Who needs Accessible Restrooms?

http://t0.gstatic.com/images?q=tbn:ANd9GcQ_-dBLnXCBZVcBlyVocL3LwEBiXY26hHfmgzx4rkamSVScqzVicQIt is well known that the ADA requires accessible restrooms. But who actually needs them? Or more importantly who is actually entitled to use them? Unlike accessible parking spaces there is no ticket for a person without a disability who uses an accessible stall or restroom. There is also no rules posted nor any ADA rules about entitlement.

So does that mean anyone can use them?

Technically, yes. No ADA police is going to slap a ticket on you or drag you out of a stall if you don’t have a visible disability. But what about all those looks you get if you are not using a wheelchair and use an accessible stall – are they deserved?

One of the drawbacks of the ADA, is when they created ADA specifications for restroom stalls they made the specifications for people who are chair users. Many people who are not chair users need accessible stalls and benefit from wider spacing between the wall and the toilet, accessible handles on the doors,  and/ or room for an additional person to provide assistance. Many seniors and people with disabilities need the handrails or the raised toilet seat, but don’t need a wider stall.

Some people who are chair users are quite militant about their belief that only they are entitled to use the wider stalls. I believe this is wrong. First and foremost they are accessible stalls and restrooms and different people have different accessible needs that are not dependent upon use of a wheelchair.  What are these people supposed to do when they cannot use a typical narrow stall without handrails?

One solution that I often see is to include some typical width stalls with handrails. This provides access to one of the most necessary accessible elements to people who do not use chairs. Sadly these are not required by the ADA.  Also, when they do exist they are not labeled in any way and people often don’t know they are there.

The other element to an accessible stall, but too often isn’t present (a pet peeve of mine) is to have the handle/latch that closes the door be usable with a closed fist. If all stalls were created with these types of latches it would make it easier for everyone. Have you ever gotten into a stall, were in a big hurry, and encountered one of these tiny buttons you have to turn to lock the stall – you thought you had it, dash to the seat and the door flies open. Oops, sorry.

Bottom line, for anyone’s bottom, is a little courtesy. If there are 6 stalls and they are half empty and you don’t need any of the accessible elements – use a typical stall. If they are all in use except the accessible stall, and no one appears to be waiting specifically for it, go for it. If you are in a line and a person in a chair joins the line – let them have first dibs on the accessible stall. And if you need the access of an accessible stall and no one can tell by looking at you – use it – it was designed for you, too.


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  1. Luda 30. Jan, 2011 at 4:22 pm #

    Who needs accessible restrooms?
    Every disabled with mobility problem!
    i’m working closely with NYC Committioners for Human Rights and we try to make accessible bathroom in the doctors offices .you wouldn’t believe it, but many don’t have it or dobn’t understand what it means wchair accessible bathroom!
    i able to force the best McDonald, which has a piano in it, but bathroom was not accessible, to make it!

  2. Allison Breedlove 18. Feb, 2011 at 3:12 am #

    As a crutch and wheelchair user for many, many years, I have a great deal of insight in the accessibility of bathroom stalls. Here’s how I handle the use of accessible stalls. First, if there is a long line to the stalls, I position myself in front of the line to the accessible one. I have never had someone complain that I am ‘jumping ahead’ because they know that another stall will likely open up before the occupied accessible stall is available. I am not upset that accessible stalls are typically used my Moms and their kids. The whole idea of universal design promotes accessibility beyond those with disabilities. Instead of getting upset with those who appear not disabled to use accessible accommodations, let’s welcome that they appreciate the accommodations, and hopefully champion more adaptations to future architectural models that provide additional access to people with disabilities.

  3. Joanne Shortell 23. Feb, 2011 at 8:33 pm #

    Who needs accessible stalls? — any disabled person with a service dog. However, my psychiatric service dog and I always defer to someone in a chair, walker, etc. if we both happen to be in the ladies room at the same time. It’s uncomfortable to fit me and a standard poodle in a small stall but it’s possible. Some dog/handler teams simply wouldn’t fit.

  4. Jina Vehnekamp 18. Jul, 2012 at 12:07 am #

    This situation happened to me again today. I am a Hemiplegic, confined to a wheelchair, and that ADA-stall is the ONLY one I can get INTO in my wheelchair. This happens quite often: a Mother with several children feels that it is HER “right” to use the ADA Stall with all her children. A bunch of kids IS a “disability” – but it’s Mental, not Physical! Today, I had to sit in my chair OUTSIDE the ADA stall, while a Mother and two kids used the space for a noisy game of “Tag” or something else equally ignorant!

  5. Susan 18. Jul, 2012 at 2:08 am #

    I dont mind a mom with one or two kids, especially if I wasn’t there when she got to the head of thei e, but more they need to check and see if anyone is waiting. COMMON courtesy.

  6. Dan Kleindienst 02. Oct, 2012 at 7:09 pm #

    I have been finding several McDonalds resturants with non ADA compliant restrooms lately. The toilet stall is too narrow to even turn around in. Grab bars are provided but in order to transfer from a w/chair you have to do a 180 degree turn, which is impossible for most of us.

  7. Jina Vehnekamp 23. Mar, 2014 at 1:52 am #

    This STILL “irritates” me: when I “need” to use that ADA Stall, and a Mom with multiple kids is IN that stall, totally ignorant that the “games” she and her kids are playing are causing a “disabled” person to WAIT in some discomfort to use the Stall which was designed specifically for disabled people confined to wheelchairs! Here’s “one” that was worth a LAUGH: one day, after a lengthy “wait,” a gal WALKED out of that ADA Stall, saw me waiting in my wheelchair, and said: “OSorry, I’m Claustrophobic!”


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