Join Restroom Access Act (Ally’s Law) Advocacy in Virginia, New York and Maine

UPDATE: 05/10/2013: Please see the May 10, 2013 post for updated information on Ally’s Law in the states of Maine and Maryland

UPDATE: 1/26/2013: Several sources, including Amplify Your Voice, are now reporting that on January 21, HB 1375, Virginia’s Restroom Access Act legislation was defeated in subcommittee without any votes of support. This is disappointing, but Amplify Your Voice states they will try again in the next legislative session next year. IBS Impact hopes they will and will post any news as it develops.

This week, the national newsmagazine U.S. News and World Report featured a lengthy article entitled, “The Grassroots Movement to Change the Nation’s Public Restroom Laws.” This has given renewed attention and momentum to the ongoing effort to pass a Restroom Access Act, popularly known as “Ally’s Law, ” in additional states.

This advocacy movement is named for Ally Bain, 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 successfully worked with legislators in her then-home state of Illinois to enact a law to address similar situations 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. 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. In twelve of these states, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is specifically mentioned in each law. In the thirteenth and most recently enacted, Massachusetts, IBS is covered broadly under “any other medical condition requires immediate access to a restroom facility.”

In past years, similar bills been introduced in several additional states, but have not yet passed, requiring continuing advocacy and reintroduction in subsequent legislative sessions.  IBS Impact has reached out to Ally and other self-advocates in the inflammatory bowel disease community in an effort to increase public awareness of the similar concerns of many people with IBS, as well as to offer support toward this common goal.While their diagnosis of IBD is different from IBS in several ways, the experience of gastrointestinal pain, unpredictable, urgent or frequent trips to the bathroom and feeling embarrassed and alone is shared by many people with IBS. Please see IBS Impact’s previous post on November 2, 2012 for commentary on why it is in the interests of the IBS community to join our IBD-affected peers in pressing for these laws.

Ally now resides in Virginia, where the Restroom Access Act, HB 1375,  is reported to be currently in the General Assembly. Her social media has also alerted us to current efforts in New York City, as well as a more general inflammatory bowel disease awareness effort in Maine, which appears to include some information about Ally’s Law efforts in that state.  State or city- specific updates can be reached through the following Facebook pages.

Amplify Your Voice: Help Get Ally’s Law Passed in Virginia

IBD in NYC- Pass Ally’s Law

Team Challenge Maine

IBS Impact thanks Ally and other IBD advocates for their leadership on this issue, and the receptivity of some of them to the participation of people with IBS. We will continue 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, 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

4 Responses to Join Restroom Access Act (Ally’s Law) Advocacy in Virginia, New York and Maine

  1. Anonymous says:

    FYI, I noticed that a related petition has been created on whitehouse.gov’s “We The People” website (if that hasn’t been mentioned here already).

    • ibsimpact says:

      Thank you for commenting. The petition is entitled “Enact the Restroom Access Act or Ally’s Law,” searchable on the “We the People” website. With due respect to the commenter and the petition creator and their self-advocacy impulses, which IBS Impact supports, this particular petition is not one that, as an entity, IBS Impact can recommend. It asks the Obama administration to enact a federal law allowing people with medical need for restroom access to obtain “handicap parking permits.” This request confuses several separate issues and levels of jurisdiction.

      First, Ally’s Law, as spearheaded by Ally Bain, does not address parking. It addresses access to employee-only restrooms in retail establishments where there is no public restroom, so what the petition is asking is not “Ally’s Law,” but another proposal entirely. It’s not clear if the petition writer intends people to be able to park close to an establishment in order to find a restroom quickly (possibly a good thing) or if the writer suggests that the people use the parking permit to prove need for the bathroom (problematic as there are many people with disability parking permits who do not need urgent access to the bathroom and there are also other more specific alternatives for those who do need the restroom, such as “can’t wait cards” and doctor’s notes.)

      Second, “Ally’s Law” is actually a collection of individual state laws which are similar, but not exactly the same. The same is true of “handicapped parking” laws, which are designed for people with mobility impairments or chronic illnesses which make it difficult or impossible for a driver or passenger to walk/move long distances through parking lots or who require larger spaces to accommodate wheelchairs/scooters and mechanical lifts if any, access to curb cuts, etc. These permits are granted on a temporary or permanent basis by local cities/towns according to state laws. The federal government is not the correct authority in this situation.

      Third, the President and the White House are not the appropriate starting point to propose legislation in the U.S. Any advocacy should start with one’s legislators in Congress, (the House of Representatives and Senate on the federal level, or equivalent on the state level) who actually introduce, consider and pass bills that the President then chooses to sign into law or not.

      Fourth, in general, random online petitions are not effective, in comparison to direct engagement with legislators, media and other means.

      While IBS Impact encourages self-advocacy and would encourage the petition creator to explore his/her proposal and how viable it might be in another form or venue, as it stands, it is problematic. Supporters of Ally’s Law would likely dilute their credibility by signing this petition in this form.

  2. Sandra Harris says:

    Thank you, I whole heartidly support this issue

  3. Kimberly Haney says:

    I support this cause. This is ridiculous to have to get a petition signed for access to a restroom.
    K

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