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Don't Ruin An Old Lady's Day

By: Gideon S.T 


                 ands up if you are not disabled and have used a disabled restroom. I’m sure the vast majority of you are putting your hands up – at least in your mind.


One year ago, I would have joined you in putting my hand up. If a disabled restroom were empty, I would not have thought two seconds about using it. After all, it saves time when there is a long queue for the ladies and no one seems to use them. Also, they’re often cleaner and a lot roomier than normal restrooms.


However, a year ago something happened that destroyed my wrong, selfish thinking.


My mother had a major stroke.


Her stroke left her paralysed on one side and without normal speech. My previously strong, super fit mother only way of transport became a wheelchair with a blue seat. She could no longer swim three times a week and her ability to read novels or cook her famous roast duck were erased along with her independence. Worse of all, something as simple as visiting the ladies and “finishing” within five minutes became a luxury she could no longer utilize.


Public restroom visitations needed careful planning and patience.


When you visit a public place like a mall or a park or a museum you probably do not think twice when nature calls. You just follow the sign leading to the restrooms and voila within minutes you are done. However, on outings with my mother we have look out for the special disabled restrooms. In fact, if we pass them during the day we make a mental note for where they are based for later usage. You’d be surprised at how many disabled restrooms are placed in strange areas that need me to use all my limited navigation skills.


On more than one occasion we’ve ended up in a cleaner’s cupboard while looking for the restroom!


Occasionally, we have to request a special key or ask a security guard to help open the door. Restroom visits get my mother fidgety and can take a while.


Millions of carers for people with disabilities or illnesses will know what I mean when I say restroom visitations need planning and patience. Like me, some carers have to deal with screaming relatives whose illness has made them become extremely impatient and impulsive. Some side effects of illnesses can also force people to have a need to “go” more urgently than others. Waiting to use the restroom often has a negative impact on people with disabilities and can bring tension and stress for everyone around them.  


In short, waiting to use the disabled restroom can ruin someone’s day.


I’ve had quite a few nasty experiences with people using the disabled restroom. Once, my mother was desperate to use the restroom and someone was taking a very long time. When the door finally opened, a fresh-faced lady walked out as if it was the most normal thing to leave an elderly lady in a wheelchair to wait while she did her makeup.


I asked her, “Can I ask you why you are using a disabled restroom when you are clearly not disabled?”


Instead of apologising, to my horror she suddenly started shouting at me.


“Look I can use the disabled restroom if I want! There was no one there, so WHY NOT? Do you want to check my wallet too?”


At this point my Mum, on the verge of tears got very upset and the day was completely ruined for her.


Another example was when my father had a particularly tiring day at the beach. She waited outside a restroom with my mother for a very long time. After about 30 minutes, they heard movement coming from behind the door. He started to knock on the door to see if the person was ok. Ten minutes later, two teenagers came out of the restroom. By then, my mother who had been “holding” for 30 minutes started pointing and shouting at them using her limited vocab.


 The teenagers looked sheepish and shrugged their shoulders:


“…But there wasn’t anyone there!”


Disabled restrooms are there for a reason. They are not there to save an able bodied person time while they cut the long queue for the restroom. They are there to make a disabled person’s life just that tiny bit more easier. Their roomier exteriors are not for girls to try on clothes or put on their make up together. They are there so people in wheelchairs can move around freely and not face the cruel embarrassment of getting stuck in between tiny restroom cubicles.


So, when you see an empty disabled restroom please do not think, “No one will mind will they? After all, I’ll only be ten minutes.”


In those ten minutes you could create a huge amount of stress and tension for a sick person who needs to “go” urgently, a harassed mother whose mentally ill daughter is screaming, a wheelchair bound person who won’t fit in a conventional restroom and a son helping his elderly mother.


In those ten, selfish, minutes, you could have very well have ruined a nice person’s day.BW

Gideon S.T is an aspiring Asian writer who loves words more than anything else.



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