Please, let me use your bathroom right now, because I really need it.
August 25, 2018 7:26 AM   Subscribe

Public Bathroom Design and Disability: "When the issues become too big, when finding a bathroom in public just becomes too much of a gamble, people stop going out. It’s then that they go from being merely unseen to being invisible. The problem isn’t solved. It’s shelved."
posted by AFABulous (21 comments total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
 
Call me a bad person, but I take up the accessible stall when I’m traveling with a suitcase. Anthony, on this front, sympathizes: “So many travel facilities do not have access for us when we are carrying suitcases and luggage. You can barely close the door and the suitcase sometimes touches the edge of the toilet.” She closes her eyes and shudders with her shoulders. “We are mobility impaired because of what we are carrying.”

Ignorant temporarily-abled bodied people discover that universal design might actually be a thing. News at 11.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 8:03 AM on August 25, 2018 [21 favorites]


I used to have moderate agoraphobia with panic attacks, which often manifested as gastrointestinal distress. It was a terrible cycle; fear of an accident led to more fear, which led to increased chances of one. All of that was mixed with a heavy dose of shame. So I just didn't leave the house except for work and grocery shopping. Working from home was comparatively rare and you couldn't get every little thing delivered in those days, else I might never have left at all.

Increasing the number, accessibility, and privacy of bathrooms would have helped quite a bit, and as mandolin conspiracy notes, has universal benefits. Practically speaking, unfettered access is often a serious issue for some businesses, especially these days when overdoses are not uncommon. I'm not sure we get around that. But one thing is certain - no one likes stalls with gaps between the door and the frame, everyone prefers full-length doors, and everyone prefers stalls that - at minimum - don't induce claustrophobia and at best allow one to maneuver wheelchairs and strollers. Retrofitting without losing tons of floor space might be difficult, but there is no excuse for new construction not to accommodate people.
posted by AFABulous at 8:31 AM on August 25, 2018 [11 favorites]


They're correct to point out that there's a tendency towards "do this thing off in the corner to tick off the accessible compliance box for ADA purposes and it stops there," at the expense of people with invisible disabilities and a whole range of other benefits to universal and accessible design, but both Lowe and Anthony are coming at it from such an angle that makes it pretty obvious they're way out of their depth because they have zip and zero background in accessibility.

And people who work in accessibility - particular people with disabilities working in accessibility - have been banging on forever about how accessible design, particularly when it comes to public washrooms is about waaay more than ramps, automatic door openers, turn radius and that one stall "over there". The argument all along has been "accessible design is for EVERYONE." Those decades of work, advocacy, and activism are erased or at the very least conveniently ignored here.

“It’s a family issue,” Anthony says. “I think that’s the way it really needs to be seen.”

Um. No. It's an issue of basic human rights. That's the way it needs to be seen.

This article would have been vastly improved by interviewing someone working in the field of accessible and inclusive design rather than interviewing a Ph.D. in architecture who seems almost comically gobsmacked that accessibility is an actual thing that exists and that she never bothered to think about before ("I wish we weren’t all as self-centered as we are. But some of these issues, until they hit you personally, you are not aware, and you are not as bothered by them"), and still manages to make it about herself (although she seems to be coming to the awareness that she herself might be temporarily able-bodied, so net plus, I guess).
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 8:53 AM on August 25, 2018 [16 favorites]


She is likewise entitled to use accessible bathrooms because the Americans with Disabilities Act covers her — at least for now; let’s see if the legislation that House Republicans passed in February 2018 removing incentives for businesses to comply quickly with ADA rules will change things.

Why always am I reading this story, about so many aspects of the world, across so many decades?
posted by traveler_ at 9:10 AM on August 25, 2018 [4 favorites]


Think of say, being in San Francisco. It's very hard to find toilets. Most businesses have one generic stall "for customers only" and you have to buy something before you can get the key to use it. On the one hand you can kind of understand between small amounts of space and homeless people who aren't in the best mental frame of mind, but on the other hand if you need to go within a minute or two or crap your pants in front of everyone, good luck with that when you need to stand in line to buy a beverage you don't want first and that line goes for at least ten minutes.

Not to mention the joys of the line forming for the one stall toilet while you are having whopping distress. Especially if you clog the one toilet to boot. Seriously, one stall for the entire general public is terrible.
posted by jenfullmoon at 9:37 AM on August 25, 2018 [5 favorites]


But one thing is certain - no one likes stalls with gaps between the door and the frame, everyone prefers full-length doors

You are wrong, though I may be a small part of the population. Full length doors give me claustrophobia if they're just a stall with a toilet and barely the space to turn around. I can handle it if there's a full bathroom, especially if there's a window, but in a set of toilet stalls - no. This is not even to go into how spaces like this offer the choice between making the space even smaller with a bag hook or letting you put your bag on the floor.

