What is the Restroom Access Act (aka Ally’s Law)?
Several states have passed laws that require places of business/retail establishments to grant customers with certain medical conditions, such as people with an ostomy or Inflammatory Bowel Disease, access to their employee restroom facilities, if no public facilities are available and they need to go. The Restroom Access Act, also known as Ally’s Law, is in honor of a young girl who was denied access to a restroom in her home state of Illinois.
To learn more about the history of the law and to see an interactive map of which states have passed legislation or have introduced bills, visit the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation Restroom Access webpage.
Tools for Grassroots Advocates to Pass Legislation in Your State
Below are links to tools to help you advocate for a new law in your state.
Real Life Story: Pennsylvania Ostomates’ Grassroots Efforts
Nowhere to Go: Reviving Ally’s Law In Pennsylvania
By Colleen Seeber-Combs, MSN, RN
Imagine you are browsing through the modern fiction section of your local bookstore. Suddenly you feel that familiar burn, followed by dampness. Panicking, you ask the store clerk where the bathroom is located, only to be told it is for EMPLOYEES ONLY! You grasp your lower abdomen to feel for your ostomy appliance, but not before the dampness becomes a warm stream running down your pant leg. You leave the store in a rush, desperate to find a bathroom. Your day now ruined; you decide to go home. If only you could have used the bathroom at the bookstore!
In urban areas of Pennsylvania, such as Philadelphia, public restrooms are scarce and hard to find, especially considering the COVID-19 pandemic. In all but 18 US states, individuals with ostomies and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) can legally be denied access to nonpublic restrooms despite the urgent need to change an ostomy appliance or have a bowel movement. The Restroom Access Act of 2005 (Ally’s Law) was born out of the efforts of a teenage girl with IBD and her mother after the teen soiled herself in a retail establishment that refused her access to their bathroom facility. At the age of 14, I too was living with inflammatory bowel disease (ulcerative colitis) and have been thriving with an ostomy since 1980. Since then, I have enjoyed a 36-year career as an RN (registered nurse) and am currently enrolled in a doctoral program to obtain a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree. In states where the law was passed, individuals with certain conditions, such as ostomies or IBD, can present documentation to businesses to gain access to nonpublic bathrooms. Businesses that refuse bathroom access are levied a fine. But in the majority of states, including Pennsylvania, such protection is not available.
In June of 2021, members of the Philadelphia Ostomy Association and members of UOAA met with the PA State Representative, Pamela Delissio, to discuss getting the Restroom Access Bill back on the docket for vote. According to the General Assembly of Pennsylvania website, the bill was referred to Consumer Protection and Professional Licensure in 2015. To date, there is no further mention of the act in the Pennsylvania Senate.
Sources of Resistance
The source of resistance to Ally’s Law in Pennsylvania is unclear, although one can speculate that it mirrors the resistance seen in nearby states, such as Delaware, where the law has been passed. In Delaware, small business owners cite privacy and safety as their main concerns. According to Jeanine Gleba, Advocacy Manager at UOAA, PA Representative Delissio’s concerns include responsibility for cleaning up messes left in employee restrooms, forgery of access cards, and the effort needed to enforce the law.
Help the Cause – Contact PA State Representatives
Regardless of the cause of resistance, please consider taking up the cause for ostomates advocating for the Restroom Access Act in PA. To contact PA Representative Delissio, email RepDeLissio@pahouse.net or call 215-482-8726 and ask her to reintroduce the legislation for the Restroom Access Act.
If you would like to get more involved with the PA efforts, please email Philaost@hotmail.com (Subject line: Restroom Access).