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Handicapped accessible? Don’t make me laugh.

September 24, 2013

Warning: This post is about accessibility in restrooms, along with some minor details of what people do in restrooms.

This was going to be a post about our vacation to Norfolk, VA — the naval base there, Colonial Williamsburg, and the other tourist spots we hit. Instead, it’s going to be a post about the accessibility1530 of every so-called “handicapped” restroom (and some motel rooms) between Minnesota and Virginia (and I hit a lot of them in Wisconsin, Indiana, Kentucky, West Virginia, and Virginia) and why some of them just don’t work for fat people (and those regular stalls in restrooms hardly ever work for fat people). We stayed in motels in Indianapolis, IN, Norfolk, VA, and Decatur, IL on our trip.

I should add a warning here that there may be information that some will consider TMI about what’s needed in restrooms and why.
I have found that most gas station bathrooms are generally decent when it comes to accessibility for everyone. Most of them have the handicapped-height toilet, grab bars, and the tissue dispensers are above the grab bars. Oh, and that handicapped-height toilet is usually the one that’s bolted to the floor, not hanging off the wall (I hate those toilets that are bolted to the wall; I always fear that one day, one of them is going come off the wall when I sit my 400 lb. ass down on it). Handicapped-accessible restrooms at other places, though, tend to leave a lot to be desired.
For example, the restrooms at the visitors’ center at Colonial Williamsburg are not accessible if you can’t get out of/off of a wheelchair/scooter. The entrance is narrow (less than 36″ wide) and has a sharp turn into a narrow hallway. The sinks aren’t across from the stalls, they’re in a narrow alcove. The stalls are on facing walls with a narrow aisle between them (if you open up the door on the stall you’re in, the person in the stall across from you can’t open their door). And the handicapped stall isn’t big enough to get a wheelchair into (that’s assuming you can even get a wheelchair to the stall). And don’t even get me started on the restrooms that are available in Colonial Williamsburg itself (they are few and damned far between). They aren’t handicapped accessible at all — you can’t get into them if you can’t walk, period.

We also visited the Norfolk Zoo, and their restrooms are very handicapped-accessible. They have the handicapped-height toilets, grab bars, and room to maneuver a wheelchair (not so much room to maneuver a scooter, unless it’s a small one). However, their tissue dispensers and the little can to dispose of feminine hygiene items are right at the level of the toilet. Sorry, I don’t like having to lean over almost to the floor just to get toilet tissue. The other problem with having the tissue dispenser at that low height is that fat people would have to almost sit sideways on the toilet in order to be able to use the tissue (here’s the TMI: fat women need to be able to spread both legs in order to wipe properly, and you can’t do that if one leg is right up against that damned tissue dispenser). The problem gets even worse if the toilet is one of those that’s bolted to the wall instead of bolted to the floor — every time you shift your weight, that toilet moves a tiny bit (you can hear them creak). Yeah, makes me real confident that I’m not going to end up on the floor in a pool of sewage (/sarcasm).

The restrooms at rest areas run the gamut from being very handicapped-accessible/fat-friendly to being kinda sorta maybe handicapped accessible/not very fat-friendly. Most of them have the toilets that are bolted to the wall (not fat-friendly at all). Some of them have the tissue dispenser above the grab bar, while others have it right at toilet seat height, below the grab bar (sorry, that doesn’t work when the toilet is less than a foot from the wall and the dispenser takes up half, or more, of that space). Most of them have plenty of room to maneuver a scooter, and most of the handicapped stalls are big enough to get a scooter into, get off it, etc. (as long as the toilet isn’t right there when you open the door, that is). I ran into a few rest areas where it was almost impossible for me to walk from the parking space to the building where everything was located — the parking area could be anywhere from 50 feet to 250 feet from the building/restrooms. If you can’t walk more than 20 feet without severe pain, then you have to use your wheelchair/scooter to get there (don’t even try to unload a scooter in a busy rest area, you’ll get run over). Not all rest areas have the buttons to push to open the doors if you’re using a wheelchair; I guess they figure if you’re traveling, you’ll have someone with you to open the doors for you. So as far as rest areas go, it can be a toss-up whether they’re really handicapped-accessible and/or fat-friendly.

