Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Ally's Law (pt. 2)

More on the Restroom Access Act.

Last week I shared the story of teenager Ally Bain who (along with her mother and Illinois state Rep. Kathleen Ryg) worked to pass a law that provides access to normally restricted restrooms for those with certain medical conditions such as IBD, Crohns and Colitis. This law, now known as Ally's Law, has gone on to be passed in several other states, and is being considered by the state legislators of at least 8 others. A national law is a distinct possibility.

Ohio is one of the states currently considering this legislation, and as a disabled person with Colitis I look forward to its passage with an even greater degree of anticipation than most. If there is anything more distressing than having a form of IBD (Irritable Bowel Disease) it would have to be having IBD along with a disability which impairs your mobility.

For those who are unaware, IBD (along with Colitis and Crohns) causes a sudden and uncontrollable need to use the restroom, often with unpleasant results if such access is unavailable. It affects your life in a very insidious way, often forcing you to plan your daily activities based almost entirely on the location and availability of public restrooms. Since developing Colitis over 20 years ago, I have not been to a single sporting/stadium event. Outdoor events like our annual "Rib-Off" are also problematic. Independence Day firework displays? Forget it.

This is what makes Ally's Law so important. I have been where Ally was, and it's no picnic. On more than one occasion I have been denied access to a readily available restroom because "it's for employees only" or "our insurance forbids it." I have had to abandon a cart filled with merchandise in the store while I rushed out in search of a nearby restaurant, just to use their public restroom. Rarely did I feel like returning for my abandoned items. I wonder if anyone has ever calculated the loss to a business due to refusal to allow bathroom access? I'm betting the cost is higher than one might suspect.

So we need Ally's Law, and we need it on a national level. I plan to get involved with this issue... starting right here in Ohio... and then I'm moving on from there. I hope I can count on your support when this comes up for a vote where you live.

Next week: Ally's Law part three, where I discuss other disabilities, and how they too deserve inclusion under the protective umbrella of the Restroom Access Act. Until then, please feel free to share my blog with others. It's just one man's opinion, but it's where I sit. :)

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Ally's Law

(a.k.a. The Restroom Access Act)

On March 31st of this year, Michigan became the fourth state (after Illinois, Minnesota and Texas) to pass the Restroom Access Act -- sometimes also known as "Ally's Law" -- named after Ally Bain, who helped bring Crohns, Colitis and IBD into the national spotlight by sharing her story.

The following excerpt is reposted from CrohnsAndMe.com.

Ally Bain, a Crohn’s patient and teenager, experienced something that changed her life. While at a national retail clothing chain store with her mother, she suddenly had to use the restroom. They quickly ran to a manager to ask to use the employees-only restroom. But Ally was denied access and had an accident in the store. As she and her mother drove away, they vowed to never let that happen to anyone again.

With her family, friends, and State Rep. Kathleen Ryg, Ally worked to get a new law passed in Illinois. The law requires businesses to make employee-only restrooms available to people with inflammatory bowel disease and other medical conditions such as pregnancy and incontinence. The law states:

A retail establishment that has a toilet facility for its employees shall allow a customer to use that facility during normal business hours if the toilet facility is reasonably safe and all of the following conditions are met:

  1. The customer requesting the use of the employee toilet facility suffers from an eligible medical condition or utilizes an ostomy device.
  2. Three or more employees of the retail establishment are working at the time the customer requests use of the employee toilet facility.
  3. The retail establishment does not normally make a restroom available to the public.
  4. The employee toilet facility is not located in an area where providing access would create an obvious health or safety risk to the customer or an obvious security risk to the retail establishment.
  5. A public restroom is not immediately accessible to the customer.
Currently there are eight more states (that I'm aware of) which are working to pass this bill into law. Those states are, in no particular order, Delaware, Florida, Kentucky, Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Ohio.

If you live in one of these states, please write to your representatives and show your support for this important legislation. For an easy online form to help you help us (I've suffered with Colitis for over 20 years, so trust me, we do need this) please visit the following page. Don't live in a state with pending legislation? You can also help by writing to your representatives and suggesting that they sponsor the bill, or just become an advocate by going here. Thank you.

This law is a great first step, but like all first steps, there's always more that needs to be done. Bathroom access is an issue important to anyone with a disability, not just someone with a form of IBD. Once in place nation wide, I feel that Ally's Law needs to be extended to cover other disabilities... but more on that next week. Until then, please let's keep using our voices to create positive change. We can do it. If we won't, who will?

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Driving and the A.D.A.

Two things you perhaps didn't know.

The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (and updated in 2008 to give broader coverage) has many provisions within it to help "level the playing field" for those with a recognized disability. It's a massive piece of legislation, and is well worth the time it takes to read it. You can find a link to the A.D.A. official website on this page, which has links to a huge body of informational resources.

Today I'd like to highlight two provisions of the A.D.A. which should be of special interest to anyone with a disability who also drives. I used to drive (but do so no longer by personal preference) and can remember the days before 1990 when the laws recognized no difference between myself and an able-bodied driver. Mostly this was not a problem, but there were times when the two A.D.A. provisions listed below would have saved me a bit of grief. So what are these special provisions?

