It 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.