Where’s the Bathroom Respect?

It shouldn’t take an act of Congress to do something about handicap stalls in restrooms, but it just might come to that

When you have a mobility impairment, travel can be difficult. It is often even more frustrating when it comes to airport restrooms.

“Airports have slipped in the area of accessible bathrooms,” writes PN Editor Richard Hoover in the March 2013 issue. “I’ve seen little uniformity in their number, design, and location.”

Hoover says two things irritate him more than anything else: how a bathroom stall is identified for handicap use, and the inconsiderate people who are not entitled to use these facilities and do so anyway.

He closes by recommending good universal signage that makes it abundantly clear who that accessible stall is for and, if it’s in use, a way for a disabled person to notify the occupant someone eligible is waiting. (To read the article, visit pvamag.com.)

Responses to Hoover’s column include the following letters:

A Typical Obstacle

I readily agree with the lack of respect when it comes to handicap-designated restroom stalls.

I’ve been in a wheelchair now for over 40 years. I’ve seen the time when there were no accessible bathrooms, let alone accessible stalls. I appreciate the distance we have come to having a designated place to go. I don’t travel much, so my perspective comes from observations in church settings and educational facilities.

How often do we enter the restroom and see a long line of empty stalls and the only handicap stall occupied? Usually, it is the farthest away from the door, so no one can overhear your business.

Having someone else using a handicap-designated stall is not a matter of inconvenience or inconsideration. We’re used to dealing with that. It’s a matter of incontinence. We’ve all learned patience, but most of us can’t even tap our toe while waiting for the stall to become available, if you get my drift. Waiting in the restroom is just another typical obstacle we face in a day filled with them as we travel through this life.

Thank you for your insight and sensitivity on this matter and putting it in PN for others to read. I don’t have a foolproof solution, but maybe we could put a “Handicapped Parking Only” sign on the inside door of the stall, so when they sit down for a moment’s contemplation they will have something worthwhile to read.


Cleveland, Tenn.


Strong Solution

I read with interest Editor Richard Hoover’s article in the March PN about restroom respect.

I worked for a company for 34 years. After I fell and became paralyzed below T5, they were good about accommodations. They gave me a parking place close to the building and kept the snow shoveled off the ramp to the door. They seated me a reasonable distance from a small bathroom that was marked “handicapped.”  

Unfortunately, they didn't enforce a restriction that the general shop population was not to use it. At break times, it became a popular place to do private things that couldn’t be done in a larger shared bathroom of the shop. Smoking was very popular (with the vent fan on) because the company had gone smoke-free.

Occasionally I would need to use the bathroom when someone was hanging out in there. And sometimes other shop workers would see me waiting in the hallway, ask if someone was in there, and proceed to bang loudly on the door and on my behalf yell at the person inside. I loved that! I had knocked on the door and told them I was waiting but never had the courage to bang like that. I was afraid that would be unbecoming for an office type.

I was waiting in the hallway one day when the outraged occupant came out and yelled at me, “Do you think that this restroom is just for you?” I pointed to the “handicapped” sign on the door and wondered if he would hit me, and what he was doing in the privacy of the room that made him so mad to be interrupted. That person passed me in the hallway a month later and apologized. I hope he had worried the whole time that I would turn him in to management.

I was moved to another building that had two floors, a nice elevator and many cubicles. There was one handicap stall in the bathroom on each floor. As you may have guessed, both large stalls were popular. There was better light to read a magazine! (I tried to no avail to get the light moved over the regular stalls.)

One day I saw the downstairs stall was busy and went upstairs. It was busy, too. I went back down and started waiting. I told the occupant I was waiting, but I was not assertive enough. I could hear pages rustling. Finally after he left, I got in and found the magazine he had left draped over the hand rail. I decided to tear it into many very small pieces. Now I think it would have been a better plan just to leave it there dripping wet.

I told the group supervisor I had trashed the bathroom and why. I explained that paras couldn’t wait very well for a bathroom, that plenty of other stalls were available, and that handicap stalls should be marked with a “handicapped” sign. He put a sign (not a real handicap decal) on the stall, which was promptly torn down by the usual suspects.

[After I was laid off,] I got a job at another company. They had state-of-the-art bathroom sensors that detected movement and body heat, and if neither were present the lights would turn off. There was no manual override switch, and it was not possible to raise an arm high enough to trigger the lights on from inside the stall. There were no windows. Very dark! There was not enough traffic to keep the light on at lunchtime, as no one wants to spend any of their own time in the bathroom. This is why I always carry an LED flashlight small enough to hold in my mouth!

You mentioned your problem with businessmen/-women [who use handicap stalls as changing rooms]. Here’s my solution: Tell them you are waiting and you need the stall. If the response is not good, put your wheelchair against the door and say you will block the door as long as the occupant has made you wait and that you hope he/she doesn’t miss his plane!

Thanks for the article!

Sonny in Seattle (it never is)


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