Last week, I introduced you to my friend Ally Bain, who became an advocate for people with Crohn’s and colitis at the age of 14. When faced with a most embarrassing situation, she made the best of it and changed laws for people who live with IBD… while she was still in high school! What began as the Illinois Restroom Access Act has now passed in eleven states thanks to lots of hard work and dedication on the part of many people. But it all began with one girl. Thanks to Ally for sharing the story of how this law came to be.
Over the last ten years, my Crohn’s disease has presented many hardships, but I never could have imagined at the time of my diagnosis that one of those negative experiences would give me the opportunity to use my voice and help write legislation to further secure the rights of people with chronic illnesses.
When I was 14 years old, my mom and I were shopping at a large retail store outside Chicago when my Crohn’s disease began to flare. I knew I only had a matter of minutes to find a restroom. After a fitting room employee told my mom and me that the store did not have public restrooms, we asked to speak with the manager.
Although the manager said he knew about Crohn’s, he continuously denied me access to the employee-only restroom. He said we could cross the four-lane highway to another shopping plaza or walk a couple blocks to a restaurant. He clearly did not understand the time constraint. Despite me crying and bending over due to the severe abdominal pain, he stated he was making a “managerial decision.” Turning back towards his office, he waved as he wished for us to “Have a nice day.”
Only minutes after he said that, my day got much worse as my body gave up and my digestive system erupted. I felt humiliated and helpless. Walking out of the store, my mom promised this would never happen to me or anyone else again. Soon after, I knew just who to call: Illinois State Representative Kathy Ryg who I had met just two months earlier while on an eighth grade class field trip to the state capital.
Within a matter of months, I was helping her write legislation that stated that anyone with a medical emergency must be allowed access to an employee-only restroom. In 2005, my mom and I traveled to the state capital to testify in front of a committee. The bill passed unanimously through the committee and also through the Illinois House and Senate. In August 2005, former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich signed it into law as the Restroom Access Act, also known as Ally’s Law.
Since the passage of the Restroom Access Act, or Ally’s Law, in Illinois in 2005, the legislation has passed in 11 other states (thanks to the efforts of people around the country!): Minnesota, Texas, Kentucky, Tennessee, Colorado, Ohio, Michigan, Washington, Oregon, Wisconsin, and Connecticut. It is also pending in several more. To see whether your state is seeking its passage, visit your state’s legislature or general assembly website and search by keyword such as “restroom.”
I am also working on getting it introduced and passed on a federal level so that none of the estimated 1.4 million Americans with Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis will have to be denied the right of restroom access.
If you want to get in touch with Ally about working to get the Restroom Access Act passed in your state, feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’d love to connect you!
Have you ever turned an embarrassing moment into something positive? Tell me about it!
**Edited 6/23/13 to add: Please keep it respectful in the comments — I can truly empathize and understand the passion some of you feel about this cause. However, calling someone names will never convince them that it’s a cause worth fighting for.