As for motels/hotels and their handicapped accessibility, that’s also a toss-up as far as what you get when you ask for a handicapped-accessible room. We had one room that was so spacious, I could ride my mobility scooter in there and turn it around with minimal backing and maneuvering (it was twice the size of most motel rooms). The bathroom had the handicapped-height toilet, but there was no shower stall. However, the bathtub sides weren’t very high and there were grab bars in the right places. It was acceptable (I could bathe with minimal effort and stress). Another room we had, on the other hand, I could drive my scooter into it, but that was it. Parked up against the wall, there was barely enough room to get by it, and I had to back it out of the room (and the door was just wide enough to allow me entry and exit). As for the bathroom being accessible, well, it had the right height toilet and that’s about all you could say for it. It had a plethora of grab bars in and around the bathtub, but the sides of the bathtub were higher than my knees (and I have long legs with a 32″ inseam). So for me to get into and out of that tub, I would have had to try and bend knees that don’t like bending and then step up into the tub. Getting out would also have been a safety issue with that tiny bathmat they give you to put on a slick floor (those tiles are wicked when wet and it’s almost impossible to keep them from getting wet when bathing). Even with the grab bars, it wouldn’t have been safe for me to shower (thank the stars above that we only stayed there one night and getting into the bath was acceptable for that one day).

Why do they only put grab bars at the front of the tub? Do they not stop to think that people turn the shower on before they get in the tub so that the water will heat up? I do not like getting into a cold shower. And getting into a wet bathtub means it’s slick and a fall is possible, even with grab bars. How about putting some of those nice grab bars at the back of the tub as well? Then you don’t have to shut off the water, open the shower curtain, and get in at the front of the tub, close the shower curtain, and turn the water back on. All of that takes time that people who can’t stand for very long don’t have when it comes to taking a shower (and taking a bath isn’t even a possibility for some of us: we can’t get up to get out of the tub once we’re sitting in it, let alone how easy it isn’t to sit down in the tub in the first place. Hate to tell these designers, but all the grab bars in the world don’t help if you don’t consider how much actual mobility people have when you create a bathroom. I would pay extra for a room with a shower and a shower chair (no bathtub, just a nice, big shower stall, thank you very much). Some handicapped-accessible rooms in some motels actually have shower stalls, but no shower chairs.

But I would say that the people who came up with the rules for handicapped-accessible restrooms don’t have a fucking clue what’s really necessary. This page shows what is required by law, and they don’t require that the toilet paper be above the grab bar next to the toilet. They just require that it has to be at least 19 inches off the floor (the same as the seat height on the toilet). I really think anyone who is involved in setting guidelines for accessibility for the disabled should have to live/work in a wheelchair for at least a month before being allowed to work on the guidelines. What would be even better would be to have actual disabled people and fat people on the United States Access Board, which sets the standards that have to be followed.

They don’t take into consideration that a wheelchair for a fat person is wider, that not everyone uses a conventional wheelchair, that some people use power chairs, and some of us even use mobility scooters. Ever tried to get a mobility scooter into and out of a restroom? It can be a challenge, it can be fairly easy, or it can be downright impossible, depending on the size and design of the restroom (what they show on that page I linked to isn’t big enough for me to get my scooter into, let alone maneuver it to get out of there, or even get off of it to use the facilities).

So, while I enjoyed our vacation and had a lot of fun, it was a challenge at times trying to find ways to maneuver my mobility scooter around and find restrooms that were accessible for me. A lot of stores that don’t supply mobility scooters for their customers just aren’t laid out to be accessible for anyone in a wheelchair or on a scooter (Yankee Candle Factory in Williamsburg, I’m looking at you, you could take a few lessons from The Pottery that’s just down the road from you).


