Being disabled does not make a person an invalid. It does not mean they cannot do the same tasks that a non-disabled person can. Simply, they have to overcome extra obstacles that the average person does not. While many persons who have had ostomy or continent diversion surgery may not consider themselves to be disabled or impaired, they have protections. The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities (physical or mental) and guarantees equal opportunities for individuals with disabilities in employment, transportation, public accommodations, state and local government services, and telecommunications. According to the ADA an ostomy is considered a physical impairment that affects an activity of daily living, which requires a prosthetic to replace the function of a body part. It likely falls into the hidden disability group as it is not immediately visible.
ADA accommodations’ violations generally involve a failure to provide access and amenities in public places for persons with disabilities. Under the ADA, businesses and governments are required to make accommodations for persons who are legally disabled. However, certain places of business in particular federal buildings, such as a post office, don’t have public restrooms, if it can be a security risk to the business or employees. According to the ADA it is up to the discretion of businesses to allow people to use employee restrooms.
Businesses should provide access to bathrooms in order to accommodate people with disabilities, which includes those with ostomies. As stated by the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation through the Open Restrooms Movement, “we want to encourage businesses and municipalities to address the problem of not allowing use of employee restrooms simply because restroom access is a human need, which is best addressed through basic kindness.”
Sometimes education is all that is needed to make people understand. If a business owner understands that barriers like restrooms for employees only or “Bathrooms for Customers Only” creates a restriction on ostomates, then a resolution is easier to accomplish. Build awareness and explain to your local place of business that you need access to the bathroom facilities to fully enjoy the benefits of the business. Explain that due to a legitimate medical need restroom access is critical for your well-being and for public sanitation.
Some people may be comfortable saying that “accommodating me and others who may have a legitimate need may actually increase your business, and I will share with my community that your business has taken an active role in the Open Restrooms Movement campaign”. This can also be discreetly accomplished by sharing the UOAA Restroom Access Communication Card.
What is the Open Restroom Movement?
UOAA has partnered with the Crohns and Colitis Foundation’s “Open Restroom Movement”. The goal of the advocacy campaign is to make more restrooms available to patients with urgent bathroom needs (whatever the cause). The movement is calling on the better nature of municipalities and business owners to do the right thing and permit public access to their restrooms.
Learn more about the Open Restroom Movement.
We Can’t Wait app
People living with an ostomy can have urgent needs to find a restroom at a moment’s notice such as experiencing an unexpected pouch leak.
The We Can’t Wait app can help you find a publicly accessible restroom quickly and easily.
Download the We Can’t Wait Restroom Access App.
UOAA Restroom Access Communication Card
Disclaimer: Unless your state has a restroom access law, there is no legal requirement. This card does not guarantee access. It is ultimately the place of business’ discretion whether bathroom access is granted.
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Real Life Story: “May I Use Your Bathroom? The Answer Should Be Of Course!”
May I use your bathroom? The answer should be, of course!
By Ellyn Mantell
Recently, I was shopping with a friend at a special occasion boutique. As usual, a few things caught my eye, and I had them set aside in a fitting room. In preparation for trying them on, I asked to use the bathroom. Emptying my pouch is so important, particularly when I am trying on clothes. If there is a leak around my stoma, or a potential leak, that is the time to discover it…not when in a fitting room with clothes that are not mine!
The response I received was that the bathroom was filled with boxes and couldn’t be used…I could go across the street to the supermarket and use their bathroom. The look on my face must have revealed how angry that made me for several reasons, the primary one being that if you are a store that caters to women, and women typically need to frequently use the bathroom, making it off limits to shoppers seemed thoughtless. As I stood there, digesting this statement, the saleslady continued to tell me that a huge shipment had just been delivered into the bathroom, that it was dangerous going there, and on and on. At that point, I walked away, my pouch full, my mind racing, wondering if I should simply walk out of the store. The dresses were gorgeous, confections all, but what price my dignity, and here was a fight that felt worth fighting!
I became mobilized, gave my handbag to my friend, got in touch with my inner warrior and walked up to the saleslady who had so graciously given me her name when she saw me as a customer. “Karen, I need the ladies’ room, and I need it now! I have a card which I will present that makes my need for a bathroom evident, and if you have a difficult time with that, we can discuss the American Disability Act.” At that point, Karen began to show kinks in the armor. “I don’t make the rules. I will take you to the bathroom, but it is very dangerous,” she said. I braced myself for a trip tantamount to trekking through the Amazon.
Imagine how foolish Karen must have felt when there were NO boxes, NO huge delivery, NO dangerous items in or around the lovely bathroom. In fact, other than it being in the storeroom (believe me, I have been in many of those) it was absolutely fine.
Although I recognize that dealing with the public can be messy and perhaps dirty, in general, most people are respectful when using someone else’s bathroom. Making a bathroom available is a courtesy extended to others, one we have come to expect, and for those in need, greatly appreciated. And at the core, the fact that an employee must lie to a shopper, create an entire story that is false, embellished and exaggerated, is quite disgraceful. The employee becomes complicit in the lie, stammering to cover the obvious lack of truth, knowing that I knew the minute I saw the bathroom in that storeroom, the gig was up, the truth was out!
I felt quite energized by my determination to use the bathroom, but more importantly, as I said to my friend, I feel better for the next person who asks to use the bathroom. Store owners should make a shopper feel welcome, and if that includes using the bathroom, so be it!