How People With IBD Can Find a Toilet Anywhere

Several Toilets

An Illinois teen with Crohn's disease was denied access to a restroom while shopping in an Old Navy store. Her mother explained to store management that it was an emergency and even showed them her Crohn's and Colitis Foundation of America "I Can't Wait" card. Still, she was told that the store did not provide public toilets. Unfortunately, what came next was what every person with a bowel disorder fears—an accident right in the middle of the store.

That teen was inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) advocate Ally Bain, and what happened next has changed the lives of many people with digestive disease and chronic conditions.

Ally Gets Down to Work

The incident prompted Ally and her mother to meet with their state representative and draft a law requiring businesses to make employee-only facilities available to people with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and other conditions, including pregnancy and incontinence. The Restroom Access Act ("Ally's Law") went into effect in Illinois in September 2005. This law has also passed in Colorado, Connecticut, Kentucky, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, Oregon, Tennessee, Texas, Wisconsin, and Washington.

Finding public restrooms is a serious problem for the disabled, as well as people with bowel or urinary conditions. For many of us, a big challenge in an emergency is overcoming our reluctance to admit the urgent need for a restroom to a stranger. But people are understanding in many cases, especially if you are courteous and grateful.

How can you find a bathroom when there isn't a public facility?

Tips and Tricks for Toilet Emergencies

  1. Just ask. Ally and her mother did the right thing. They asked management for permission. In many cases, the store or restaurant management will allow you to use an employee or "customers only" restroom. They might deny access at first, but an explanation of the urgency, along with a "thank you," will most likely be all that's necessary to get you in the door.
  2. Don't bypass the business with a "customers only" sign. In the author's experience, this is to prevent a parade of people from using the facilities all day, which employees then have to take time away from customers to clean. It is also a big warning that the area does not have any public facilities. If an employee does want to deny you access, explain the urgency of the situation and offer to buy something such as a drink or dessert "to go."
  3. Negotiate your way to the front of the line. A long line for the restroom most often forms in the ladies' room, but it does occasionally happen to men, too. If you absolutely can't wait in that line, you'll need to gather up your courage and politely ask the people in the line if you can jump ahead. Most people will understand—the average healthy adult has diarrhea several times a year.

Preventing Emergencies

It may not always be possible to avoid the occasional emergency situation, but you can prevent most of them with careful planning or at least have needed supplies at the ready to help avoid a spoiled day.

  1. Learn where the restrooms are located. If you're in a large area, such as a mall or theme park, get a directory as soon as you get there. In a department store or supermarket, ask the first employee you see where the restrooms are located. While shopping in downtown or outdoor areas, ask a local resident or an employee if there is a nearby public facility, restaurant, or hotel with public restrooms.
  2. Keep your own "emergency" kit. Carry extra tissues or wet wipes and a change of underwear or clothing. Many public facilities won't have an adequate stock of toilet tissue, and the wipes come in handy if there is no soap to wash your hands. An extra change of clothes gives you something to change into if your garments get soiled.
  3. Choose your outings wisely. If you're not feeling well, a prolonged trip in an area with no public restrooms may not be the best idea. There are many malls, shopping areas, and theme parks that do provide facilities, and those may be the best choices during a flare-up.
  4. Bring a buddy. A friend or family member can help you scout for the nearest restroom, get your emergency kit from the car, and explain the situation if you need help.
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