ActivismAdvocacyDisability Rights

A basic human right 

Why is it always about bathrooms? The fact that we all have to empty our bowel and our bladder, and that it’s kind of embarrassing to talk about it, seems to mean that it’s okay to ignore the rights of some people.
Regular readers will know that I have had my own problems with accessing bathrooms. My local MacDonalds doesn’t think it needs to have an accessible washroom. It’s okay to renovate the place every other year, but the money is never found to reconfigure the bathroom. Then there’s the ultrasound clinic, that thinks it’s okay for me to either transfer on to the toilet with the door open for all to see or use the public washroom outside the clinic, even when having a pee is part of the procedure. And of course, flying. Just too complicated to get me to the washroom on any flight I’ve been on – the one time I had to go, the air stewardesses had to stand with their backs to me to make a wall so no-one could see past – because we couldn’t find a way to get me in and shut the door – and that was after a protracted conversation about how to use the onboard aisle chair and forcing them to break rules to take me to the closest washroom (5 rows away) rather than the one at the back of the plane!

And it’s obviously not just me. In Britain there has been an outcry after a Paralympian was forced to wet herself on a train, due to not only the lack of an accessible washroom. The train company’s solution was that she get off at the next station and then catch a later train – but even that was impossible as there was no-one at the next station to help her off the train. You can read the full story here

Today there is a story from Toronto about a woman with spina bifida who was refused the use of a restaurant washroom because it was downstairs, and they might be sued if she fell and hurt herself. Read the full story here and imagine your increasing humiliation if that was you being talked about in front of a restaurant full of people – and all the time you want to pee. 

The part that interests me the most in the story is the comment by Sheila Cavanagh of York University, that access to bathrooms has long been a battle ground for activists. Think of the stories from segregation and ‘Whites Only’ bathrooms. Think now to the transgender bans on bathrooms. As Cavanagh says “washrooms have historically been places where people try to exclude those who do not conform with what prevails as mainstream at the time … disability rights may be the next to be hashed out on this long-standing battle ground.”

I think the time is long over due for disability rights to come to the foreground of this battle. We all have to pee – why is it so damn hard to get access? 

I question the owners of every establishment I see that does not have an accessible washroom. I ask you to do the same.

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Michelle in wheelchair with lightsaber fighting Dart Vader