I've spent a lot of time using public bathrooms because I used to travel for work, and I think about this a lot because I work in the disability field, have a disability, am not strongly gendered (though I usually don't get bothered in bathrooms) and have a lot of friends who are trans. Public bathrooms are largely terrible, and I think they are generally designed by men who rarely or never use them.

They're often designed to not show dirt, which means they always look dirty. They rarely have grab bars. Bag hooks are too high, and even in airports there's often only one hook. Stall doors open inward, meaning you have to touch the toilet to get in and close the door, and I'm saying this as someone who is reasonably mobile and on the thin side. These are just the issues that literally anyone can have.

Good bathrooms I've seen put the changing table outside of the handicapped stall, offer menstrual supplies, have grab bars in every stall, have steps for kids and little people, have doors that open outward, have closures that are easy to manipulate even if your hands aren't great, and are clean.

The best public bathroom stalls I've ever seen are at MSP airport on E and F concourses. The stalls are large, all of them have grab bars and multiple bag hooks, doors open outward, there is a place to set your suitcase, a shelf for a purse or cup or whatever, and these are not the handicapped stalls. The handicapped bathrooms are fully enclosed and definitely big enough to maneuver a wheelchair in. I haven't used them because my disability is not currently at that level, and as stated, I have claustrophobia and will always choose a less enclosed space when I can. The downside to these is that the sinks are set up to have warm water, and the more they're used, the hotter the water gets until you can't wash your hands because it's too hot.

With the article, I'd have also liked to have the input of someone who worked in accessible design, and it would be great if it talked about the similarities between the ways people with disabilities and trans people are marginalized and excluded literally by design from participating in public life.
posted by bile and syntax at 10:19 AM on August 25, 2018 [17 favorites]


Having been a person who really needed freely accessible public bathrooms for medical reasons and also having been a person tasked with cleaning freely accessible public bathrooms, the overdose problem is thorny as heck. The simplest solution from an access standpoint -- non-gendered, individual single-stall, grab bars and high turning radius, lockable from inside -- is also a design that works really well for people needing a private space to use IV drugs. One of my previous service gigs had bathrooms like these, freely accessible to anyone, customer or not, no key or code required. This was great... but we also had to call EMS at least once a week to help someone who had overdosed or otherwise become incapacitated while in there. And we had no way to check if people in the bathrooms were okay -- we'd only know it was time to call EMS when the bathroom lineup started getting super-long, and impatient customers complained that someone had been in one bathroom for a frustrating/suspicious/worrying length of time. (We were one of the few places in that part of the city which even had publicly accessible bathrooms, likely because of the overdosing issue, so lines were always very long anyway.)

Needle disposal was another issue, as people would just throw them in the trash. Secure receptacles would be a helpful solution -- for people using insulin and other drugs, too -- but even after several needle-stick injuries, management was unwilling to install them, likely concerned that it would 'encourage' even more people to use drugs in the restroom.

Bag hooks are too high, and even in airports there's often only one hook

This may be a theft-prevention measure, as bag hooks which are lower may leave the bag exposed and grabbable by someone reaching underneath from a neighbouring stall or the closed door. At one of my other workplaces, management actually removed all the bag hooks, because bag-theft was such a pervasive issue. (Obviously this was a bad solution, but the problem it tried to solve was real enough.)
posted by halation at 10:40 AM on August 25, 2018 [8 favorites]


I think about this a lot as a healthy music fan with no disabilities or digestive issues.

Music venue and "dive bar" bathrooms are notoriously terrible. The infamous old CBGB bathroom is hardly exceptional. Some men's rooms don't have stall locks or even doors, presumably to discourage drug use and sex, and they're often missing toilet paper.

I honestly have no idea what music and comedy fans with certain disabilities do.
posted by smelendez at 10:40 AM on August 25, 2018 [5 favorites]


Think of say, being in San Francisco. It's very hard to find toilets. Most businesses have one generic stall "for customers only" and you have to buy something before you can get the key to use it.

I was in a Starbucks in San Jose and they had no customer restrooms at all. I bought a damn coffee first and asked for the key to the restroom only to find out that there wasn't one.
posted by octothorpe at 11:11 AM on August 25, 2018 [2 favorites]


Crohn's and Colitis Canada has an accessible washroom program called GoHere, where participating businesses display a decal to indicate they have open, free access public washrooms, no questions asked. I saw one of these decals at a small town gas station on a recent road trip and was curious, so I looked it up.
The GoHere Washroom Access Program makes it possible for individuals to escape the social isolation these diseases can cause. This program makes it easier for people living with Crohn's or colitis or both to manage their symptoms and lead more active, productive and fulfilling lives.

