Ally’s Law (The Restroom Access Act)

Ally’s Law  (The Restroom Access Act)

By: Justin Vandergrift

The Restroom Access Act was pioneered by Ally Bain, a young woman who suffers from Crohn’s Disease. She was diagnosed at age 11,  the summer before 6th grade.  At age 14, she went shopping at an Old Navy store and needed to find the restroom quickly.  Any IBD parent or patient knows all too well this story. The search for bathrooms is often the focal point of trips out.  Her experiences with Old Navy began a course of action which created The Restroom Access Act.

On this visit to Old Navy, Ally was refused access to the employee only bathroom.  The manager denied the request and Ally soiled herself.  That single denial created the courage inside of Ally and her mother took this experience and decided to lobby for change.

Ally’s Law was penned first in the Illinois statehouse with the help of Illinois State Representative Kathy Ryg.  This Law allows anyone with a medical condition access to an employee only restroom.    In August 2005 the bill was signed into law by former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich.  Currently there are thirteen states that have laws granting access to employee restrooms.  Those states include Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, Oregon, Tennessee, Texas, Wisconsin, and Washington.

What can I do?

Personally I am torn with this law.   I am a dad with a 12 year old who has Crohn’s and we have been in some very precarious situations regarding bathroom access.  I have been in Ally’s situation with my daughter.  We’ve had to anxiously find a bathroom or the inevitable was going to happen.  I understand Ally’s strife and her mother’s anguish.  I have lived it.  What parent would not do whatever it took to ensure their child was being given every opportunity at a normal life?

I have also dealt with disability issues for decades.  My father has a prosthetic leg and I have watched the pain he has dealt in terms of access.  I have watched fully functioning persons take up handicapped parking places and TSA agents force him to remove the prosthesis in plain view of the public.  I understand Ally and her mother’s frustration completely.  I applaud their efforts to make a change.

However, walking into a store and demanding access from an employee does not guarantee you the right the bathroom regardless of any law.  How many employees know the laws which pertain to their industry anyway?  In the end you are still dealing with a human on the other end of your request.

So what can you really do?  What can you do to become an Empowered parent?  First, one resource every IBD patient should have is the Medical Alert Restroom Access Pass.  These free passes from MyIBD.org are a great way to ask for access to restrooms that are otherwise off limits.  These cards have a tendency to legitimize the request to use the facilities.  Clicking the link above will take you to a submission form where you can request your own personalized card.

Would a reasonable employee or manger turn your request down if you had something like this card that brought attention to the urgency of the need?  And truthfully, if they turn your request down with this card, they will most likely turn your request down regardless of any law.

Finally, vote with your pocketbook and use public forums to shame businesses who deny your request.    Sometimes the best action is bringing attention to the behavior.  Be an advocate and stand up, but is another law really the answer?  If I am wrong, then please convince me otherwise.

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