Gas Stations. Once upon a time, gas stations were all "full service." For the benefit of you readers who are too young to remember, this meant that when you pulled into a gas station, a smiling (usually) young man would dart toward your car, rain or shine, and dutifully pump your gas, clean your mirrors and windshield, and would even check your fluid levels and tire pressure if you asked. When all that was done, he'd take your money, and even make change if required. Tipping was permitted, if you were so inclined, but all of this exceptional service ultimately cost no more than the price of the gas you had purchased. The best part? You never had to leave your car.

Ah, those were the days.

Then came the concept of dividing the station into "self service" and "full service" sections. As before, if you pulled into a full service lane, a young man (perhaps not smiling as much) would still dart toward your car, and pump your gas, but this came at a slightly higher price at the pump. Those who opted to "self serve" did exactly that. They pumped their own gas, and saved a bit at the pump for doing the work themselves.

This, however, put the disabled driver at an unfair disadvantage, many would say. Disabled drivers who were unable to easily exit their vehicles were forced to use the full service lanes, and thus pay the higher prices. One of the provisions contained within the A.D.A. corrected this inequity by requiring gas station attendants to pump gas for disabled drivers at the self service pumps, and they were not allowed to charge full service prices for doing so.


Of course, now nearly all gas stations (especially in metro areas) are self service, and this poses special problems for those drivers who are unable to pump their own gas. All is not lost, however. The A.D.A. provides for this by requiring attendants at such stations to come to your car if summoned (either by honking your horn, pushing a special "call button" on the pump, or by other means) and pumping gas for you without charging more than the regular price for such service. Additional services are extra, though, so you'll have to find a car wash if dead bugs have obscured your windshield.

Parking. Now here's one that too many disabled drivers don't know about, but should. The law states that a qualified person displaying a disabled placard or license plate on their vehicle can park in a metered spot and is exempt from paying the meter fee. This person is also exempt from any time limitations imposed (i.e. a 1 hour limit.) This person, however, cannot park in the space during a time when parking is prohibited (i.e. No Parking from 5-7 PM), and if the vehicle is a traffic hazard, the vehicle must be moved at the direction of a law enforcement officer to a location designated by the officer. Still, this is a pretty nifty accommodation.

Now, there are those who feel that these are not exactly fair accommodations. To them, I would just say that both exist for valid reasons. Some wheelchair bound persons can't reach a meter to "feed" them quarters, and the extended time allowances compensate for the longer transit times often required by the disabled... but I digress.

I hope you found today's posting useful, or at least informative. There's a lot more to explore when it comes to the A.D.A. and I plan to cover that in future postings to this blog. Meanwhile, follow the link to the A.D.A. site and see all that there is to see. Information gives you power. Use it.

P.S. Do you have questions about disability issues, laws or devices to aid the handicapped? If so, I invite you to email me at BuckeyeBarrierBuster@Buckeye-Express.com. I'll collect your questions and devote a future blog post to answering them. So until next time, keep rolling!

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Who You Gonna Call?

... when you don't know who to call.

Imagine this: Last night you discovered a baggie full of something you're pretty sure is an illegal drug in your son's room. After a confrontation and ugly argument, he finally admits he has a problem. You decide on a Rehabilitation Program, but which ones are available in your area? What about support options afterwards?

Never happen to you? Okay.

Imagine this: Your aging mother, who lives alone in another state, suffers a mild stroke. After she is released from the hospital, she wants to return to her own home to live, but that just isn't practical since she shouldn't be left alone any longer. Sadly, you also don't have room for her in your own home. Nursing homes are a last option, in your opinion. Perhaps there's a way she can remain in her existing home, with help... but who do you call for information?

Never happen to you? Okay.

Imagine this: Since you reached retirement age, you find yourself bored to tears. You still have a lot of heart and energy to give, and you consider volunteering with a local charitable organization... but which one? There are so many! Is there anyone you can call to help you narrow down the possibilities?

Right now, the answer to these questions is both "yes" and "no" -- depending on where you live.

The United Way of America, in conjunction with the Alliance for Information and Referral Systems (AIRS) has teamed up to begin implementing a new system for community information sharing called the 2-1-1 System. Like the name suggests, areas covered by this system (see the 2-1-1 website for current coverage areas) will have centralized calling centers which can be reached 24-hours a day simply by dialing "2-1-1" on any telephone. Your call will be answered by a trained volunteer who has a comprehensive database at their disposal, listing organizations and resources available in your area that can render assistance with your particular problem. Looking for training, affordable housing options, food banks, support groups or an opportunity to volunteer? You can be connected to all of this, and more, with one simple (and easy to remember) phone number.

As of this posting, Erie, Lucas, Ottawa and Wood counties in Ohio are covered, with more being added as time and resources permit. You can help get the 2-1-1 system going in your county by contacting your state representative or congressman. See the 2-1-1 website for an easy to sign petition if you'd like to add your voice to ours.

You've heard me speak about the power of information before, so it should come as no surprise that I'm a big supporter of this program. We need a national 2-1-1 system, and the sooner the better. I hope we can count on your support as well.