The Restroom Access Act/Ally’s Law and Why It Matters to Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)

UPDATE 5/10/2013: Please see the May 10, 2013  post for newer information regarding additional restroom access laws in Maryland and Maine.

In the past, IBS Impact has blogged on the Restroom Access Act, popularly known as “Ally’s Law.” This law is named for Ally Bain, a recent college graduate who has Crohn’s disease, a type of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). Several years ago, as a young teenager, Ally had an accident in a store after her request to use the employee restroom was refused, despite her explaining repeatedly that she had an urgent medical need. After that humiliating experience, Ally resolved to do something about it, contacted her state legislator and helped to write and pass a bill to address similar situations. The first Restroom Access Act was signed into law in Ally’s home state of Illinois in 2005. Since then, with continued public advocacy by Ally and others, similar laws have been enacted in twelve other states: Colorado, Connecticut, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, Oregon, Tennessee, Texas, Washington State and Wisconsin, and have been considered in several other states and countries over the years. As these are individual state laws, they each vary in certain details, but most say that a “retail establishment” must give a person with an “eligible medical condition” access to an employee restroom if there is no public restroom immediately available, there are at least three employees (in one case, two) working at the time, and the facility itself or its location will not pose a safety hazard to the person or security risk to the business. Please see IBS Impact’s previous posts on February 21, 2012 and August 20, 2012 for links to text of the law in each state where one currently exists.

IBS Impact applauds Ally’s initiative. Her success in making these laws a reality is especially impressive, as she was just fourteen years old when she began her quest. She currently has wide recognition and support within the inflammatory bowel disease community, where many self-advocates and bloggers have followed suit in pressing for change that can positively affect quality of life for those with IBD and similar restroom access needs.

This week, in a guest post on the inflammatory bowel disease blog, Girls With Guts, Ally writes “The Origins of the Restroom Access Act” in her own words. While her diagnosis of IBD is different from IBS in several ways, her experience of gastrointestinal pain, unpredictable, frequent trips to the bathroom and feeling embarrassed and alone is shared by many people with IBS. She mentions how some people with IBD are similarly reluctant to come forward publicly as self-advocates, but explains why she believes advocacy is important and how her first steps in the past are continuing to yield concrete and useful results in the present and, with luck and continuing advocacy, in the future.

IBS Impact’s past blog posts on this subject have been popular, and we have received feedback from some people with IBS that newfound awareness of these laws is very appreciated, as well as sorely needed in additional states and countries. However, historically, the IBS community has not been very visible in these efforts, despite the fact that there are an estimated 30-45 million and perhaps even close to 60 million people with IBS in the U.S. alone, depending on the source, in contrast to approximately 1.3 million people with IBD, according to the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America. While twelve of the thirteen existing state laws do specifically mention irritable bowel syndrome as an eligible condition, the most recently enacted, in Massachusetts, refers only to inflammatory bowel disease and “other” medical conditions which may require immediate access to a toilet. The IBS community has the tremendous numbers to be a voice alongside our peers with IBD , to insure that IBS is specifically included in each law, and to raise state legislative and public awareness of IBS in the process. We should not simply benefit from the hard work of others.  IBS Impact hopes to follow the progress of efforts in various states as they arise, and to report on them to the IBS community. We urge readers to consider getting involved, as Ally and her mother did several years ago, and we encourage comments on this blog or IBS Impact’s social media in regard to your personal experiences with needing, using or advocating for these laws.

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