Thursday, May 28, 2009

Bad Bathroom

When "accessible" just isn't good enough.

Okay. So first we had the three-part series on Ally's Law, and now this. I'm sure more than a few of you are wondering if I've got some kind of obsession with restrooms... or as we used to say, "issues." If the truth be told, I do in fact have issues, and so today I'm going to rant a bit on those. Hang tight. You have been warned.

Rant #1: Retrofits.

Ever been to a public restroom which clearly was never meant to be an A.D.A.-compliant facility, but is now (barely) because it has been modified in some way? My favorite example of this is the restroom which is so small they only had room to retrofit one "stall" into the space, and if you're lucky, one sink. Navigation is a nightmare, and once you're safely inside, you're lucky if you've got 3 minutes to finish before someone else wanders in and starts jiggling the handle. No pressure there, eh? I'm lucky if I can even start in 3 minutes... but that's probably more than you want to know... so let's move on...

Rant #2: Disrepair.

Closely related to the "handle-jiggling" issue mentioned above is the general issue of repair. Why in the world is the restroom seemingly the last part of any building that gets a regular visit by maintenance? Stall doors which refuse to latch (or even stay closed at all), toilet seats which seem to be held in place only by luck and gravity, loose or missing handrails, and my favorite, the empty tissue dispenser. Any one of these is enough to make proper restroom use impossible... and lucky you if you chance upon one with multiple problems. Cleanliness is also an issue, but again I digress. It's enough to make you want to stop using public comfort stations at all.

Rant #3: Design Flaws.

This is a short one. Who's bright idea was it to place the paper dispenser so that the opening on the bottom was only 5 inches above the floor? You need the manual dexterity of a monkey to allow a comfortable reach up inside the demonic thing, and then some only allow you to pull out 2-4 paper-thin sheets at a time. If you can locate the free end of the roll. I swear, I'm going to start bringing my own paper (and duct tape for the door.)

Rant #4: Flooring.

Okay, so I sort of (reluctantly) get this one. Still, why design a restroom using a type of tile or linoleum that not only perfectly hides any water that's on the surface, but also gets as slippery as a side street sidewalk in January if so much as a light fog touches it? Hello! It's a restroom! It's going to get wet. Often. If you depend on crutches for mobility, as I do, you take your life into your own hands every time you venture into a modern restaurant's restroom. They get wet, and they get greasy. But they have to be able to clean it, you say? Agreed. But have you ever been "mopped into a corner" while using a public restroom? I have. Nothing dries slower than a public restroom floor. I expect to find a skeleton inside one some day.

Rant #5: Gender Bias.

This only becomes an issue if you need assistance in the restroom, and your friend/attendant/spouse happens to be of the opposite gender. Aside from gender-neutral restrooms (which may be the greatest invention of the modern era) you have two choices; use his, or use hers. Flip a coin to decide who's turn it is to be embarrassed. Been there, done that, moving on.

In closing.

I'm agreed that most of my rants apply equally to "the abled" as well, and to them I raise a toast to our solidarity, and our common affliction. I also realize that when it comes to a restroom, no size fits all, and so some problems are just there to be endured. Still, I'd like to think that somewhere out there, perhaps even one of you reading this, is an inventor or engineer who will go beyond the cleansing value of my ranting and perhaps find solutions to some of these problems.

I can hope, and dare to dream.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009


...and the impact it has on the disabled.

I learned just this morning that the Columbus (OH) City Council has recognized the week of May 18, 2009 as Visitability Awareness Week. Yes, this week. I wish they'd have told me sooner. :)

Visitability refers to the quality of a private dwelling that makes it suitable, or unsuitable, for visitation by someone with a disability.

A case in point: Another married couple, and dear friends of ours, currently occupy a home that is of a two-level older style, built long before anyone had even dreamt of the A.D.A. I have never visited their home, although they have been frequent guests in ours. The reason? Visitability. The main floor is "blocked" by steps, and no railings. Another major barrier for me is their sole restroom. It is located on the second floor, only reachable by another series of steep steps.

None of this is their fault, of course. We live where we live. In fact, our own home is no model of Visitability either. I've never visited the attic, or the basement (although my wife took pictures once so I would understand her when she described something about them that I needed to know.) I live on the main floor, where (thankfully) we also have a bedroom and a bath. As for house access, we still have steps, but at least one entrance will have to be ramp modified soon. As I age, it's becoming difficult to navigate them.

As you can imagine, this situation is not ideal for me... and I dare-say, for a growing number of us. Ultimately it becomes a quality of life issue, and can literally spell the difference between being able to "age-in-place" within our own homes, or be forced at some point to relocate into something like an assisted living facility. There's also an issue of freedom, and choice. How sad is it that as we age, or become disabled, we could become literal prisoners in our own homes, unable to visit others, or be visited in return? Socialization isn't just nice, it's necessary.

