What could be the answer to accessibility problems facing the handicapped, senior and transgender population?

As the debate over transgender bathrooms rages on, what I see is that a bigger problem is being ignored and that maybe both issues affecting a much larger sector of the population could be helped at the same time.

As the mother of a daughter with a traumatic brain injury a disability that had confined her to a wheelchair, getting out and about became a challenge. I needed help with her in the bathroom and if I was with a female aid not so much problem we could use the woman’s bathroom and I was able to bring my helper in with us.

But because of the waiver that she was on the staffing agency said I was not allowed to bring the certified nursing assistants (CNA) with me out into the community to go to her doctor and therapy appointments, stores or restaurants. The only way to go out with her would be to have my husband or a male friend which made it difficult to use the woman’s or men’s restroom. Places like Target that had family/handicap bathrooms were few and far between.

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This left us isolated and confined to the house most of the time or I had to put a diaper on her or tell her to try to hold it until we got home. Getting into a bathroom by ourselves was difficult also trying to maneuver doors and openings to get in and out of bathrooms and public buildings was not easy. This type of button or an automatic mat at every entrance to a public building and restroom would be of great help to wheelchair, walker and cane users who find it difficult if not dangerous to open a door without help.

Door open

If you think that I am riding on the publicity of a current event to further my agenda you would be right. I would like to advocate for the disabled like my daughter who had no voice and bring awareness to the public the problems that they face, which is what Joni Eareckson Tada has done since a diving accident in 1967 left her a quadriplegic.

Joni is best known as a mouth artist but is also the author of 17 books, a radio host and founder of Joni and Friends, and is truly an inspirational woman of God.

So back to the transgender debate, if family/handicap bathrooms were put in all public places we may be able to solve both problems. South Carolina’s bill is not the answer. If a person is in the middle of transitioning they would be able to use the family restroom to protect their safety and privacy.

But once a person has transitioned and looks like a man, walks like a man, and talks like man than he should use the men’s restroom, if he were to try to use the women’s because it says that he was born a female on his birth certificate he could get arrested or worse using the women’s restroom. And if a woman that was born male were to use the men’s restroom she could be  put in harm’s way.

I’m not going to address any other issues on the transgender debate as the Huff Post and other blogs have covered most everything else. Transgender make up about.3% of the population and according to nationalinstituteofhealth.gov, 18.7% of the population had a disability in 2010, wheelchair users are 3.3 million and 7.0 million use a cane, crutches or walker so maybe we can agree on a solution that can solve a problem for a larger sector of our population at the same time.

When a male caregiver is out in public with a female in a wheelchair, which restroom does he use? When my husband and I would go out with my daughter and there were no family/handicap accessible restrooms we were unable to take her to the restroom since for safety and accessibility I needed help getting her in the restroom and toilet.

One evening we were taking our daughter Joran out to a restaurant and there were no handicap spots available with the gridlines on the side where we could park and drop the lift in order to get into the restaurant which is another problem in public accessibility. So we pulled up in front to drop her off so she could wait inside until I parked the van. A car pulled in behind us to drop their passenger, the women got out and walked up to us yelling that we were blocking her ability to pull up to where we were and get out of her vehicle. She had the option to wait a few minutes for us to finishes or walk to the door from where she was, there are not such easy options for wheelchair users.

This was a constant battle and going out not knowing if we could get a handicap spot with the grid lines on the same side as her lift or even two spaces together so that I could drop the side wheelchair lift. Sometimes I would be looking for a spot only to have someone pull into a handicap spot with gridlines and have the young teenage driver jump out and run into a store. Because I have known of people who have been proud of themselves and not ashamed of using their family members handicap sticker for themselves, that this is not an uncommon occurrence. If they knew that their actions were denying someone access to where they needed to go, would they care?

One day when I was lucky enough to get a spot a man pull next to me and park on the gridlines, when I told him he could not park there he said yes he could! I told him very nicely only if he didn’t mind me smashing the top of his car with the chair lift, he finally got it and moved his car. Has anyone seen the scene in Fried Green Tomatoes about the parking space? If you have then you know parking frustration!


Picture of Joran in van

We also found that finding a home that is handicap accessible was not an easy task either. I think it is important for builders, architects, and designers to think about the aging baby boomers and handicap population when designing new homes and remolding. We need to design more adaptable homes that can function as the family ages so they can stay in their homes and age in place rather than move or be placed in a nursing facility and so their home can be easily adapted after a disability.

“The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines aging in place as “the ability to live in one’s home and community safely, independently, and comfortably, regardless of age, income or ability level””

front door with ramp

Ramp to front door makes for ease of accessibility for wheelchairs or walkers

We wanted a home that had a first-floor bathroom and bedroom that we could modify so that our daughter could take a shower in a shower wheelchair instead of a bed bath. This is Joran’s new shower that we had put in by Gen-X Construction; they specialize in fully accessible bathrooms. http://genxconstruction.net



Pictures of shower after remodel

So to summarize, I feel these changes need to take place so there is greater access to the things that most of us take for granted:

  1. Family/handicap restrooms in all public buildings.
  2. Handicap spots with gridlines that are designated for wheelchair users only
  3. Design and build more new housing that meets ageing in place and handicap accessibility guidelines.

We should all have empathy and be compassionate to bathroom and accessibility problems facing all sectors of our population and come up with solutions to meet their needs.

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Katheryn De Wolfe is a licensed interior designer specializing in handicap interiors, she can be reached for consultations at 561-364-0074 or email at dewolfeinteriors@comcast.net

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