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.
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