We need to talk about restrooms.

Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash

This happens to me all the time

Let me tell you a story to help frame some of these issues. A few weeks ago, while my flight was delayed in Minneapolis, I needed to use the restroom. This seems like a pretty normal, mundane task, but for people like me (and many others, for many different reasons), it can be an incredibly stressful situation that is loaded with trauma.

  • Waiting to use the restroom until it is empty (and then hoping no one comes in).
  • Literally running out of the restroom as fast as I can.
  • Awkwardly waiting in the stall until everyone leaves, which generally results in me being late for a meeting or a class.
  • Talking in as high pitched a voice as I can even if it’s only to myself.

Building design impacts human health.

My work focuses on creating sustainable, healthy and inclusive spaces. So I spend a lot of time researching how spaces, and specifically buildings, impact human health and wellness.

  • “More than half (59%) of respondents avoided using a public restroom in the past year because they were afraid of confrontations or other problems they might experience.”
  • “Nearly one-third (32%) of respondents limited the amount that they ate and drank to avoid using the restroom in the past year.”
  • “Eight percent (8%) reported having a urinary tract infection, kidney infection, or another kidney-related problem in the past year as a result of avoiding restrooms.”

We can do better — we just choose not to, and that says a lot about us.

Every time I share these stories and statistics, folks ask what they can do. I see at least two things you can do:

Design detail from an inclusive restroom at PCC Community Markets
Image of non-gendered restroom design at Town Hall Seattle.

Design change versus behavior change.

Circling back to my story about Minneapolis, I am well aware that while part of the issue is the design of the space, the other part is training for the benefit of the airline employee who used those hurtful words. But, if the space had a more inclusive design, there would be no question as to whether I, or anyone else, was in the “right” restroom, because there is only one restroom. One restroom, for everyone.

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Nicole DeNamur

Nicole DeNamur

Attorney + sustainability consultant. I write about how we can drive deep green innovation at scale. https://www.sustainablestrategiespllc.com