As of last month, April 2013, there are positive updates to report in two more U.S. states regarding Restroom Access Acts, popularly known as Ally’s Law. This brings the number of states with known restroom access laws, allowing people with medical conditions to use employee-only restrooms in retail establishments, to fifteen.
In Maryland, according to this April 11, 2013 article in the Maryland Reporter, state legislation HB 1183 was signed into law by the governor. and is now known as Chapter 148. It will take effect on October 1, 2013. Unfortunately, there do not appear to be additional publicly available sources to confirm or elaborate on the linked information, but as far as IBS Impact is able to determine, the current law amends previously existing law to reduce the minimum number of employees a retail establishment must have in order to be covered by the law from twenty to three. This is more consistent with similar restroom access laws in other states and considerably expands the number of businesses that would be required to comply. The amended Chapter 148 also provides for the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene to create an identification card that can be downloaded and printed from its website and signed by a physician to verify an individual’s medical condition that may require immediate access to a toilet. Please note that unlike similar laws in most other states that currently have them, Maryland does not specifically mention irritable bowel syndrome in the text. However, IBS is covered by the phrase, “other medical condition.”
Also last month, Team Challenge Maine, an inflammatory bowel disease advocacy and awareness Facebook group we highlighted on this blog on December 23, 2012 for its efforts to pass similar legislation in that state, reported that to their surprise, Maine has already had such a law since 2009. The text of Maine statute Title 22, Section 1672-B is linked here. It specifically mentions irritable bowel syndrome among other eligible conditions. Team Challenge Maine now encourages people to report on their experiences of using the law now that they are aware of it.
These laws and the advocacy movement to enact them are popularly 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, in addition to Illinois, Maryland and Maine, there are currently known existing laws in 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 other states where one currently exists. In most of these states, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is specifically mentioned in each law. In Massachusetts, similar to Maryland, 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. The IBD community has generally been much more publicly visible and active in these advocacy efforts relative to 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.
IBS Impact is pleased to learn that restroom access laws do exist in Maryland and Maine. However, there appears to be a lack of widespread coverage of the previous Maryland law and the recently signed amendments by journalists, as well as by websites, blogs and organizations in both the IBD and IBS communities. This news was not reported on this blog earlier than now, precisely because of the difficulty in confirming accurate details through IBS Impact’s many sources, contacts and research efforts. Also, it is ironic that advocacy activities in Maine were publicly launched for several months before they were able to discover that a law already is on the books.
All this seems to point to a major lack of awareness in constituencies that might benefit from these laws, as well as the need for a centralized source for the status of laws, pending legislation, and advocacy efforts in each state. While IBS Impact does not currently have the resources to be as comprehensive a source for this as would be ideal, over time, this blog has striven to report on as much information on the subject as is readily available. When possible, we have also included links to the laws and to grassroots groups concerned with these issues in certain states. We encourage readers and followers, both in the IBS and the IBD community, to comment here or to contact IBS Impact privately with additional information or corrections in the future, so that all people with medical conditions causing urgent restroom needs can benefit from this knowledge.