Why Is Someone Always in the Accessible Restroom?

It’s an elemental part of nature we can’t avoid. We all have to use the restroom. Yet half the time I need to use a public restroom, the only stall I can use (if they have one at all)—the wheelchair stall—is in use by someone who doesn’t need it.

“Wheelchair Waiting” met with a half-hearted “Sorry”

I’m parked outside in my wheelchair. I knock on the door politely: “Wheelchair waiting,” I say. Usually silence follows. I’m shifting my weight back and forth as my bladder threatens to explode. Where’s the next closest accessible restroom? Hell if I know, that’s why I came to this one!

What are they thinking? I wonder and sigh out loud. That no one in a wheelchair ever needs the restroom? That our bladders are made of impregnable concrete? Should I try to convey my need by dropping trough and leaving a puddle outside the door?

The door opens. Sometimes I get a half-hearted ‘sorry’, but usually not. I practically run them over trying to get in and get to the toilet. I get the feeling that I’m inconveniencing them, instead of me suffering because they can’t bother to use any of the other 10 empty stalls in the restroom too small to fit a wheelchair.

For me, the wheelchair stall is not a convenience. It is crucial. I have to park my chair beside the toilet to safely transfer myself. I need the grab bars to use the facilities. If there is no accessible toilet, I cannot use the restroom. There are times when I cut back my drinking and eating because I know I will not be near a restroom that I can use. I call it ‘going into camel mode’ and it is not for the faint of heart. It can be dangerous because I could get too dehydrated. Some people argue that most people have to wait for the restroom, so why not a person with a disability? Sure, I don’t mind waiting—as long as all the other inaccessible stalls are in use first. When that happens, go ahead and I’ll wait. But not before. Other people like just ‘having a little extra space’—sure, I can’t disagree. But can you enjoy the spa-like comfort of the accessible stall after the people who need it have been able to use the facilities? Pardon me for being a little sarcastic—that’s what happens when I have to pee.

More access to accessibility?

Maybe all restroom stalls should be a little bigger. Maybe fewer toilets, but all of them being accessible would be better for everyone. I don’t mind this idea, but I’m not going to hold my breathe (or bladder) until this change happens. For a short time, I was taking photos of people as they came out of the accessible restroom. It was a collection of gotcha photos, like I was an unpleasant surprise. But my photo collection became too numerous, and therefore too depressing. Plus, I had to go. It happens everywhere—no location is immune it seems. Restaurants, offices, theaters, and airports. Sometimes that’s the worst because then I have to leave and board a flight before using the restroom. Hey there! Try using the restroom on a flight if you have a mobility disability—totally no fun! I would say those people are the worst—but it’s really all of them.

I hope it is not purposeful—that there isn’t a global conspiracy planned against the health and happiness of my bladder. But I cannot be 100 percent certain. I suspect it is unthinking—failing to think of the consequences of monopolizing a community feature that others require and they do not. This thoughtlessness makes me feel even worse, that people can be so unkind without realizing. Yet, this doesn’t explain to me the multiple offenders—the people who I meet repeatedly and continue to delay my being able to use the accessible restroom. But if anyone happens to bring you in on the conspiracy, would you do me a favor and let me know? My bladder thanks you.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The RheumatoidArthritis.net team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

Comments

View Comments (21)
  • Sarah
    1 year ago

    Lauren,

    In your response to Beth, you acknowledge some people who need the accessible stall “may not look like they need it”. Then you say you think Kelly would agree. Clearly, she does not. If she believed people who don’t look like they need the stall still may need it, she never would have acted the way she did, nor would she have written this piece. She did not consider her audience. Frankly, I’m baffled the editors allowed this to be published on a site that’s very existence is to support those with an invisible illness.

    I realize you don’t require your writers to respond, however, I think you should encourage it in this case. The sense of entitlement to treat complete strangers with such arrogance and insolence, and then proceed to humiliate the very people she’s supposed to root for, is disheartening, disappointing and thoughtless.

