Why restroom labels impact people with disabilities.

We met Darby Morris at this year’s Chicago Disability Pride Parade and really enjoyed hearing her story, so we’ve invited her to do a special guest post for the JJ’s List Blog. Enjoy!

Changing the label on two single-stall restrooms helps buy users more time, which could be a great help for some people with disabilities. Image by samirluther

One stall restrooms can be big road blocks to a variety of individuals, primarily for the reason that people have been taught to see themselves as one half of a gender binary.  The last time I, a cis (not transgender) female, went into an exclusively men’s multi-stall restroom was when I was a small child, during times when the only person around to take care of me was my father. One stall restrooms are different and I often choose to frequent the men’s restroom if it’s a one stall.  What’s the point in standing in a long line outside the designated women’s restroom when the men’s restroom is no different and is designed for only one individual at a time?  Why not just use the men’s single stall restroom?  Here I must pause, for this is a blog for JJ’s List, a website designed primarily for individuals with disabilities.  What, you may ask yourself, does this possibly have to do with having a disability?

Prior to this past June I thought there were no connections at all.  That is, until I visited a restaurant called Tasty Dog in Oak Park, Illinois with my family.  As the daughter of a wheelchair-bound mother with Multiple Sclerosis, I immediately recognized the wheelchair accessible entrance and found a table where my mother could join the friends that my parents were in town visiting.  Thinking wheelchair accessibility to no longer be a problem for the venue, I relaxed and went about the daily routine of eating a meal with my mother.  We went up to the counter to order something to eat, sat down and had a great conversation with our friends.  We ended up chatting so long that my mother eventually had to use the restroom, again not surprising.  I walked to the one stall bathroom to open the door for my mother and see if she needed my help.  She did not, so I left her to use the restroom in privacy and return to join our friends at the table.  Soon there was a female standing outside the door waiting for my mother to finish using the restroom.  Seeing the woman, my father suggested that I let her know that it might be better for her to use the men’s, so I went over and told the woman.  She was very kind, thanked me for the information, and used the men’s room.

This happened several times until I met with a disgruntled woman who refused to use the men’s and insisted on waiting for the women’s room.  Despite my warning and explanation to the woman, she became upset with me and went to the restaurant employees to complain about my mother.Soon the employee came out to investigate the matter herself, I again explained that my mother was handicapped and often needed a longer period of time to use the restroom.  Fortunately, the employee was very understanding and explained to the customer that she would have to wait.  Of all the years my mother has been handicapped I have never experienced such animosity over a simple matter.  What would have happened had the employee not been understanding?  I do not even want to think about the embarrassment this may have caused my mother.
It is these experiences, and my own personal adult experiences in both men’s and women’s one stall restrooms, that lead me to implore owners to reconsider labeling one stall restrooms with gender binary signs.  If one is in need of a sign at all for these rooms please consider the family signs, or signs for both men and women that one can often get from the same locations.
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