When you are differently-abled, going to the bathroom can be a pain in the… well?
If you are partnered with a service dog, it can make the process even trickier until you get a nice routine down. Likely, one of the biggest issues for all of us is ACCESS.
In the United States, public restrooms are required to be handicap accessible. For restrooms that have multiple stalls, the number of required handicap accessible stalls depends on the total number of stalls in that location. All must have at least one, according to the ADA.
Milo, my current service dog from Fidos For Freedom, Inc., is a very big boy. A German sheprador, Milo is 80 lbs. of helpful tail wags. Between my wobbles, cane, and big boy helper, I require some room to use the bathroom safely. I will be honest with you, I use to get aggravated if waiting for a handicap stall, only for the person to exit and they looked perfectly fine to ME.
A student leader in the Anne Arundel Community College‘s SODA club (Students Out to Destroy Assumptions), reminded me during a particular scathing belly-ache rant, that not all disabilities are visible. I think it is great when student leaders can challenge long-time advocates, don’t you? Kudos.
So yesterday, I stopped in at the women’s bathroom prior to my Diversity Institute workshop, to find the bathroom empty with the exception of…
… yeah, you guessed it,
the handicap stall. I stood there (with legs crossed) and waited for the person to exit. I even took out my phone to appear less desperate. Milo’s ears perked up (indicating a toilet was being flushed), and I stepped to the side about a foot so that the person could exit safely. I didn’t bat an eye when the person who came out “appeared perfectly abled”. It is no longer my default judgment to assume the person didn’t need the larger size, rails, and access to the stall.
I was surprised, then, when the young woman, said, “Oh gosh. Sorry, I use this so I have more room for my book bag and didn’t think someone who actually needed it would be waiting!”
I’m pretty sure my mouth dropped open.
I counted to ten and purposefully and deliberately maintained the position of my cane on the floor where it belonged, and said, “Yeah, there’s always a chance someone will need it who is waiting for the accessible stall!” I smiled (honestly! I did!) and scooted around her with Milo, closed and locked the door.
I was so mad I couldn’t pee. (Just bein’ honest folks!)
I have never had proof staring me in the face before. 24 hours later I am still processing it. My new default is a good one though. We cannot judge who uses a handicap stall even if there are other stalls empty.
Before you assume, remember:
- The handicap stall might be the only one empty when they came into the bathroom.
- Perhaps the other toilets are “nasty” or out of order.
- Perhaps it is a parent with a small child to assist.
- The person may have a genuine need for the stall. Some common invisible disabilities include: A) Anxiety disorders (especially phobias such as mysophobia, claustrophobia, and OCD)
B) Early stages of progressive diseases (MS, Rheumatoid arthritis, Parkinson’s, cancer, etc.)
C) Digestive disorders (IBS, Colitis, etc.)
D) Pain disorders (Fibromyalgia, Mitochondrial, and joint diseases)
E) Chronic fatigue and related illnesses
F) Age related conditions
So… put the cane down; no clobbering innocent folks relieving their own needs.
BUTT… But —
For those of you who use the handicap stall even when there are others available and you prefer “more space”,
well… shame on you.
That wasn’t nearly as satisfying as busting someone up ‘side the head. I remind myself that I can be an unfeeling jerk and clueless twit about things I don’t understand. If we all learn to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes, the world would be more respectful and kind.
©2017 Personal Hearing Loss Journal