How often have you or someone you cared about struggled to use a bathroom due its small size, heavy door, or lack of accessible features? Maybe it is because you were trying to use the bathroom and you had a young one in your arms (or the stroller wouldn’t fit in the stall). Maybe you broke a foot and were on crutches. Maybe you use a walker or wheelchair to use the bathroom. Maybe you have an aging parent or partner who is less steady on their feet than they used to be. Or maybe for a variety of reasons you have a catheter or diapers.
We as a society don’t like to talk about toileting. It makes us uncomfortable. Some people think it is a private matter. Some think it’s disgusting. Some don’t like to think about the fact that one day their bodies too might not do the things they want them to do.
As Bennett got older, toileting issues became a challenge. He no longer fit on the baby changing stations—they were built for babies, not children (or adults). He wasn’t strong enough to sit up on a toilet—although thanks to Spinraza, we were beginning to explore that possibility. And whether we were in a changing room for the pool or a reststop restroom, we often had difficulty finding safe and clean spaces to care for his toileting needs. Sometimes the cleanest space was on the floor with changing supplies we had brought along to keep him comfortable and safe. As I looked to his future, I began to be concerned for his privacy. We needed to create spaces where his dignity could be maintained, where he would not be forced to enter a women’s restroom when there were only female adults there to support him.
I begin reaching out to the places where we regularly had toileting needs: at school, at the pool, my work, and at our church. I have written before about the ways in which the church adapted spaces and programs to include Bennett. One such project was to create a family style bathroom—not just for Bennett, but for others in our congregation with toileting challenges in our current spaces. If we were going to meet the needs of as many as possible, we needed to design it for a range of circumstances and conditions. There are some things that can easily be changed and adapted and other things take a bit more planning and time. The church’s accessible bathroom is one of those things, and it is now complete. I am most excited about the adult changing table, which will help older children or adults who may need a place to sit or lie down.
Lack of safe, accessible bathroom spaces can prevent individuals who need a bit more space or assistance from staying as long as they’d like or even visiting at all. Although there are some accommodations mandated by the Americans With Disabilities Act, in reality they do not do enough for many of our community members. We at Bennett’s Village know this, and will design our bathrooms with that in mind.
Look around at some of your favorite places to go? How inclusive are the restrooms? Are there people who might not go to those places because the bathrooms are not designed to support their needs? What can you do about making our community a more inclusive, safe place for all to be?