    Your comments urge readers to be respectful. To me, Ms. Mack is the only one who has been disrespectful with her actions and with her words intended to disgrace people for needing accommodations for something they may already have some shame over.

    I appreciate your response and hope Ms. Mack also chooses to respond and understand how her attitude and conduct have been distressing to her readers.

  • Sarah
    1 year ago

    This article is, at best, tone deaf. At worst, harmful. Your behavior is appalling.

    As has been pointed out, wheelchair accessible does not mean wheelchair exclusive. Just because a person is not in a wheelchair, does not mean she does not require certain accommodations. Anyone with RA, or any of a thousand conditions that cause pain, or illness or injury to pretty much any body part, or claustrophobia or little children or in need of a changing table can and should use the handicapped stall.

    “Wheelchair waiting”? Really? You mention sitting there with a full bladder; what do you think she’s doing in there? Hanging out? No, she also has a full bladder. And she got there first. You can wait 30 seconds until she’s finished. That’s what we do as humans. We wait in lines. As for the half-hearted “Sorry.” you mention, no one owes you an explanation or an apology for using a public facility they have every right to use. If anyone deserves an apology, it’s the poor woman you wouldn’t let pee in peace.

    “Gotcha photos”? In what world is that acceptable? You say your collection got too large, therefore too depressing. What’s depressing is you think that’s OK. That is not OK. That is never OK. Ever. Who does that? What is wrong with you?

    Sadly, your behavior is not what is most upsetting about this article. Despite there being no logical reason for it, chronic illness, like RA, comes with a certain amount of guilt. This very site, the one you write for, exists for the RA community to support each other. Shaming people for something they have nothing to be ashamed of is not supportive. That’s hurtful. You have done a great disservice to those you are supposed to encourage.

    I sincerely hope you reflect on everything that has been said and, as Beth E. suggests, respond to these comments. Perhaps offer a genuine apology for trying to make people feel bad for using a public facility they have every right to use. Good luck to you.

  • Rebecca
    1 year ago

    As RA Warriors one of our missions is to help other people see this disability. We have bumper stickers educating people about “invisible disabilities”, that just because you don’t see a wheelchair doesn’t mean that I don’t need that handicapped parking placard or that handicapped bathroom stall. For example a dear friend of mine who has an ileostomy uses the handicapped stall because it gives her more freedom to be able to remove her lower clothing so they don’t become soiled when she empties the stool from her ostomy bag. As someone who has ILD-interstitial lung disease due to my RA, I sometimes will use the handicap bathroom stall because with the oxygen bottle and extra equipment it gives me more room to navigate and not get stuck or hurt myself when the oxygen bottle swings around. Sometimes I use it, for example in an airport because it makes getting in and out of the stall easier, anything that is easier to do helps me conserve energy and delay the physical exhaustion that comes with having RA. I encourage you as a person with one type of disability to be compassionate towards others. Just because you don’t see the disability that may cause someone to choose to use the handicapped bathroom stall, doesn’t mean the person coming out doesn’t have a disabiliy. I know a young man, who because he was young and appeared healthy was subjected to people hollaring at him when with his blue handicap parking placard, parked in a handicapped parking space. No one saw a cane or walker or wheelchair. After being accosted several times, people hollaring at him saying “you can’t use your grandma’s parking sticker…or where’s YOUR wheelchair….finally got a t-shirt made for himself. It said “waiting for a heart transplant”. People stopped harrasing him for parking in a handicapped parking space. As RA Warriors lets not judge people or think we know whether or not they need handicapped accomodations because we can’t see their disability. As the bumper sticker says, “Yes that’s my parking sticker. I’d rather be healthy, wanna trade! Invisible disease awareness.” I don’t want to have to have a t-shirt made with my diagnosis printed on it in order for you to understand that I too need that handicap bathroom stall.

