How the Restroom Access Act Helps Those With IBD

People with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) often find that they need to use the restroom in a hurry. The Crohn's and Colitis Foundation and other advocacy groups and pharmaceutical companies have even developed cards that people with IBD can show when they need to use a toilet in a hurry. Often these are called "I Can't Wait" cards or "Bathroom Access Law" cards.

Even so, in places without accessible public restrooms, people with IBD may be out of luck, and may be refused restroom access. It's a common problem, and it doesn't only affect people with IBD. Going to the bathroom is a basic human need—every person on the planet needs to do it at some point during the day. Small children, pregnant women, and people with other digestive conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or disabilities may also need a restroom when they're out running errands, shopping, or taking in entertainment.

What can people who have a clear need do if they are refused access to a restroom?

North Carolina Clashes With U.S. Over New Public Restroom Law
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The Woman Behind the Restroom Access Act

The Restroom Access Act is a law passed in several states that requires retail establishments that do not have public restrooms to provide access to employee-only restrooms to their patrons in need. After all, the employees need to go to the bathroom somewhere also, right? It's not that the restroom needs to be made available to everyone, but it does need to be made available when the need is urgent.

The Act is also known as "Ally's Law" after Allyson Bain. Ally, who has Crohn's disease, was denied access to an employee-only restroom while out shopping with her mother when she was 14 years old. She was clearly in need, doubled over and in pain, and yet the management of the store she was in refused to let her access their restroom. Ally experienced what many with IBD have in the past—an accident in a public place. Determined not to stand by and let this happen to other people, she took action.

States That Have the Restroom Access Act

Ally's Law began in Ally's home state of Illinois. Ally took the first step of contacting her government representative, Illinois State Representative, Kathleen Ryg, and got the ball rolling. Many years later, The Restroom Access Act has been passed in several states: Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, Kentucky, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Tennessee, Texas, Wisconsin, and Washington. The act has been passed in these states largely as a result of grassroots efforts on the part of people with IBD and their supporters. It requires a lot of legwork and persistence on the part of individuals in those states to get the law passed. There is a vision for a federal version of the act, and several other states have similar Restroom Access Act laws currently in the works.

In some states, the Restroom Access Act has been opposed vigorously by business owners. There is a concern that the Act could be abused, that cleaning the facilities will be a burden to employees, or that there could be issues of liability. These concerns are largely without merit: there have been no issues reported by business owners in any of the states where the Restroom Access Act has become law. There have, however, been cases where individuals were denied a restroom and have taken the business to court over it. In reality, use of the law seems to be rare, and anyone who invokes it would likely be in significant distress.

What to Do If Denied Restroom Access

If you live in a state with the Restroom Access Act and you have a condition that is covered by that law (the law varies on covered conditions from state to state), you have a right to a restroom facility in an emergency. If you are being denied, contact your local law enforcement agency, who may be empowered to issue a citation. If local law enforcement does not enforce the law, contact your mayor, your county executive, your local state house or senate representative, or your other local elected officials. You may also consider contacting local news agencies to bring attention to the law when it is is not being followed or enforced.

3 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Crohn's and Colitis Foundation. Restroom Access.

  2. American Restroom Association. Ally's Law.

  3. Onecle Law. Illinois Compiled Statutes 410 ILCS 39 Restroom Access Act. Section 10.

By Amber J. Tresca
Amber J. Tresca is a freelance writer and speaker who covers digestive conditions, including IBD. She was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis at age 16.