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Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Handicapped Bathroom Stalls

I got angry today.  I feel bad--sort of. When I am on Syracuse campus all day I lose a lot of time. I lose much time simply waiting. I spend a lot of my waiting time in the building where I teach. The waiting is typically spent outside the bathroom. Every day I work I wait outside the bathroom. I wait because there is only one accessible bathroom I can use in the building. This is not unusual. I routinely wait to use an accessible bathroom or accessible stall. As I have joked before, I think constipated bipedal people are magnetically drawn to the single accessible bathroom I can enter.

What set me off today was a minor misunderstanding with my son. We are sharing my car. I was on time to see him but he was in the wrong location and I lost ten minutes of my time. I arrive on campus annoyed and with much to do. I did not eat breakfast and go directly to a nearby campus cafeteria. Before I order my sandwich I need to go to the bathroom.  I enter the accessible accessible bathroom--three stalls are empty. The only stall I can enter is occupied. The person using the stall is oblivious. I can hear the music ten feet away from his ear buds. This is a lost cause. I take the elevator to the second floor. Three empty stalls. The one I can enter is occupied. Another person listening to very loud music via ear buds. I get in the elevator yet again. Up to the third floor. Another three stalls empty. The stall I can use is occupied. Another case of loud music via ear buds. Up to the fourth floor I go. Three empty stalls. Yet again the only stall I can get into is occupied. I am beginning to think every constipated male on campus all agreed to deficate at the same exact time. However, there is hope on the fourth floor. No ear bud noise in the accessible stall. I wait. I wait some more. I make some not so subtle noise. I cough. I make it pretty obvious I am waiting for the stall. At this point I have had it. Four occupied toilets on four different floors. All stalls occupied by men who seem to have all the time in the world. So, I lose it. I bang on the door like a cop. "How long are you going to be?" Silence ensues and then the reply with a sarcastic tone: "I don't know. I don't time how long I take to shit".  Great a smart ass. "You are in the only accessible stall and I need it now". My tone is not nice. My voice an octave too high. The reply "Well, too bad for you. I think now I will be a while." This is not the expected answer. Indeed, next thing I know I hear ear bud music at the highest volume possible.

I take a deep breathe. I try to be the Zen cripple. This inconsequential disrespect and utter lack of attention to the life of people with a disability plays out in an infinite number of ways. I am a respected scholar yet this does not help me when I want to use the rest room. If I complain I am a crank or an inpatient jerk. The lack of thought is not intended bias. None of the men using the accessible stall planned on inconveniencing me. It just happened. Here is the rub--it happens all the time. The delivery man who parks in handicapped parking. The restaurant with tables so close to each other it is impossible to navigate the dining room. The locked handicapped entrances. The side entrances with a bell and sign "please ring bell for service". The elevators and wheelchair lifts that are either filthy dirty or filled with cleaning supplies. The stadiums with substandard handicapped seating. The multiple gas stations that have a non conforming ramp in the back that is unlit at night. The minor transgressions that when pointed out is met with "Well, no one has ever complained before".

Life with a disability is an exercise in frustration. It takes me longer to do the ordinary. Make my bed, shower, get in and out of the car. etc. My time is routinely sucked out the window. This is my norm. The bipedal hordes that rule the land are oblivious to wheelchair access. This lack of thought, the ignorance and lack of care is unacceptable. I suspect I waited at least 45 minutes today. The wheelchair lift into the building I work in takes one full minute to close. This "safety feature" results in two minutes wasted every day. Ad in waiting for bathrooms, driving around trying to find an accessible place to park, looking for obscure accessible entrances all take up my time. Today I had to deal with a smart ass in an accessible stall that decided to be snarky. Just unacceptable. It is also inconsequential. If this is my main complaint I am way ahead of the game we call life. But am I? Am I really ahead? Am I ever typical? The sad answer is no. There is no place outside of my own home I can let down my guard. I really cannot trust anyone. Today, this made me weary and angry. I doubt I will live to see the day when the norm is to value people with a disability. To have a default nonthinking bipedal person go for the narrow stall and unwittingly leave the accessible stall free.


graham findlay said...

this is precisely why we need universal or inclusive design adopted as a mainstream way of thinking about built environments. I hope your week gets better.
Graham from Cardiff

Kathylapan said...

