The Restroom Access Act

Courageous Young Woman Advocates For Restroom Access For People With IBD

Allyson Bain
Allyson Bain is the woman who spearheaded efforts to pass the first Restroom Access Act in her home state of Illinois.. Photo © Amber J Tresca

People with  inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) often need to use the restroom in a hurry. The Crohn's and Colitis Foundation of America and other groups have even developed cards that people with IBD can show when they need to use a toilet in a hurry. Unfortunately, in places without public restrooms, people with IBD may be out of luck, and may be refused restroom access. It's a common problem, and it doesn't just affect people with IBD.

Going to the bathroom is a basic human need -- every person on the planet needs to do it at some point during the day. Small children, pregnant women, and people with digestive conditions like  irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or disabilities may also need a restroom when they're out running errands, shopping, or taking in entertainment. What can people do if they are refused access to a restroom?

Who Is Behind The Restroom Access Act?

The Restroom Access Act is a law passed in several states that requires retail establishments that do not have public restrooms to provide access to employee-only restrooms to their patrons in need. The Act is also known as "Ally's Law," after Allyson Bain. Ally, who has Crohn's disease, was denied access to an employee-only restroom while out shopping with her mother when she was 14 years old. She was clearly in need, doubled over and in pain, and yet the management of the store she was in refused to let her access their restroom.

Ally experienced what many with IBD have in the past -- an accident in a public place. Determined not to stand by and let this happen to other people, she took action.

What States Have The Restroom Access Act?

Ally's Law began in Ally's home state of Illinois. Ally contacted her government representative, Illinois State Representative, Kathleen Ryg, and got the ball rolling.

 The Restroom Access Act has been passed in several states: Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, Kentucky, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, Oregon, Tennessee, Texas, Wisconsin, and Washington. The act has been passed in these states largely as result of grassroots efforts on the part of people with IBD and their supporters. There is a vision for a federal version of the act, and several other states have similar Restroom Access Act laws currently in the works.

In some states, the Restroom Access Act has been opposed vigorously by business owners. There is a concern that the Act could be abused, that cleaning the facilities will be a burden to employees, or that there could be issues of liability. These concerns are largely meritless: there have been no issues reported by business owners in any of the states where the Restroom Access Act has become law. 

What Can You Do If Denied Restroom Access?

If you live in a state with the Restroom Access Act and you have a condition that is covered by that law (the law varies from state to state), you have a right to a restroom facility in an emergency.

If you are being denied, contact your local law enforcement agency, who may be empowered to issue a citation. If local law enforcement does not enforce the law, contact your mayor, your county executive, your local state house or senate representative, or your other local elected officials. You may also consider contacting local news agencies to bring attention to a law that is not being followed or enforced.

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