Accessible restroom stories: the one about handrails

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Black and White graphic with bathroom symbols for male, female and wheelchair user. Image for a short story about another an accessible toilet that wasn't.

Just because the public accessible restroom stall has handrails doesn't make it an accessible restroom.” | Photo Credit ©Pavel / Adobe Stock

Accessible restroom stories: the one about handrails

Why an accessible restroom with handrails doesn’t mean it is accessible

Recently I had training for work, which was off-site, halfway across town, at a building I had never visited before. The good news for me, a person living with incomplete paraplegia and chronic illness, was that the building had accessible parking and large elevators. The bad news was the public restroom was horrible.

Seriously horrible. The way I had to forcibly bend my body to go use the facilities could easily be considered some sort of new-wave yoga.

Many able-bodied people would consider the public restroom to be accessible. The stall was slightly bigger than the other two stalls, and it had handrails on both walls. However, to get to the stall, you had to go through two doors then, which I did, and that’s where I became … stuck.

My chair could barely fit to where I could close the door. Those of us who need to change clothing need the room to do so! Especially when our bodies may not be as flexible as Elastigirl.

We, society, need to start asking what disabled individuals need and stop assuming. That restroom stall is not the first I have come across that didn’t adequately meet some basic needs, and it won’t be the last.

I’ve encountered building ramps that are way too steep in places that boastfully say they are accessible. When I finally did manage to reach the building entrance, they have small doorways that can’t fit even a smaller-than-average wheelchair.

The people who do not need these accommodations walk in and say, “Yep! It has rails and a ramp.” While the people using these accommodations say, “um, the stall won’t close with my chair in it, the ramp made me tip backward, and I can’t get through your door!”

There’s a straightforward way to avoid these problems: consult those you are trying to accommodate! For years I worked with disabled individuals, and I am embarrassed to say that I thought I knew what accessibility meant. When I got sick, I quickly learned that I. Didn’t. Know. Shit.

You don’t know what someone needs until you walk (or roll) in their shoes (or wheels). If you have a product or any construction that needs to comply with inclusion and accessibility laws, it won’t take much to just reach out and listen to what we actually need. But don't just take our word, do your own research and learn more about what an accessible restroom actually consists of.

"A public accessible restroom with handrails doesn’t mean that the restroom is accessible for all."

What is an accessible restroom?

Understanding accessible restrooms: ensuring inclusivity and compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act

An essential aspect of creating an inclusive society is providing equal access to public facilities for individuals with disabilities. Accessible restrooms play a crucial role in ensuring that everyone, regardless of their mobility or specific needs, can use public restrooms independently and with dignity. In the United States, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) sets standards for accessibility in various aspects, including restroom facilities. In this article, we will explore what constitutes an accessible restroom and the key features mandated by the ADA.

Definition and purpose of an accessible restroom

An accessible restroom, also known as an ADA-compliant restroom, is a designated facility that caters to the needs of individuals with disabilities. Its primary purpose is to enable people with mobility impairments, sensory limitations, or other disabilities to use the restroom independently, safely, and with convenience. By providing accessible restrooms, public spaces promote inclusivity, empower individuals with disabilities, and ensure compliance with the ADA.

Key features of an accessible restroom

1. Entrance and layout

An accessible restroom should have an entrance that is wide enough to accommodate a wheelchair or mobility device. The doorway should be at least 32 inches wide, allowing easy passage for individuals with mobility impairments. Inside, the layout should provide sufficient space for maneuvering a wheelchair comfortably.

2. Grab bars

Grab bars are essential safety features in an accessible restroom. They should be installed near the toilet and along the walls to assist individuals with mobility challenges in transferring to and from the toilet or wheelchair. The ADA specifies the appropriate height and placement of grab bars to ensure maximum support and stability.

3. Toilet

The toilet in an accessible restroom should meet specific criteria. It should be of an appropriate height (17-19 inches) to facilitate transfers for individuals with mobility limitations. Additionally, the ADA mandates sufficient clear floor space on both sides of the toilet to accommodate wheelchair users.

4. Sinks and faucets

Accessible sinks should have a clear space underneath, allowing a person in a wheelchair to roll up close. The faucet handles should be easy to operate, requiring minimal manual dexterity, and preferably lever-operated or touchless to accommodate individuals with limited hand function.

5. Restroom signage and accessibility markers

Proper signage indicating the presence of accessible restrooms is crucial. The ADA specifies the use of the International Symbol of Accessibility (ISA) to mark these facilities. Signage should be positioned at a height and location easily visible to all individuals, including those with visual impairments.

Creating accessible restrooms is not just a legal obligation under the ADA, but a fundamental step toward promoting equality and inclusivity. These restrooms enable individuals with disabilities to enjoy a level of independence and privacy that many of us take for granted. By incorporating the key features mentioned above, public spaces can ensure compliance with the ADA and contribute to a more accessible and inclusive society for all.

Article by
Jordyn Gualdani

Jordyn Gualdani is a young man who strives to bring awareness to, and educate others about, various chronic conditions. He faces his obstacles with humor and blatant honesty.