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Crohn’s sufferers stay home over fears of being denied toilet access, disability lawyer says

A disability rights lawyer is backing calls to legally require businesses to let people with inflammatory bowel diseases use employee toilets.

In 2017, Lower Hutt teenager Nicole Thornton, who has Crohn’s disease, presented a petition to Parliament asking for people like her to be given the right to use toilets at businesses when there were no public toilets nearby.

In February, the Health Select Committee said in a report on the petition that forcing businesses to give members of the public toilet access would be difficult.

It instead recommended the Government look at paying some businesses to provide such services and launch a public awareness campaign.

More than six months later, Thornton is disappointed by what she perceives as a lack of action by those in power.

Along with gastroenterologist Dr Richard Stein, the 15-year-old student is continuing to push for legislation like “Ally’s Law”, which has been enacted in 19 US states.

Ally’s law was inspired by Illinois-raised lawyer Allyson Bain’s experience when a manager at a store without public toilets denied Bain, who has Crohn’s disease, access to an employee facilities.

“I ended up having an accident, which, at the age of 14, was extremely humiliating,” she said.

Now 29, Bain is in New Zealand to show support for Thornton and other advocates.

She said some people with IBD avoided going out because they were worried about what might happen if they couldn’t access a toilet when they needed it.

“It really shouldn’t be something that people need to worry about. It’s a common sense issue. It’s a human decency issue.”

Stein, who chairs the charity Crohn’s and Colitis New Zealand, believed most businesses would likely let people with IBD use their toilets in an emergency.

However, he said some restaurants and retailers only allowed customers to access toilets if they had a receipt, which could be a barrier to people with IBD who needed to go urgently.

Businesses that were willing to let people with IBD use their toilets could order a free sticker to put in their window confirming they accept the “I Can’t Wait” card which Crohn’s and Colitis New Zealand issues to people with IBD.

Jon Cable, enterprise policy manager at the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIED) said the ministry was ​considering providing advice through on how businesses could make their bathrooms available. This would require further analysis of any compliance issues, such as with health and safety legislation.

He said MBIE was contributing to a broader Government review into achieving a fully accessible New Zealand.

“The programme includes development of a common understanding of what ‘fully accessible’ looks like, and to explore the feasibility of using legislation to provide for standards and codes for accessibility.”

Read full article by Brittany Keogh here.

Posted on: November 28 2019

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