Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Handicap-accessible bathroom stalls

So my twittering/Facebooking about my annoyance with an OBVIOUSLY able-bodied tween using the only handicap-accessible bathroom stall out of 7 stalls (5 of which were empty) at Cedar Point has a fellow UU accusing me of being closed-minded because maybe the young lady (who, I must first inform you, SKIPPED out of the stall past me without so much as an "oops, sorry!" as she headed back out toward the middle of CEDAR POINT - where a disabled person would have needed some assistance - cane, wheelchair, scooter, something - to get to from either entrance) had an "invisible disability" that lead to her needing the hand rails, thus excusing her making an actually, obviously disabled person wait to use the ONE toilet that was safely usable. The fact that the person having this discussion with me is able-bodied enough to vend at various events and is calling me out on behalf of her "disabled friends" and because she took some "Right Relations" seminars at our denomination's annual conference is irritating me a bit (I've been in chronic, daily pain since I was 10 years old - 2/3rds of my life - and have actually done advocacy work with various disabled populations since I was a child, up to and including this week when I've been interfacing with my local school district on behalf of another disabled mother and her child, who lived with us for a week earlier this month).

So, I've decided that I will make a little list of who it doesn't irritate me, personally, as a disabled person, to see coming out of a handicap-accessible stall when I've had to wait with my legs crossed to keep from making a mess on the floor when there are other stalls available for people who don't need the rails.

  • Other disabled people who use some kind of assistance to move (cane, wheelchair, etc)
  • People with small child(ren) in the stall with them (I totally understand not wanting/being able to squeeze into the regular stalls)
  • People changing a baby's diaper (tho it annoys me greatly when the establishment puts the diaper changing station inside the accesible stall, it's obvious that sometimes they don't have any other place to put it safely because of traffic flow)
  • People who are in pain (as someone who regularly tries to hide the amount of physical pain I'm in, I can tell when someone has a sore back and needs to use the rails even if they're only temporarily disabled and don't need a walking assistance tool)
  • Pregnant women (the body dynamics of pregnancy make it hard for many women to stand up without something to leaver on)
  • Obese people who can't get the door of a regular inward-opening stall closed around themselves
  • Able-bodied people who take the accessible stall because all the regular stalls are already in use

Those are the ones that come immediately to my mind, there are probably others. Now for the list of people who get the hairy stink eye when I see them coming out of a handicap-accessible stall:

  • unattended kids who skip/run out of the stall without so much as an "oops, I probably shouldn't have used that one" when they see a disabled person waiting
  • teenage girls in groups who go into the handicap-accessible stall for more than just a pee
  • mothers who let themselves be bullied by society into breastfeeding in the stall (I swear I'm filing an ADA complaint against a store if I ever get delayed using the toilet because of this - just hasn't happened yet tho I hear from plenty of women who are told that's where they should nurse their baby if the need arises in a public place, and I did have my local YMCA tell me last winter that I should have gone to the family changing room/bathroom to feed D after someone complained about me nursing him in the WOMEN'S locker room)
  • women in heels so high there's no way they'd be able to walk if they actually had knee/hip problems

Those are pretty much the only ones that I actually give stinky-eye to (well, I wouldn't give stink-eye to the nursing mom, I'd give her some contacts for learning her and her baby's rights and offer to help her become more comfortable nursing in public - tip #1 try nursing in front of a mirror to see how little is actually visible, even without a blanket/cape/whatever.). Having been "invisibly disabled" for over a decade before I started needing a cane (and still getting comments from people occasionally when I park in a handicap-accessible parking space because apparently even when I'm dressed in a grubby t-shirt and sweatpants, the cane looks like a fashion accessory) I'm actually pretty likely to assume that the other person has an actual need for the stall's handrails or width. However, there have been several times (including last week at MSASS orientation) where the person coming out of the accessible stall to see me waiting there has actually apologized for their thoughtlessness in using that stall when regular ones were available. Some people really do just use them because they have a preference for them, not a need for them, tho I don't really get that (maybe it's the shiney of the metal hand rails?), without even thinking for a second that other people have a greater need for that stall than they do (at least, until visibly confronted with the evidence of their thoughtlessness). Thoughtlessness and lack of courtesy is pretty epidemic in our society at times, and this isn't exactly an issue people talk about, even when they're discussing manners and courtesy. This is also evidenced by how many times I've been (or seen some else obviously disabled - cane, walker, wheelchair, etc) in a women's restroom line and how rarely the person(s) in front of the disabled person will let the disabled person "skip" in line if the handicap-accessible stall comes available. At least 80% of the time (yes, this is something I'd actually like to quanifiably research), the safe-to-assume-able-bodied person walks right into the handicap-accessible stall and the handicapped person has to let people skip in front of THEM as the regular stalls come available while they wait for the able-bodied person to be done in the ONE stall the handicapped person can use. This isn't because there are so many "invisible disabilities" out there, the numbers just don't work out for how often this kind of thing happens. This is a factor of the me-first, oblivious to the actual needs of strangers around us, mentality of our culture (which, in addition to various other places, I've also encountered as a breastfeeding advocate - the "wants" of non-breastfeeders to not have to see "that" in public are assumed to be more important than the NEED of a baby to eat when it's hungry. The emotional discomfort/squeemishness of an adult who could walk away or look somewhere else are often given higher priority than the physical discomfort and basic need of a baby unable to help themselves). Personally, I refuse to excuse and enable thoughtlessness and discourtesy in our society by not offering any rebuke when someone crosses the line like this. And give me a break, it's just the freakin' stink eye! I don't even say anything to the "offending" party, and for all I know they're mildly Autistic and don't recognize the facial expression anyway (to be clear: mild autism is not generally a disability that requires the accessible stall - I know enough people with mild autism to know that as many cases as otherwise able people, they can use a stall without the rails... moderate/severe autism is of course another story). I'm not verbally confronting people as they come out of toilet stalls, I do have better things to do with my time (usually, at that moment, it's taking a pee).

What I'd really love to see is a world where ALL public restroom stalls have hand rails for people who need them. A lot of people who need the accessible stall would be able to use the other stalls with just that one little addition, the extra space isn't actually needed in many cases. My church has gone partway there - there are two stalls with rails in the women's bathroom, one that is large enough to easily maneuver a wheelchair/scooter and one that's standard stall size, and the changing table is not in a stall, plus there are two other family restrooms. Not sure how the accessibility is in the men's room but I know they've got a diaper changing station in there and I'm pretty sure it's not in a stall either.

Until then, it'd be nice if people would reserve the accessible stalls for people (such as those in my first list above) who actually need them.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Sweat (Original poem)

Pouring panting plaything of the gods

Body tossed with time and tension swollen with life

Melting point breaking point weighing the odds

To stay or go, beads break through & leak my internal strife

Time to fill know the drill

different every time

Head back one more lap

before holding what is mine

Now the real work begins