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.