On Finding a Public Restroom

A few weeks ago, my boyfriend and I took a road trip to Washington, DC. We were there for an advocacy conference and were away from the hotel room most of the time, so I had the fun experience of trying to find a public restroom I could use. It did not go well.

For those of you who are uninitiated, finding a public restroom that you can realistically use with a wheelchair and an assistant is ridiculously difficult. I – along with many of my friends with disabilities – simply choose to avoid the situation altogether. This means I reduce my water intake, I take strategically-timed trips home (or to an established actually-accessible restroom), and I learn to hold it if I need to.

Anytime I tell this to anyone, the first question they ask is usually something along the lines of ‟What if you can’t hold it?” as stated in the wonderful blog post called ‟Pee Math” by Matt Watson, you just do it. It’s very unpleasant and pretty bad for your health, but when the alternative is going in your pants and then sitting in your own pee – or worse – for possibly hours out in public, it’s just something you figure out how to do. And yes, it sometimes can take an insane amount of self discipline. Not unlike the amount of self discipline it takes to not freak out when you watch a mosquito bite you and can’t do anything about it. But I digress…

This is why I get frustrated when people talk about bathroom rights in regards to people who are transgender, while consistently ignoring the fact that people with disabilities are often similarly unable to use facilities meant for the general public, such as bathrooms or dressing rooms, despite the fact that the Americans with Disabilities Act (or ADA) was passed nearly 27 years ago. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that people who are transgender should just hold it like we have to (although I’d be lying if I said I had never thought about that as a response), but I would like it if we could be part of that conversation. Because you can’t really say that using public restrooms is a fundamental right for people when they are transgender, but not when they are disabled.

It would be really nice to just enter into a public building that I have never been to and be able to get my bodily needs met. Maybe someday that will happen. Unfortunately for now, a lot of us have to deal with the embarrassment of having to leave and go home every time we need to go to the bathroom.

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