There are many more individuals who benefit from increased washroom accessibility. These include individuals with various conditions that cause incontinence issues, such as certain neurological disorders and forms of cancer. Seniors, pregnant women and young children are groups who also benefit from the GoHere program.
The program also has an app with a map of GoHere locations across Canada, and provides a virtual "proof of medical need" access card, to show at businesses that don't yet participate.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 12:38 PM on August 25, 2018 [6 favorites]


Bag hooks are too high, and even in airports there's often only one hook

This may be a theft-prevention measure, as bag hooks which are lower may leave the bag exposed and grabbable by someone reaching underneath from a neighbouring stall or the closed door.


Quite the reverse from what I've seen - the hooks I'm complaining about are typically at the top of the door, so that I'm reaching to at least my head height and often as high as my arm goes. A thief would be able to grab a light bag by the strap from over the door very easily, but someone smaller than my 5' 4" would have trouble hanging their bag up at all, and it's very hard to hang a heavy bag. What I'd like to see is a middle of the door or on the side of the stall hook that's about 5' off the ground, and not one that's basically over the toilet so that you have to lean to one side while sitting.
posted by bile and syntax at 12:46 PM on August 25, 2018 [4 favorites]


The most badly designed bathroom I have ever been in is at a state-run rest stop off of I-80 in Iowa (or maybe Nebraska). The stall walls are only about 5' high, and don't back up to a wall (i.e. you can walk all the way around the row). I'm trans and I sit to pee and I was in a fair amount of terror that someone would just look over the top. If I'd had any choice in the matter I would have waited until the next exit but it was in the middle of nowhere. I really need to work on standing.

I guess it's to discourage drug use and sex. I'd bet $1000 the women's room doesn't look like that though.
posted by AFABulous at 12:56 PM on August 25, 2018


Hell, I sometimes have to walk about two miles home from work. There are ZERO public bathrooms on the way. If I have to relieve my bladder, part way home, I have to risk legal issues to handle it.
posted by Samizdata at 2:48 PM on August 25, 2018


Inward opening toilet stalls are an abomination.
posted by notreally at 4:30 PM on August 25, 2018 [3 favorites]


Yeah but the outward opening stalls are always closed by default so you have to either try the door to see if it's locked or look in to see if there's someone in there. The inward ones hang open so that you can tell they're unoccupied.
posted by octothorpe at 4:36 PM on August 25, 2018


I honestly have no idea what music and comedy fans with certain disabilities do.

We don’t see many live acts.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 9:54 PM on August 25, 2018 [4 favorites]


The access issue I'm always acutely aware of is the shortage of hoists and changing beds. I know they are expensive, but they are so vital. Oxford, for instance, has just installed one in its new shopping centre. It's the only one in the entire city. But I now know many people and their families who can now go to Oxford. They couldn't before.

(If you're interested in this issue, Changing Places is a great UK charity which is working to try and get more truly accessible changing areas installed.)
posted by Cheerwell Maker at 10:19 AM on August 26, 2018


Music venue and "dive bar" bathrooms are notoriously terrible

and let's not forget betting shops.
posted by flabdablet at 10:22 AM on August 26, 2018


The handicapped bathrooms

Stop.

Saying.

"Handicapped."

Already.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 6:44 PM on August 26, 2018 [1 favorite]


Yeah but the outward opening stalls are always closed by default so you have to either try the door to see if it's locked or look in to see if there's someone in there. The inward ones hang open so that you can tell they're unoccupied.

Color coding red/locked, green/unlocked as many restrooms already do could solve this issue. Taking my two young kids into a small “door inward” stall is always an exercise in Twister, Operation, and 3D Tetris.
posted by Night_owl at 8:47 AM on August 27, 2018


Yeah but the outward opening stalls are always closed by default so you have to either try the door to see if it's locked or look in to see if there's someone in there. The inward ones hang open so that you can tell they're unoccupied.

British toilet stalls - although otherwise just as flawed as, and even more scarce than, American ones - universally have external indicators for that: the locks show either green/red, as per Night_owl, or Vacant/Engaged (like these). Far from perfect - sometimes the markings have worn off, and green/red isn't ideal for the colour-blind - but still: no alarmingly large gaps around doors for us! (Though the doors do still open inwards, presumably so that you don't risk clouting people with the door as you emerge.)

Amazon will now be recommending public toilet door hardware to me for the next decade.
posted by ManyLeggedCreature at 12:04 PM on August 30, 2018 [1 favorite]


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