Handicapped accessible? Don’t make me laugh.
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 accessibility 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).