By Rose Hoban
People with profound physical and developmental disabilities often need help while going to the bathroom.
And for those people who have caregivers of the opposite gender, the legislative language being bandied about ahead of this week’s special session to overturn Charlotte’s ordinance forbidding discrimination for transgendered people looking to use the bathroom may have lots of unintended consequences.
“When you go to hire someone as a caregiver, you’re looking for the most qualified person to assist you and that may not be a person who shares your gender,” said Julia Adams-Scheurich, head of governmental affairs for The Arc of North Carolina.
She said it’s all too common that someone, say, a mother with a son in a wheelchair, needs to enter the bathroom of the opposite sex.
“You may have an individual with cerebral palsy or muscular dystrophy or spina bifida or some other profound disability who does not share the same sex with their husband, caregiver, mother, father,” Adams-Scheurich said. “We’re afraid that legislation created by the General Assembly would have the unintended consequence of possibly prohibiting that assistance.”
This concern was echoed by Corye Dunn, who represents Disability Rights North Carolina at the legislature. She noted that having a disability often makes using a traditional public restroom less practical.
“Many of the practices that make bathrooms more accessible for gender non-conforming people also make them more accessible for people with disabilities,” she said.
Dunn said the Charlotte ordinance would probably result in the creation of more “single stall” restrooms in the city.
“And that’s a good thing for our clients,” she said. “It’s a good thing for a lot more people than you think, people with colostomies and urostomies, who have complicated medical issues that make a restroom stall without a sink in it difficult to manage.”
Dunn said she hadn’t seen any draft language, but she’s holding her breath.
“Anyone who has young kids knows that a family restroom isn’t always an option,” said Mike Meno, from the ACLU of North Carolina, who pointed out there was some legislative language floated last year that would have created similar problems, but that version of the bill didn’t make it into law.
Both Adams-Scheurich and Dunn said the current trend of “family restrooms” has been a huge boon for people with disabilities. But many locations don’t have the space for such bathrooms, or their current physical configurations don’t support having an extra bathroom.
Adams-Scheurich noted that until the 2007-08 session, Raleigh’s legislative complex did not have a disability-accessible bathroom, and there’s still no family-designated restroom that is accessible in either the Legislative Building or the Legislative Office Building.
So, depending on how legislators craft this week’s bill, folks with disabilities might also have to learn how to hold it.