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I used to think that getting over the stigma of becoming a wheelchair user was my biggest challenge. But, boy, was I wrong!
As it turns out, one of my toughest battles is accessing the handicap stall in public restrooms!
Here we are in 2021, and there is still new business construction that doesn’t consider the needs of the disabled in their planning. There truly is no excuse for it.
So what really makes a public restroom accessible? As a disabled person who has used a wheelchair and rollator since 2005 and will most likely need one for the rest of their life, I have a lot to say.
Disclaimer: This blog post contains affiliate links. I may earn a small commission to fund my coffee drinking habit if you use these links to make a purchase. You will not be charged extra, and you’ll keep me supplied with caffeine. It’s a win for everyone. I am not a medical professional, and nothing stated in this article should be mistaken for medical advice.
What I Expect A Handicap Restroom To Provide
Handicap restrooms should provide more than space to use a toilet. They should also allow a disabled patron the ability to access it without assistance!
Note that I said access and not use. That is because using a toilet independently is a different issue from accessing it. There are some people who, no matter how well a stall is designed, will need assistance. However, even if they need assistance using the toilet, it is no good if they and their caregiver struggle to access it. With that said, here is what this wheelchair user expects from public restrooms.
- Easy entrance – Wide-open entryways or doors that open electronically or that are lightweight. Having to flag someone down to open the door is not a form of accessibility.
- Doorways that are not at the landing of a ramp. Have you ever tried opening a door from a wheelchair while on a ramp? It is dangerous and shows no thought or concern for the disabled.
- Doorways that aren’t located in a tight corner making it impossible to enter straight through. (Thank your lucky stars if you haven’t experienced the struggle of trying to enter a standard doorway while having to hold back a heavy door from a tight corner!)
- Room for two-way wheelchair traffic – Most restrooms are built with room for two-way foot traffic. In this case, when the wheelchair enters, it takes up all the space, and no one can pass.
Handwashing Station And Stall Access
- There should be at least one accessible sink. If there is only room for one sink, it, along with the soap and drying towels, needs to be accessible to wheelchair users.
- The accessible handwashing station should be easy to access and should not be blocked by baby changing stations or anything else.
- Accessible stalls should be the first in a row of stalls. It is easier and less stressful for a wheelchair to wait in the open area of the restroom rather than down a walkway where no matter where we wait, we are in the way of people exiting standard stalls.
The Accessible Stall
- Wide door
- Safety bars
- Toilet paper within reach (if we have to lean forward it is too far)
- A sink – Even if there is an accessible sink in the handwashing area, one in the stall would be appreciated so that when the restroom is full, the wheelchair user doesn’t have to block much-needed floorspace for others.
- An emergency cord
Current Accessible Restroom Codes
When choosing which accessible elements to provide, the ADA Standards for Accessibility recommends giving the following priority in the order listed below.
- An accessible entrance
- An accessible route to the altered area
- At least one accessible restroom for each sex or a single unisex restroom
- Accessible telephones
- Accessible drinking fountains
- When possible, additional accessible elements such as parking, storage, and alarms.
Most public restrooms that I have frequented only provide an accessible stall and fail to provide an accessible route or entrance to the stall. I believe this happens because of all of the different exceptions regarding how much it will cost to make something accessible. Read the standards for yourself and see if you can see how public buildings can limit the number of accessible options they provide regarding wheelchair access.
It also occurs because the accessible entrances and routes outlined by the ADA are only for entering the building, not the restroom.
Another issue is with the standard measurements for wheelchair accessibility. For example, the ADA makes allowance in the measurement for knee and toe space. Still, they fail to include arm/elbow space for manual wheelchair users or a companion/caregiver who pushes the wheelchair.
Again, what good is an accessible stall if a wheelchair cannot access it?
What Happens When A Restroom Meets The Needs Of The Disabled
Raising handicap restroom standards is important for everyone, not just the disabled person. When a company provides easy access to a restroom that is wheelchair accessible, they become somewhere I will return and gladly support with my business. Not having to worry about asking for assistance or getting stuck behind a heavy door makes me want to spend more time and money at that establishment.
I have eaten at many restaurants that fabulously provided easy entrance to the building and wide accessible routes to a table but completely failed at providing access to their restroom. Most have narrow restroom entryways and/or no room for a wheelchair to turn once inside to access the accessible stall.
There is a reason I choose to go to Disneyland often versus visiting a variety of theme parks or entertainment venues. And that is because Disney theme parks are some of the most accessible places around. However, with that said, they still have some room for improvement.
In fact, Disneyland is more accessible than the doctor offices and hospitals covered by my healthcare plan. Even in buildings that were built within the past 10 years! Their restrooms in the public area have heavy doors, the hallways leading to exam rooms are cluttered with large tech machines that do not fit in the rooms themselves, and there is little to no space for a wheelchair in the examination rooms.
Why does any of this matter?
Because when a building meets a wheelchair users needs, we feel:
Going where I know I can easily access a restroom makes me:
- Want to spend more time there
- Want to spend more money
- Desire a return visit
Access to a restroom also affects my health. Having to hold “it” can lead to bladder and bowel infections.
I want to hear from you!
What are some restroom accessibility issues that you have encountered?
How do you feel handicap restroom codes could be improved?