Frankly, there's not a lot we can do about current homes, or at least not those in our area of Ohio. Many were built around the time of World War II, or earlier, and the style then was based on whatever was cheap, fast and space efficient. Rooms were smaller, doorways were narrower, and the footprint was minimal. Some houses don't have yards. Many don't even have room for a garage. Homes can be modified, to a point, but there's only so much you can do, really. The rest we just have to live with.

Which brings us to the future. As the Boomers age, and the disabled become increasingly mobile, we need to start thinking a lot more about the kinds of homes we are building. Designing for Visitability just makes sense, when you think about it.

Visitability features rely on three basic tenets:

o       * An entrance that does not include steps or stairs but is accessible to a person with mobility impairments.

o       * Main floor doors and hallways that can accommodate a person in a wheelchair.

o       * An accessible bathroom with enough room to maneuver.

Doesn't seem a lot to ask, does it?

Currently, standards for new home construction are being revisited, and re-evaluated across the country. Now is the time to take action, and let our voices be heard. If you'd like to send a letter or email to your Ohio members of Congress on this issue, it's as easy as clicking on the following link, and filling out a short form:

I hope you'll consider joining us as we lobby for this important building code revision. Our children are growing up fast, and we can decide what kind of world they will live in as they too, eventually, age and grow old. Will they have Visitability? I sincerely hope so.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Summer Fun for Them...

... and the respite is good for you too.

Today's Blog posting was going to be focused on Camp Courageous -- a specially staffed and adapted camping facility for those with developmental disabilities -- but as I was gathering research for it I became aware of the many other similar programs that our area offers to the disabled community. I will be expanding the topic accordingly.

Camp Courageous.
Founded in 1963 when there were no camps in this area that would accept children with special needs. Pioneering parents Marty Duncan and Ray Defrane wanted their children with special needs to have the chance to experience "going to overnight camp" like many children without disabilities do. They also realized that a planned week or two at camp would give parents a much-needed rest... or as it is called today, respite.

To date, it remains the only camp with the qualitative focus and commitment to ensure comprehensive outdoor recreational experiences for this special community in NW Ohio and SE Michigan.

  • Year-Round Facilities
  • Horticultural Therapy
  • Vocational Habilitation Programming
  • Naturalist and Photography camps
  • Geo Team Building
The camp provides developmentally appropriate activities for all ability levels. Programs and activities are age appropriate and allow for full exploration of one's own abilities, interests and goals.

Camp Courageous is located at:
12701 Waterville-Swanton Rd.
Whitehouse, OH  43571

Phone: 419.875.6826


Camp Cricket.
A variety of summer day camp programs for children 5-22 years old. Camp Cricket is held at The Ability Center, Monday through Friday from 9am to 3pm. Programs focus on building self-esteem, creating friendships, teamwork, participating in leisure activities and using creative expression. Special activities such as field trips, swimming and cookouts are scheduled.

Camp sessions are:
June 15-26 for 15-22 year olds.
July 6-17 for 10-14 year olds.
July 20-20-31 for 5-9 year olds.
Ask about overnight camp at Camp Storer for 14-22 year olds.

Registration is on a first come basis, so apply early. For more information, call The Ability Center at 419.885.5733


Easter Seals.
A one-week summer camp in Sandusky. Limited scholarships are available. Funding is available for summer day camp for children with disabilities. For more information, call 800.696.5601 and ask for Phil for more information or an application.


East Toledo Family Center.
Year-round child care and a summer camp program called Kids Kare. Summer day camp includes children participating in games, swimming, art & crafts, community garden and Special Family Events. Cost is $75 a week.

Summer camp runs from June 2 to August 22, 5:30am to 6pm., for kids ages 3-12 (children must be toilet trained.) Scholarships available. Call Jennifer at 419.691.4609 ext. 227 for registration information.


A full listing of the many special programs available is beyond the scope of this article, but others include Equestrian (horse riding) programs, swimming and SCUBA training, and more. Just remember that summer can be a fun and educational season for everyone, no matter the level of their ability. Also, do not dismiss the added benefit to you, the caregiver of that special someone. We all have love to give, and energy... but the reality is, we all need a break now and then too. Do something special for yourself, and your child, today.

Note: I couldn't have authored this week's Blog without the helpful insight of Diane Frazee from the United Way's Family Information Network. They publish an amazing Summer Programs for Kids with Disabilities flyer, and a newsletter packed with schedules of local events, websites, support groups and more. For a copy please contact FIN at 419.254.4645 -- and tell them that you heard about them on this Blog. That'll make both of us smile. :)

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 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.