Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Ally's Law (pt. 3)

How large does the umbrella need to be?

Over the past 3 weeks I've thought (and written) a lot about Ally's Law (a.k.a. the Restroom Access Act) and how such a law might also be of benefit to other "special" groups. I've also learned a few things about those individuals (mostly small business owners) who oppose passage of the law, and that's what I'd like to cover this week.

The group that Ally's Law is designed to serve accounts for a thankfully small percentage of the population. I can't imagine any business owner being asked to comply more than once or twice a month. So, what exactly are the objections to it's passage? For one, business owners worry about insurance concerns related to allowing non-employees to use facilities which may not be up to "public access" or ADA codes. Ally's Law addresses this with a provision that exempts business owners whose facilities are not readily accessible, or if compliance would pose a significant financial burden to make them fully accessible. Another objection has to do with security issues. This too has been addressed. A business may claim itself exempt if there are less than two employees (some versions of the law allow three) available to keep an eye on things (figuratively speaking, one hopes) while the customer uses the restroom. There is also an exemption if the restroom area is used to store inventory. Creepy thought, that.

There are other issues as well, such as what to do with children while mommy or daddy use the restroom (most employee facilities are too small for more than single occupancy, it seems) and of course, the logistics of keeping up with the law, and verifying exactly who qualifies and who does not.

Now, all of these are valid concerns, and I expect they will be addressed as Ally's Law moves forward, and is revised over time. I for one do not believe in a perfect law, and I admit that this one in particular is going to need a bit of fixing up before it's ready for prime time. That said, I'd rather have to fix a broken law than wait for a "perfect" version, so I'm still firmly behind (no pun intended) Ally's Law.

So who currently benefits from Ally's Law? In the eight or so states which have already passed it, it covers two general classes of individual. Persons with a form of IBD, and pregnant women. Both require written proof of their eligibility under the law, and must provide that proof upon request before gaining admittance to an "employee-only" restroom (assuming public facilities are not available -- another exemption.)

Now, I think Ally's Law is necessary, and I think we need to pass it nationwide as soon as possible, but I'm also left pondering those persons excluded by the Restroom Access Act. Individuals with certain disabilities would certainly qualify as "needful" in the "gotta go now" category, would they not? How do we exclude the blind, the wheelchair bound, and those with other physical limitations that make rapid navigation to a (hopefully) nearby public restroom infeasible? Ultimately, we won't be able to, and perhaps this is the real fear lurking behind the resistance to Ally's Law. If the Ally's Law "placards" end up being anything like the disabled parking placard program has become, we're all in trouble. I hope we've learned from that past mistake.

Side Note: While we wait (somewhat impatiently) for Ally's Law to wind its way through the system, the topic of where to find a "clean" public restroom still looms large on the horizon for all of us. This is especially true of travelers, who each summer around this time begin planning trips across country, where restroom location, and suitability, are always in question.

Enter a project sponsored by Charmin, called SitOrSquat.com. It's an ever-growing online database, powered by Google map technology, that allows you to locate restroom facilities near to your current location, and rate them on their cleanliness as well as read the ratings of others. The project is still new, but growing, and I expect it will do well, given the obvious need for this type of information. Support it if you can. I know I will.


  1. I didn't even know this law was winding its way through Congress.

    It is very hard to legislate this kind of thing, and yes, I like you, would rather have a law in place, see how it works and tweak it as needed. But, I do worry about other groups of people who need to use restrooms in a hurry. Someone with invisible disabilities may be dealing with an incontinence problem (in fact, incontinence is an invisible disability). What do we do then?

    I think I need to read up on this. Thanks, Lawrence, for bringing this up!

  2. Judi,

    The use of the word "Congress" was an error on my part; it's not made that much progress... yet. I've corrected the post in order to remove the confusion. Sorry 'bout that. :)

    Your mention of "invisible" disabilities is why I think Ally's Law is a good start, but a good start only. Clearly it will have to be expanded at some point to include other disabilities, such as the one you mention.

    Thanks, by the way, for being such a loyal follower. Luv ya! :)