  • Lauren Tucker moderator
    1 year ago

    Hi Beth E,

    Thank you again for your comment below. We will share your feedback with Kelly so that she may respond if she’s able to. We don’t require that any of our authors respond to comments on their articles, and we support whatever decision she makes.
    If nothing else, this conversation has been helpful in showing us how we need to be open minded with how we look at situations because everyone brings their own bias and personal experience when reading stories of others.

    Thank you for being a part of our community,

    Lauren (RheumatoidArthritis.net Team)

  • Sarah
    1 year ago

    I just want to add one quick point: There are ways to bring attention to issues people in wheelchairs face without making everyone else out to be uncaring jerks.

  • Lauren Tucker moderator
    1 year ago

    Hi Everyone,
    Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts and feedback with us. Kelly (the author of this article) has visible disabilities due to RA, but we recognize that this article could be interpreted as excluding people whose symptoms are not outwardly visible to others. This, of course, was not her intent, nor was it ours, but we hear what you are saying. There are of course many people in our community (and people who have other chronic illnesses) who have disabilities that don’t “show” so please know that you are not alone.
    We always welcome lively discussion and differences of opinion, because that is what makes our community both strong and diverse. However, we do ask that everyone remain respectful when commenting.

    Many thanks,
    Lauren (RheumatoidArthritis.net Team)

  • Beth E
    1 year ago

    Hello Lauren,

    I am surprised that I am compelled to write another response, but it seems as if others are continuing to reply to this post… Every time I see another piece by Kelly, I wonder if she is going to address the concerns brought up in this conversation. I don’t remember many other posts that led to this many responses. I wish Kelly would post a response… No matter what, it is not cool to take pictures of women coming out of the handicapped stall. (I hope she didn’t really do that…)

    Lauren, reading over your response to Sarah’s thoughtful post, I realize what troubles me: “However, we do ask that everyone remain respectful when commenting.” I think that those of us who were obviously troubled by Kelly’s post *were* respectful in our responses to her posts. I think a response from her would be appropriate. Has she reconsidered her initial post in response to what we have written? And if not, why should we continue to read her posts?

    I’m a writing teacher… I would think that Kelly would want to respond to her readers.

    Beth

  • MeriYates
    1 year ago

    This is a disappointing perspective. I’m in pain every day, and no, I’m not in a wheelchair. When I walk into a restroom that has an open accessible stall, I will use it. I need it. But I do so under a cloud of false guilt because on more than one occasion I have been asked why I was in there. Seriously? Having RA is bad enough without judgement from those who think they deserve accessibility more than I do. If my bladder is full, it needs to be emptied just like yours does. I’ve made a point of not judging those who use the stall, whether I think they need it or not. There are hosts of people with chronic, invisible diseases. And sometimes, there are moms who need to change their babies or maybe just have them nearby. Let’s be kind. Whether we think someone deserves it or not. Kindness matters. I can choose to fret over a perceived unkindness toward me, or I can do my part, withhold judgment, and just be kind to others…

  • karenkaye
    1 year ago

    I agree with Beth and Nitro bunny. I have INVISIBLE DISABILITIES! The handicapped stall is for wheelchairs, various disabilities and even diaper changing (in California). You can’t see why I need this stall. I guess you can choose to judge everyone going into these stalls and find reasons to be upset OR you can choose to believe people going into these stalls have legitimate reasons and NOT get upset. There will always be a few who break the rules but they are the exception.
    This is the first time I have not been supported by a regular contributer on this site. I am disappointed.

  • Stetler
    1 year ago

    This is not fun for you, I am sure. I must confess when my knees are really bad I use the higher rise toilets. I have to or I may not be able to stand back up on the regular toilets.Sorry.

  • Sarah
    1 year ago

    You should use the accessible stall even if your knees aren’t really bad; save your joints the unnecessary strain that can make them hurt. Also, you don’t owe anyone an apology. You have every right to use that bathroom. Don’t feel sorry. Do what is best for your body.

