Emergency Bathroom Access (Or Lack Thereof)

December 16, 2013

Fourteen state legislatures have passed legislation mandating that retail stores provide access to employee bathrooms for individuals with ulcerative colitis and Crohn disease and other medical needs.

Attitudes and Policy Regarding IBD Patients’ Use of Private Facilities

A Series of Poster Sessions at AIBD 2013: Michelle Corinaldi, George Washington University, Washington, DC

In no less than 8 poster sessions at AIBD 2013, viewers had an opportunity to learn about access limitations that prevent our patients with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) from fully integrating with mainstream life. IBD is associated with sudden onset of diarrhea during flares, which can occur unpredictably. Fear of loss of bowel control creates social isolation for many of these patients, with the loss of support systems that could help cope with chronic illness.  

Restroom access legislation: Fourteen state legislatures have passed legislation mandating that retail stores provide access to employee bathrooms for individuals with IBD and other medical needs. These survey studies were done in Washington, DC, a jurisdiction that does not have restroom access legislation. Here’s what the surveys showed:
• 36% of restaurant managers said that they would not allow non-customers emergency access to a restaurant bathroom. That said, restaurants are more generous to non-customers than retail establishments are to their own customers (77% of those managers said they would not grant access).
• Reasons given for denying access include company policy (92%), concerns about safety (54%), concerns about property loss (42%), potential for abuse (4%), and potential for affecting their “high-end clientele” (4%).
• Educating managers about IBD increased their willingness to allow use of bathrooms to non-customers (in restaurants) or the use of employee bathrooms (in retail establishments not offering bathroom access routinely).
• Managers’ age, sex, and type of retail store did not affect attitudes toward emergency access.

Obviously, there are some problems in the way the educational “intervention” was studied. Managers who received information about IBD knew that the researchers were looking for a little compassion for our patients. But the surveys make it clear that it’s hard to live with IBD when you never know when you’ll next need access.

If you’d like to join patients and other IBD advocates who are lobbying state legislatures to pass restroom access laws, download the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation’s advocacy toolkit brochure here.