Lack of washrooms increasing issue for Crohn’s and Colitis patients amid pandemic

We’ve all been dealing with having to adapt to the challenges of the pandemic, but one ongoing issue for a number of people with medical conditions is the shortage of available public washrooms. This is especially the case for Whitby resident Claudia Tersigni.

“It’s been fairly difficult. It’s been a challenge for me on numerous occasions.”

For the 25-year-old, doing errands has never been an easy task. She lives with Ulcerative Colitis, a chronic condition meaning she can sometimes face uncontrollable urges to go to the bathroom. At any given time, she could use the washroom from four to 20 times a day.

“My symptoms are not only frequency but urgency, so when the need to use the washroom comes over me — it’s an immediate need,” Tersigni said.

“I either have either five minutes to go or an accident ensues, which is of course embarrassing.”

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The Whitby woman has lived with what is called the ‘invisible’ disease throughout her life, but says during the pandemic — knowing where she could go when faced with an emergency became increasingly difficult.

“As washrooms in restaurants started closing as well, those were no longer my safe spaces,” says Tersigni.

The lack of washrooms has been an ongoing problem for a number of people, as thousands of businesses were forced to close their doors over the alternating shutdowns. Last year a movement was pushed to open temporary bathrooms for truckers who were being shut out of establishments as well. But for people like Claudia — the issue remains the same.

“Ultimately I began to develop anxiety about leaving my house for fear of not being able to find a washroom on route.”

She’s not the only one. According to Crohn’s and Colitis Canada, there are over 270,000 people living with either Crohn’s Disease or Ulcerative Colitis. Siam Javeid with the organization says the shortage has always been challenging.

“They almost have to plea, like beg to use the washroom,” Javeid says.

Before the world changed — the organization saw the problem, and created a washroom locator app called ‘GoHere’. This is where businesses can register their washrooms. Since its creation, more than 3,500 businesses and establishments have signed on. But Javeid says now it’s harder to maintain service with rotating shutdowns and the increasing fear of COVID-19.

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“You don’t have a guarantee of whether a business is going to stay open or not.”

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“After the recent events in the last few months, we are now seeing a decline,” she says. “They are really concerned about the spread of the virus and they refer it to a public health concern.”

Crohn’s and Colitis Canada has been pushing for an access to restrooms act, but so far has only had success with the Federal Government adding a handful of locations to their GoHere app.

In the U.S., several state legislatures have enacted Ally’s Law. This requires businesses to give access to public restrooms for people with medical conditions.

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At this time — there isn’t anything in the works for a law, but the Canadian organization is advocating for something similar. Claudia says it also comes down to getting as many public settings involved as possible.

“If businesses knew how important it was go keep their washrooms open for people like me, I think we might be onto something.”

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A gesture that can make all the difference to someone like her.

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