  • BS2018
    1 year ago

    I’m just floored at the stance this writer has taken–on a website that tries to help MANY people deal with the invisibility of their illnesses. Sorry, honey, but handicap accessible does not mean handicap–or wheelchair–exclusive. I, like most everyone else, would certainly defer to a standard stall if a wheelchair is waiting in line–even after me, but I certainly won’t forgo the use of the stall when “all 10 other stalls are open” because I, too, have RA and all the fun crap that goes with it. So, if the stall is vacant, I will use it and my knees, hips, and ankles thank me. I’m am, however, fortunate enough to not need a wheelchair at this point in my life but that doesn’t mean I don’t have accessibility issues. When I had my last full length spinal fusion in 2006, I did everything the doctor said to get better as fast as possible–including working out. I would then be so fatigued I could not safely stand in the shower so I would use the handicap stall. One day, an older lady kept peeking in on me. When I finally finished, she had the audacity to say, “That stall is for handicapped people.” To which I replied, “I guess 11 hours of back surgery qualifies me for that.” You figure with all the peeking she’d see the big-assed scar running all the way down my spine but she couldn’t see through her Judgement. She never said another word to me. That is why this post made me so damned mad. You don’t know what others are going through if you’re not in their shoes. And it’s a really good thing no one took a gotcha picture of me because there is a good chance their phone would be in a few pieces on the shower floor.

  • 16kbkgi
    1 year ago

    I agree with another reply. While a wheelchair may make the handicapped restroom necessary, as a woman with severe RA, I’m not in a wheelchair full time, however it is difficult due to pain using the smaller stalls. I do use the handicap stalls if possible. Maneuvering in small stalls is incredibly difficult. So as often as we complain that people don’t “get it” because our illness is often invisible, maybe you should consider that many of us need the stall as much as you? I too will allow a wheelchair ahead of me, But will NOT feel bad or apologize for using that stall.

  • cannonsplash
    1 year ago

    I didn’t realize that the handicapped toilet was only for wheelchairs. I’m an invisible illness person who finally had knees replaced earlier this year. I limped alot the past couple of years, sometimes used a cane and still like the higher toilet. I hope nobody decided to take a photo of me because I was poaching the handicap stall. I needed that stall with the higher toilet and the bars. I installed bars at home and when I replace the toilet, it will be with a higher one.

  • Beth E
    1 year ago

    Kelly — gotcha photos? Please, don’t do that (I know you said you only did that for a short time).

    I have to echo the comments of Nitrobunny. I’m not in a wheelchair, but there are times when I need the raised seat and the grab bar. It is a humbling experience for all of us when we realize that we can’t get on and off the toilet without holding onto something. In a regular stall, I sometimes have to grab the bottom of the door in order to stand — and sitting down on a low toilet can be an adventure. I just hope I land on the seat.

    Kelly, I can understand that it is even more challenging when you are in a wheelchair — because you don’t have the option of struggling to make the smaller stall work. And if I encountered someone else waiting for the handicapped stall, I would let that person go first.

    But please understand that some of us need the grab bars and higher seats even if we are not in wheelchairs… Or do not have canes…

    You did not mention this, but where I live, the larger stalls often also include diaper-changing facilities, and that’s another problem, since parents need those facilities.

    I guess the solution is that we all need to be understanding of each other.

    Beth

  • Lauren Tucker moderator
    1 year ago

    Beth, you’re right that some people who need to use the accessibility restroom may not look like they need it! I think Kelly would agree with you as would many others in our community. Thanks for sharing your thoguhts here, we are glad to have you here. Warmly, Lauren (RheumatoidArthritis.net Team)

  • Nitrobunny
    1 year ago

    The one thing you have to remember is that while I’m not in a wheelchair and don’t always walk with with a cane I DO need an accessible stall with the raised toilet and rails so I can safely use the facilities. I’ve had plenty of wheelchair bound people assault me upon leaving the accessible restroom. Many saying “There’s nothing wrong with you!” It is infuriating as I owe no one an explanation and I guarantee if someone pulled the gotcha photo BS on me there’d be hell to pay. I have multiple diseases and condontions you can’t see. Same holds true for handicap parking. I cannot believe the nerve of people who think they have a right to say something to me because I look “OK”. I wake up in extreme pain and I go to bed the same way.

