Access to public toilets is a social justice issue
clean modern public bathroom facility showing a row of stalls, with a single stall door open

One of the easiest ways to keep marginalized people at home is to prevent them from accessing bathrooms.

Removing washrooms from public parks and beaches keeps non-residents out. Ensuring that only paying customers can legally pee is an easy way to get rid of people who can’t afford to pay for a meal or entrance fee. There’s no need for rules banning outsiders or the poor when removing bathrooms does the trick.

A lack of bathrooms makes the world inaccessible for a huge portion of people. So many of the few public bathrooms out there are filthy, non-operational, or unsafe. By not legally mandating public toilets in the same way we mandate public parking, our elected officials and public planners show whose needs matter to them.

Plenty of chronic illnesses and disabling conditions can make it difficult or impossible to ‘hold it’ — like MS, crohn’s, IBS, diabetes, and anything that impairs mobility.

There are also plenty of things that aren’t considered disabilities that cause large portions of the population to need easy access to a toilet, like having a uterus. Over one in five women who’ve given birth vaginally experience urinary incontinence. Let’s not forget menstruation.

How much more difficult is it to go out with small children or the elderly because public washrooms are so few and far between? All children are incontinent for a period of life. Over half of seniors experience incontinence. Men experience urinary incontinence as they age from enlarged prostates. Those who’ve had prostate surgery are very likely to experience incontinence — six in eight. If there are no public toilets for our children and our seniors, that keeps caregivers at home, too.

It’s time to end hostile architecture and mandate that spaces open to the public — as consumers — are open to all.

We let public policies designed to discriminate against specific marginalized groups — users of intravenous drugs, people who lack adequate housing, people who engage in public sex — keep many more people at home.

Imagine how much easier our everyday lives would be if we didn’t have to worry about not making it to a bathroom in time.

Written by Cori Carl
As Director, Cori is an active member of the community and regularly creates resources for people providing care.

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