimes have only a couple minutes to make it. I walk with a cane, and need the bars to get on and off the toilet. I do not YET need a walker. Recently, I was at a dog show. I was hit with a "need." and headed for the bathroom. Three standard empty stalls. One able-bodied woman WITH her dog in the Accessible one. Her comment as she came out? "My dog didn't feel like being in his crate so I brought him with me." The result? I flooded, soaking my pads and Depends. I got urine scalds which took three weeks to heal. And my dog missed her turn in the ring. I complained to the organizers and was told, "We have no rules about dogs in restrooms. You'll just have to allow extra time to go to the bathroom." While Miz Doggie, who was in the same group as mine, was allowed to take her turn because she was there on time.

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    1. Ouch. Sounds like a horrible experience for you! I sympathize with you. I've never considered a dog-in-the-restroom-question. Certainly wasn't right that they used the accessible stall. And I think you did the right thing by complaining to the organizers. I think everyone in your situation and others would benefit from some common, sensible, courtesy and consideration.

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  6. I was at the store today shopping for clothes. I'm in a wheelchair. I went to try on a shirt, and the handicapped stall was taken, with at least 10 empty stalls, there was only one other person there. I was sitting at the entrance to the fitting rooms, right beside the return rack. A woman came out of the handicapped stall and put clothes on the return rack and walked back into the stall, looked right at me. I waited patiently for another 10 minutes when she came out again, came to return more clothes, and went to go back to the stall.. so I was like "excuse me... can I use that stall?" She's like "absolutely " and has her 2 daughters go to another stall.. didn't even apologize.. I get it, she had kids, but after she saw me there waiting, she should have had the decency to move to another stall... having kids is not a disability, it's a responsibility

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    1. Very good points. Again, some common courtesy and consideration would go a long way. Thanks for sharing your experience.

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    2. I walk and I am disabled. I need to sit to try on clothes and grab bars to get back up. Physical disability is not limited to a wheelchair or walker. Please open your minds, what a burden of anger you must carry with you.

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    3. Thanks for making this important point. Indeed, we need to respect those who have invisible disabilities. But the anger comes when so many who are not disabled are just plain inconsiderate. We get tired of it.

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  7. I use the disabled stall when I am in a public restroom. I am extremely claustrophobic and being in a space even the size of a disabled stall makes me so anxious I feel like I'm having a heart attack. I've never been in a situation when someone with a walker or wheelchair was also in the restroom with me but I've thought about it before and know I'd ask them if they'd like to go first. Even though I try to be polite as possible about my use of the stall I always feel shame when exiting the stall since my disability can't be seen. While I don't dilly dally around in there I think that if I exited the stall and someone with a walker or wheelchair was waiting I would feel so ashamed for taking the only stall they could physically fit into I would be one of the people to not make eye contact. I apologize in advance if we ever cross paths in the potty.

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    1. You sound like an extremely considerate person. Thank you for that. I understand that some people's disabilities aren't evident and others don't qualify as legally disabled but still have issues and prefer the handicapped stall. I totally understand. You should not feel ashamed. When I'm waiting in a restroom and someone emerges who is not obviously disabled, I do appreciate when they offer a brief explanation of why they were in there. "Sorry, but I needed to use the larger restroom," would go a long way. You are forgiven in advance.

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    2. You may appreciate an explanation, but the fact is nobody owes you an explanation.

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  8. Heya. I know this is an old article but I wanted to drop my two cents in since it's not been mentioned yet.

    There were a few years in my life, in my late teens, where I had little choice but to use the handicapped bathroom as in my country at least, they're usually separate from the male/female bathrooms and are gender-neutral. This was massively important to me for a while, being transsexual and at the time stuck in the awkward phase where people had no idea what gender I was so couldn't use gendered bathrooms for fear of being harassed regardless of which one I went into. The separate, gender-neutral, handicapped stall was the only way for me to feel safe going to a public bathroom. I'm not physically disabled and if someone was waiting who was, I would give them priority, but what irks me is that several times I got shouted at by adults for using said bathroom. They don't know my circumstances or why I had to use that stall. If I'd had used any other bathroom at that time I risked getting kicked out or accused of harassment or something of the like. Now that I'm older and don't 'confuse' everyone I come across, I use the mens' room like any other young guy would. But for people like me, at least for a certain amount of time, the need for a gender-neutral option is seriously important and the only way we're able to go in public. Don't know if you ever thought or knew about this sort of situation before and I hope you don't think I'm inconsiderate for it. I just wanted to make a case for what I feel is a valid reason for someone who appears able-bodied to need to use these bathrooms for different reasons than the size or comfort or accessibility.

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    1. Thanks for taking the time to enlighten me and others to a situation I hadn't considered. It seems like you acted responsibly when you said you would give a physically disabled person priority if they were waiting. Sorry you were yelled at. It must have just added to the pain of what you were going through at the time. And while some able-bodied people do carelessly abuse the use of disabled stalls and parking spaces, it's always good to be reminded that we can't really know what a person's situation is and that some people have good, if not visible, reasons for using the handicapped stalls. Thanks for posting. I'm glad things are easier for you now.

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  9. I go to Disneyland a lot and am in a wheelchair on most days. I can walk on a cane but only very short distances. I have had mothers in strollers try and yell at me to get out of the handicapped stall because they needed to get in their with their strollers. I tell them that kids are a handicap they chose, mine was not, and shut the door in their faces. Luckily, there is usually other people in the bathroom telling the woman that she is a grade-A female dog, and one time security actually kicked someone out of the park when she was banging on the door telling me to get out. Someone ran for security and the woman was "arrested" by a guy dressed as Peter Pan. That's when I found out some of those costumed characters are also security in disguise. It actually made my day.

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