  • Nitrobunny
    1 year ago

    Thank you for your reply Kelly Dabel. I was really taken aback at the very idea that the writer taking “gotcha” photos is an acceptable thing to do. It’s not only aggressive it many states it’s illegal and I really have a problem with someone who thinks they have the right to be judge and jury. It’s even more disheartening when the writer is a person who should be aware of the fact that many people have progressive hidden diseases Ones that don’t show outward signs. I for one am great at hiding my pain. I had a career that was very physically demanding and one that many would envy. It wasn’t until after I retired that I revealed the myriad of autoimmune diseases I have. I’ve also survived ALL, two bone marrow transplants and all that goes with that. So when some people see a redhead in a Corvette parking in a handicap spot, they’re quick to judge. I’m okay with the pain. I’m okay with the limitations. I’m even okay with the ignorant people who are less than kind. Any day above ground is a bonus for me as I was told in 1997 I had less than a 3% chance of surviving. I politely told my oncologist I had other plans and I am grateful for every minute I draw a breath. What I’m not okay with is people who should know better making judgements of others.

    I’d like to point out that anytime I’m at the front of a line and I see a person in a wheelchair or a mother with a toddler doing the “I have to go NOW” dance”, I will always motion them to the front of the line to get an accessible stall next. Almost never does anyone complain and many people do the same exact thing. In fact more often than not do I see someone being kind. Yes, even a public restroom can host a moment of grace. Even if I see an elderly lady, I will do the same thing. It’s called respect and decency. I have handed someone a paper towel because they had difficultly with dispenser. Held the door while a mother wrangles a stroller or while a person in a wheelchair exits. There are so many little things an observant person can so to help another person. Even a young mother with two or three small children deserves some consideration. Most all of us have been there, running errands with small children can best the strongest of us.

    There are many ways to point out what’s not right in this world but in my opinion there’s more to be gained by pointing out what’s right and good and citing those examples rather than take a confrontational, whining and even aggressive approach. Hostility will be met with hostility. Kindness is generally met with kindness.

  • Kelly Dabel moderator
    1 year ago

    Thank you for sharing Nitrobunny. Sorry to hear about your extreme pain and that people have wrongfully accused you of not having anything wrong. You bring up a great point about invisible illness and not necessarily having outward signs of your extreme pain. We appreciate you chiming in. Wishing you some relief soon. Thank you for being part of our community. Kelly, Rheumatoidarthritis.net Team Member

  • Lawrence 'rick' Phillips
    1 year ago

    I think the ADA standards for building accessibility are unreasonable across most of the spectrum. While we have made advances (they were mostly built into the original law), the standards for some things like sidewalk accessibility are fairly robust. But building standards which are governed by variances are less than robust. Public accommodations are subject to EEOC complaint, building standards, well not so much for the most part.

    Oh and for the record, I think public accommodation standards need some additional work as well. Oh and for the record, I am a sidewalk, and stop light guy at my heart.

  • Richard Faust moderator
    1 year ago

    Thanks Rick. You are certainly right that ADA improved public accommodations. When the DC metro was originally built, before ADA, it had not elevators. A lead engineer even tried to take a wheelchair on the escalator to show that would be sufficient – only after that didn’t go so well they decided to add elevators.

    What gets me is the people that simply block things from being accessible. Whether it is the bathroom’s or elevators or train doors, I never cease to be amazed at people that will not make way for a wheelchair. Kelly was even profiled on the news here in DC, illustrating how difficult people make commuting: https://rheumatoidarthritis.net/news/empowering-news-piece/.

    Note: I just noticed that the video link is missing – here is the first part from the news channel: http://www.nbcwashington.com/investigations/Left-Behind-Commuting-on-Metro-in-a-Wheelchair-291324501.html. Thanks again. Best, Richard (RheumatoidArthritis.net Team)

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