There has been much debate about the usage of handicapped bathrooms. Some people feel like they should be used exclusively by handicapped individuals, and others say they are built for handicapped individuals, not reserved for them. I would like to offer my opinion and experience as a mother of a child with special needs.
I was recently traveling with my two children. We were in New York City and, as usual, it was quite busy. I found that almost everywhere we went, the lines for the women's restroom were at least 20 minutes long. My daughter needs my assistance when she goes to the bathroom, and although she has come a long way in her potty training, at the age of 8, she still has some difficulties. In one particular circumstance we were in line and she really had to go. I felt so helpless, because I knew there was nothing that I could do. The woman in front of us could hear my daughter's protests and seemed to be empathetic, but what she did next shocked me. As we finally got near the front of the line, I saw the handicapped stall open up, and the woman in front of us, who had been listening to my daughters' cries for 20 minutes, took the stall! I could not believe it. I can understand her need to go to the bathroom, but please!
When it was finally our turn, we had to take a regular stall, and I squeezed myself, my daughter and my son into it. Unfortunately, Eliza had already gone in her pants. She was just unable to hold it for that long. I felt awful, but I also felt really angry that the handicapped bathroom was being used as just another stall for everyone. I sat and watched women go in and come out as my daughter sat in discomfort, and I was shocked by the lack of empathy on their parts.
So I'm not sure what the exact ruling is on the usage of handicapped bathrooms, but as a mother of a child with needs, I would just say this: The next time you are in a line for the bathroom and you see a child or adult with special needs in line and the handicapped stall opens up, please offer it to them! I can attest to how appreciative they will be.