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Etiquette for Handicapped Stalls

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,


This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.


  • Susan
    3 years ago

    I feel handicapped stalls are for anyone with a disability – visible to us or not. Think about how people judge us as being able bodied if we are not in a wheelchair and park in a handicapped parking spot with our placard. Are we not being judgemental by determining who can use a handicapped stall by how they look? Those stalls are for anyone with a disability – not just people in a wheelchair. I wish the symbol for handicapped parking, door assists and restrooms was not a figure in a wheelchair. It causes a lot of confusion.

    Also, I remember reading an article several years ago where the writer recommended that women (able-bodied) use the handicapped stall because it was less used and cleaner. I couldn’t believe they said that – encouraging able bodied people to use that stall over regular ones.

  • clsuhre
    3 years ago

    I’m pretty open-minded about this. I consider all the stalls FCFS. If a person is so desperate that an accident will happen, they should explain this, to jump the line – whether or not they’ll use the large stall. Disability alone is not an excuse to jump! I do have a beef with the parent at the grocery who let two unaccompanied girls horseplay in the only accessible stall, while I had no place to “go.”

  • LovesPets
    3 years ago

    I have never, ever seen a “handicapped” stall with signage indicating that it is exclusively for the use of the handicapped or the wheelchair-bound. Such a designation is unenforceable and really absurd. Handicapped stalls are an accessibility requirement of the ADA, nothing more. Legally and practically, they may be used by anyone.

  • Storyteller45
    3 years ago

    Bathroom needs are, to me, basic human events. I see no reason why anyone who “has to go” should avoid a handicapped stall if there is no person obviously needing it before you. I am 22 yrs post dx, no chair, walker or cane, but bladder issues I know. These invisible problems qualify me for that stall, but basic human decency tells me any person who needs it that badly for whatever reason has a right to it. I don’t judge!

  • KrystinT
    3 years ago

    This issue is my biggest pet peeve! If an able-bodied human comes out of the handicapped stall while I am waiting, I always say something like “We ask that if you are able to use the regular stalls, and one is available, please don’t use the handicapped stall”. Does is help? I hope so, but I doubt it. When you are able to walk, the challenges of the disabled is not in your mind unless you have a friend or family member who is disabled.

    At the University of Colorado Medical Center, the signs on the handicapped stall read “Please take into consideration our disabled patrons and patients before using this stall”. I liked that so much I considered having thousands of them made and carrying them around and putting them on handicapped stalls myself!

    It is difficult to not become snarky and rude, but I try my best to remain calm and be clear in my request for an ambulatory person to not use the handicapped stall.

    I believe a person using cane should be able to use the handicapped stall. Not because I think that they are disabled because they use a cane but because I know the difficulties involved in using a cane are similar to the difficulties involved in being in a wheelchair.

  • sknarf
    3 years ago

    On the flip side, 2 “regular” stalls open and as I waited for the handicapped stall to become available, a girl (about 12?) strolled out. Here’s hoping parents teach their kids about stall etiquette!

  • AllisonJo
    3 years ago

    I’ve often wondered about this scenario. When there is a line, I would hope that anyone in a wheelchair would feel free to go ahead and use the first available handicapped stall. I use a walker and yes, the larger stalls with handrails are much more convenient for me, but I will always defer to someone in a wheelchair, and I don’t go to the head of the line.

    The problem with urgency is a bit of a slippery slope, so to speak and a person who looks able bodied is likely to get glares and comments for line jumping. Are we supposed to explain our medical conditions to the angry mob waiting in line? “Scuse me, I have MS and I gotta go NOW.” I have visions of the others waiting turning on me, so I wait my turn and hope for the best.

    Good to see this addressed. Hopefully, someone with a better “handle” on restroom etiquette than I have will weigh in.


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