Etiquette for Handicapped Stalls

Last updated: May 2018

We’ve all been there – waiting in line for the toilet when out of the designated handicapped stall strolls a person who is obviously able bodied and didn‘t need to use this special space. I know this topic is going to spark comments because we all have different experiences and views as to when it’s ok to use handicapped restroom stalls.

Stuart Schlossman, from MSViews and News, was in San Francisco recently and posted this picture on his Facebook page that illustrates my question about the etiquette of public restrooms.

bathroom stallWhile I agree with the intent of this message for the stall, I disagree that the handicapped stall should only be used by people in a wheelchair. It’s easy to put people with walkers into this same category as wheelchair users, and give them a free pass to use the handicapped stall. But sometimes it is also the best option for many others.

I use a cane to get around, and I have written in the past about my bladder and botox and intermittent self-catherization, so even though I am not in a wheelchair, I have special needs too. I would add that the toilet height in an ADA approved stall is taller and there are hand rails to assist with standing when I am done. There is also often a small shelve where I can put my things. None of this is available in a regular stall. So if there is a handicapped stall available, that is what I will use and it makes this act of nature easier for me.

The ideal is the places that have more than one handicapped stall – there will be ones that are large enough to accommodate a wheelchair but an additional one or two that are just a bit larger than the ‘regular’ stalls and they have the handrails and shelf.

All of this discussion made me think of this sign I once saw in a stall that made me do a double take- but I had to go so badly that I didn't worry about the danger involved.

toiletOn some occasions I may find myself in line with someone who is in a chair, and I will always defer use of the handicapped stall to them. Could  I use a regular stall? Yes, but it comes with challenges.

I was discussing this topic with my husband, who also uses a cane, and he brought my attention to the needs of men. Because I am not a user of their restrooms, I had not given it a thought before but he says using the handicapped stall for him is a better option because he needs a place to put his cane. I had not given it any thought that the line of urinals in a public restroom most likely has no place to put his cane while his hands are needed for this activity.

Consider these scenarios:

You are at a large event and there are many people in line to use the toilet, and the handicapped stall is unoccupied. Is it ok to use this one if you don’t have a special need, especially if there is no one in a wheelchair in the line?

Or how about the accessible family restrooms? They are often conveniently located and provide quick and easy access, with all the extra space and handrails I might need. Is it ok to slip into there to take care of my needs?

My answer to these scenarios depends on my urgency at the time –so yes, I will use the wheelchair stall or even duck into the family room. When my bladder sends the signal that I got to go, I need to go now … and not after I stand in line and wait, or sometimes even if I have to walk an additional 50 feet. What do you think?

Wishing you well,


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