11 Comments leave one →
  1. Duckie permalink
    September 24, 2013 11:42 am

    We once stayed in a hotel where my husband used a grab bar to steady himself into the tub/shower and the bar popped right off the wall (with very little pressure) along with some tile! It seems they hadn’t secured the grab bar to the studs in the wall, only the plaster behind the tile. Not good at all.

  2. September 24, 2013 1:03 pm

    You make great points about accessibility! One of the things that has bugged me ever since I started having knee pain is walking distances and lack of places to sit and rest. It seems like one is expected to be able to tolerate walking and standing extremely well, or else be in a wheelchair. One thing I’ve found with my mother being in a wheelchair is that doctor’s offices and medical facilities are not very wheelchair friendly in most cases. Walking distances can also be very long in hospitals, and even assisted living facilities.

  3. September 24, 2013 2:32 pm

    The toilet paper dispenser height is one of my biggest pet peeves! I’m so glad you mentioned that, I was starting to think maybe I was crazy to get so upset. Who decided that the best height for the dispenser is… knee level!?

    • Elizabeth permalink
      September 25, 2013 2:47 pm

      The first time I used a toilet where the dispenser — the kind where the paper comes out the bottom — was the right height, I was amazed that at last someone had got it right. I think what happened was that when they replaced dispensers where the toilet paper comes out like it does at home, they did not stop to consider that the big dispensers need to be installed higher on the wall. And not just for fat and disabled people! Who wants to get down on the floor in a public toilet to get the paper out of the dispenser?

  4. September 24, 2013 2:45 pm

    Reblogged this on Sly Fawkes and commented:
    Excellent points about creating handicapped-accessible amenities and the necessity of doing so. It’s something that even sympathetic able-bodied folks don’t end up giving much thought to, so it’s necessary that attention be called to these issues. Thank you.

  5. September 24, 2013 5:14 pm

    I do not think there is any such thing as TMI when it comes to planning accessible spaces. Thank you for being willing to tell it like it is.

  6. lifeonfats permalink
    September 24, 2013 5:32 pm

    The TP dispensers at knee level also irritate me. It’s bad enough your side presses into them but when you also have thunder thighs, even more flesh is pressing and that’s even worse!

    I do want to add my last vacation experience, which was in Ocean City, NJ back in July. The majority of the hotels there I believe were built in the 50’s and 60’s and don’t have elevators. So you can imagine my mom, who has RA and MS, walking up and down a flight of steps everyday. Luckily I had no issues but if you’re planning to stay there and need handicap access, make sure you get a first floor room or if you can, shell out some extra $$$ for a hotel with elevators. And the bathrooms are standard with toilets that are pretty much set near the ground. The great thing about where we stayed, The Tahiti Inn, was that it was one block from the boardwalk and there was an access ramp to get to it. So my mom with her mobility issues and people in wheelchairs and scooters didn’t have issues. We also had no streets to cross either which was a lot safer.

    But considering how much time we spend in bathrooms, that’s one place that should be not skimped over!

  7. gingeroid permalink
    September 24, 2013 9:44 pm

    You should try the restrooms at the Capitol Building. The handicapped stall is maybe 2″ wider than the regular ones.

  8. September 25, 2013 12:26 pm

    I hate bathroom stall doors that open inwards. They’d be okay stalls, even for larger people (though not handicap accessible) if the dang doors just opened out.

    • Elizabeth permalink
      September 25, 2013 2:49 pm

      Whoever dreamed up that idea?!?!?!? It is SO idiotic!

  9. Amber permalink
    September 26, 2013 9:36 am

    In the past, I have found myself wondering how someone with mobility issues or missing a foot could manage to stay on the seat while reaching for the paper that comes out at about ankle level. And then there are the steel box type dispensers that have left gouges in my thighs when they put them overhanging the seat.

    Glad the overall trip was enjoyable for you!

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