The bathroom issue has been brought to my attention three times this week. My close friend is a man taking care of his elderly mother. She has dementia. She cannot toilet herself. And despite living in a city of good size, they have yet to need a toilet and find a "family restroom" where he can accompany her. It is getting to the point where he can't take her out, because her Depends can't be depended on that long.

The other instance is with another friend of mine, who is raising a severely disabled son. Same issue. She can't accompany him and yes completely unable to do it alone.

I am not wheelchair bound yet, as you know, but between mobility issues and crutches I do need the handicapped stall. Several times I have found them fifty, or full of cleaning supplies, or with an out of order sign, and no body cares.

This is why we've talked about the cripple commune. The world isn't fair and doesn't care. They want to pretend we don't exist because if we did, they'd have to accept they could easily be like us.

william Peace said...

Graham, I often joke about universal or inclusive design. Lets make the world universally inconvenient for all. The point here is we do a rotten job with regard to creating inclusive design. This is not a physical failure but rather a social failure to value those with different bodies.
Kathy, I was curious how this post would be received given the far more pressing issues such as access to health care, mass transportation, unemployment in staggering numbers, etc. Waiting for bathrooms seems trivial but it can change one's day and where one can travel too. I know when I travel I do what is acknowledged to be unhealthy--I dehydrate myself. I have no other option as accessing a bathroom on a plane is impossible. And yes the so called family restroom in a terminal is hard to find and often a distance from one's gate.

Moose said...

Wow. Those shits were on the toilet, not in them. Then again, if they're that much of a selfish asshole, you can take small comfort in knowing that they treated you like everyone else. I'm sure they're equal opportunity selfish assholes.

Non-disabledly (is that a word? Well, it is now, dammit!), I used to work in a building with a problem of not enough women's bathrooms. There were two men's rooms close to my office, but only one for women. The men's rooms were typical urinals & 2-3 stalls. The women's room was a single room with a door that locked. The women in the area always had to take extra hikes to "regular' women's rooms with stalls because the men were always in the women's room. They'd justify it with "I need my privacy!" One day we caught one coming out of the women's room with a book. He had no shame about it and shrugged it off when we pointed out his selfishness. In retrospect, I should have just started using the men's room until the peer pressure started working. But that's not an option when it comes to disabled bathroom availability.

I'm so sick of the "nobody's ever complained before!" crap. A shop has a single step going up to it, but the shop owner is FURIOUS because s/he's being made to install/obtain a ramp. "Nobody's ever complained before!" Well, Hockey Puck, you sit in this chair or on this scooter. You get yourself into the store. Then ask yourself, "How does a disabled person complain if they can't even get inside?" Do these geniuses think that disabled people are going to call them up and say, "I can't get into your store because of the one step" and not be hung up on?

Lastly, in my monthly rant on your blog :-), I don't fly very much; not at all anymore, in fact. One of the last times I flew I was between two flights, and was in one of the airport's wheelchairs, being pushed by a nice young man. I mentioned that I needed to use a restroom and without even asking me, he took me straight to the "family" restroom and pushed me inside. He got the biggest tip.

h smith said...

Toilet access is just as pressing an issue as health care access etc because toileting is a universal need at the most basic level and its not a minor inconvenience to be denied it its a huge dehumanizing issue. In the UK a court decided it was ok for a disabled woman to go without nighttime care that would allow her to use the toilet because its cheaper to give her nappys to pee and defecate in, despite her body not needing them. I've been told to pee in a jug to save the cost of having assistance to get to my toilet, and many people like you either dehydrate/starve themselves or simply dont go out because of the lack of accessible toilets without ignorant bipeds in them. How on earth do we fight for equality and access when we're not even deemed worthy of toilets???

Before I became a wheelchair user I didnt use accessible toilets because its really obvious that they're for people who dont have the option of using the 'normal' toilets, and I think a lot of people do understand and respect that. But it only takes one jerk to deny us the space we need and it feels like we're going backwards with how society sees us and that 'basic manners' have been replaced by entitled arrogance and rudeness so jerks are multiplying and not being challenged enough by their decent bipedal peers. So we have to keep shouting about toilet access until its no longer necessary.

That or we all start carrying bottles of foul smelling pee to pour over the legs of any ignoramus who wanders out of an accessible toilet that we've been held up from using, and any officialdom bod who thinks cost matters more than dignity and equality. Obviously not a safe protest without a bunch of biker bodyguards in tow, but itd make them think twice about ignoring our needs in future