When Nondisabled People Should Use Accessible Bathroom Stalls

Short answer: If, and only if, at the time, no regular stalls are available. It’s a little more complex than that, as noted here; for one thing, women with young children will find a baby/toddler changing station only in the accessible stall. But women and men with disabilities are often invisible (I say “women” first because I am one, and include men with disabilities because society often doesn’t), yet encounter challenges and humiliations publicly, in front of others.

In 2005, I became an adjunct instructor at a local university I’m proud to have attended as an undergraduate. The English department was designed in the 1970s. There is a standard accessible bathroom stall, with the standard confounding, frustrating layout of a widened stall to accommodate a wheelchair and close and lock the door, a grab bar mounted on the wall to the left of the toilet, and one mounted on the wall behind. This is the design used in virtually every accessible public bathroom stall in America, but it doesn’t happen to work for me.

My classes were often scheduled on the same floor as a regular-width stall. The stall has parallel grab bars, but was never widened, so I can’t bring my chair inside. But the parallel grab bars do work for me, so that was my solution: to hope my chair somewhat obscured me because I couldn’t close the door to use the bathroom.

There’s no other way to talk about the issues of access and dignity than to use the language of Gina Shuh, author of the linked post,: “I know, I know, I’m being a little critical and my expectations may not be the most realistic. However, you can judge my perspective once you’ve pissed yourself because you were unable to use the only accessible bathroom, forcing you to go home early from whatever event you may be at…all because someone liked the big stall.” She says that “pure ignorance” causes nondisabled people to use accessible stalls if there are regular ones available, but in my experience–as an adult who sometimes hasn’t been able to hold it until the accessible stall is free–everyone knows who’s supposed to use those stalls. Many people who do use them hold a sincere belief that the person without a disability can be out of the stall before anyone really needs to use it. This is not a safe assumption. Think about it, won’t you? Thank you.

 

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