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To the People Who Think It's No Big Deal to Use a Companion Restroom

My 6-foot-tall teenager still needs assistance in a public restroom, and most of the time it’s an exercise in frustration. First, we go into the ladies’ room, where I’ve had more than one person tell me that I cannot bring my son because he’s too old. We cross our fingers for a handicapped stall, which is slightly larger, although not large enough. We squeeze into that stall together, closing the door (that opens into the stall) behind us. Frequently, we squeeze into a regular stall, where I often can’t even close the door completely.

Then recently, the “companion restroom” began to show up in many of the places we visit. From O’Hare Airport to malls to grocery stores and even Disney World.  Hallelujah! I don’t know whose idea these were, but they have been our salvation … except they haven’t.

Here’s the problem: There is usually only one companion restroom. That makes sense based on the statistics of how many people actually need a companion restroom at any given time. But unfortunately, these things are not exclusively used by people who need them.

I cannot count how many times we have rushed to that heavenly door, only to find it occupied. We stand outside waiting, pacing, with my son exclaiming his urgent need. I don’t mind waiting when it’s another family, but about 98 percent of the time when the door opens, a single individual walks out. They seem completely unaware of their infraction and go on about their shopping, having just enjoyed a pleasant private moment in the restroom.

I’m certain that most people who use the companion restroom would not intentionally cause distress for a person with disabilities. I think if they see an empty restroom, they figure, “What’s the harm? No one else is using it.” But that’s not how it works, friend. That’s why I’m writing. If it’s for companions, don’t go in. If it’s a handicapped stall, don’t go in. Leave it empty and accessible, please. When you see an empty handicapped parking space, you wouldn’t park there because it wasn’t being used at that moment. The same philosophy should be applied to restroom facilities.

Those who need accessible toilets may often need them more urgently than you do. Taking your time in a private or larger restroom space may be causing serious distress for another person.

Companion restrooms are my favorite 21st century innovation in public spaces. I look forward to the day they’re found everywhere.

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