On Bathrooms

Over the weekend, my sister and I went to a conference held at CMU on intersectionality. It was a day-long thing, so we had to figure out the normal logistics – since our mom was dropping us off and picking us up, we had to figure out the timing of  that, and then we also had to figure out when we’d be able to use the bathroom.

Using the bathroom as a wheelchair user isn’t something that I’ve talked about much, because it’s a private thing, and because I haven’t really felt the need. But something happened on Saturday that I want to talk about.

I can’t use the bathroom independently. So if I’m out in public and need to go to the bathroom, I have to figure out the logistics of when and where I can meet my mom. Because I need help, I prefer to use the single stall/unisex/all gender bathrooms. I don’t have to worry about whether or not the handicapped stall will be taken, and I don’t have to feel awkward and like I have to whisper while I talk to my mom as she’s helping me. It’s just more comfortable overall.

So on Saturday, my mom had stopped by CMU during the conference lunch break so that my sister and I could use the bathroom. My sister and my mom were waiting outside the one single stall bathroom that we could find, waiting for it to be available. As the door opened, another woman rushed past the two of them and ran into the bathroom. When they explained to her that they had been waiting, she just said that she was about to pee her pants and that this was the closest bathroom, and closed the door behind her.

Now – I understand that I don’t know her exact circumstances, so I don’t want to make this post all about her. But it was an incredibly frustrating situation, and I was upset. Because just like I don’t know her situation, she also doesn’t know ours. To her, that bathroom was just the closest and most convenient; to us, it was the only one on that floor of our buildings that met our needs. And while I’m not doubting her need to use the bathroom, she probably didn’t think about the fact that it had been over 4 hours since my sister or I had peed.

I don’t want you to come away from this just thinking about her behavior. That bathroom line cut might have been the most outrageous I’ve ever experienced, but the everyday things get the be almost as annoying. I get it – the single stall bathrooms offer privacy, and everyone prefers that to a bathroom stall lined up next to 5 other people all going at the same time. But a single stall, accessible bathroom is not meant to be used as your personal changing room, or your own private bathroom for when you need some extra time. If you have the option between a single stall restroom and anything else, please leave the single stall option for someone who really needs it (whether they need it because of a physical disability or otherwise). While the added space and privacy in those bathrooms are a luxury for most, they’re an absolute necessity for others.

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