Today I was sent a link to a Facebook group Amplify Your Voice: Help Get Ally’s Law Passed in Virginia. I re-posted the link which started a discussion with a friend.
Some background. The Restroom Access Act is also known as Ally’s Law, named for Ally Bain, who was denied use of an “employees only” restroom while shopping at an Old Navy clothing store with her mother in 2004. As a direct result of the refusal, Ally had an “accident” right there in the store. Instead of being mortified and slinking away, Ally started a crusade to allow people with IBD and other medical emergencies to use employee only restrooms in stores that do not offer public facilities. You can read more about Ally’s story here. You can follow Ally on Twitter.
I believe the simple act of allowing bathroom access to customers will do a great deal to improve the quality of life for people suffering from chronic conditions like IBD. Many people I know, myself included, have a lot of anxiety about being out in public, away from restrooms. In extreme cases, this leads people to be shut ins. In more typical cases, not having easy access to a restroom creates stressful shopping experiences and leads to shortened browsing times. When I first began experiencing my own bathroom issues, my poor mother was really annoyed by my fast style of shopping. I had to rush in and rush out and schedule my errands around which stores had restrooms. There was no way I would go to two stores without restrooms in a row. Mom ended up being stressed out by what I needed to do to cope in these situations!
Since 2004 only 13 states [Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, Oregon, Tennessee, Texas, Wisconsin and Washington] have passed the Restroom Access Act. That is 26% of the 50 American states. This is unacceptable. Allowing individuals emergency access to a bathroom will not significantly increase costs to these businesses. The general public does not use the toilet much while out running errands anyway. I recently took a 10 hour road trip with my teen brother who only even had to urinate once, while (even with several medications) I had to stop every 1-2 hours to have a bowel movement. In fact, cleaning up a customer’s fecal accident would be much more trouble for a store than simply allowing the customer to use the employee only toilet. It comes down to this: should stores force seriously ill people to crap their pants in public when they could easily allow them access to the employee toilet?
However, even if the law has passed in your state, you may still be in for trouble. The time it takes to find an employee, explain your need, “seem” disabled enough, etc… could be the difference between making it to the bathroom in time or having an embarrassing public accident. For many people it is very embarrassing to even have to ask someone if they can use the bathroom and then what level of disclosure is needed? I’ve heard stories of people saying they have Crohn’s or IBD and the employee saying that didn’t “qualify” and denying access!
The law is being passed mainly thanks to grassroots efforts. Click here to learn more about Ally’s Law and how you can help get it passed in your state and federally!