Time to Pass Restroom Access in New York

06/15/2017 01:54 pm ET

We’ve all been there before - one minute you feel okay and the next your stomach is churning and you have a matter of seconds to get to a bathroom. It’s unpleasant and stressful for the average person. Unfortunately, for patients living with Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, it can be a daily occurrence.

The urgency that is associated with these debilitating, incurable inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD) is more than just the feeling of needing a bathroom. Patients simply cannot wait and, for many, that means getting to a restroom immediately or risk having an accident.

Bowel urgency can strike at any time - at home, at work, or in public. When a patient is at home or at work, they know where the restroom is and have the peace of mind knowing that they can access it whenever needed. However, when in public, access to a restroom isn’t always guaranteed.

For example, a 17-year-old Crohn's patient was visiting a large three-story department store in New York City when urgency struck. She went up to a security guard to ask if there was a restroom she could use. He informed her that the store only had private restrooms and she had to run from the store to a nearby restaurant where she begged others in line to let her in front of them. Some patrons were kind and allowed her to go ahead whereas others were not as understanding. In the end, the patient narrowly escaped soiling herself in public, but she’s constantly reminded of that experience anytime she leaves her house.

That’s why the Crohn's & Colitis Foundation is working to pass the Crohn’s & Colitis Fairness Act (S3295), a critical bill providing restroom access to people with certain medical conditions, in New York State. According to a poll conducted by the Foundation, more than 60 percent of respondents had similar experiences where they were denied access to a restroom in a business establishment. And while some were able to find a different one to use, others – children and adults alike - ended up experiencing the embarrassment of having an accident in public. The uncertainty about restroom access often results in social isolation – patients afraid to leave their homes because they are fearful that even running a quick errand could result in the embarrassment of an accident.

For the third year in a row, the Crohn’s & Colitis Fairness Act (S3295) is one of hundreds of bills sitting on the Senate Calendar to be voted on before the end of session. If passed, the bill would allow people with certain medical conditions, like Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, to use a private restroom when a public one isn't available and it is safe to do so. Similar legislation has already been passed in 16 states around the country, including our neighbors in Connecticut and Massachusetts.

Thanks to the leadership of Assemblywoman Amy Paulin and Senator Kemp Hannon, the bill has already passed through the New York State Assembly and the Senate Health Committee. Passing S3295 should be commonsense before the end of the legislative session. There’s no financial impact to the state or businesses from the bill. Rather, passage of S3295 would create a supportive environment for patients grappling with debilitating chronic illnesses to feel comfortable going out in public without fear of being denied restroom access and having an accident.

2017 has to be the year that restroom access becomes a reality in New York State. We implore Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan to stand up for the more than 104,000 patients in New York State living with Crohn’s and colitis and move the bill to the active list and pass it before the end of the legislative session.

Click here to contact your New York State Senator today and tell them to pass S3295!

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