The Student News Site of Tarrant County College

The Collegian

The Student News Site of Tarrant County College

The Collegian

The Student News Site of Tarrant County College

The Collegian

Companion bathrooms help students by providing space free from embarrassment

By Bethany Peterson/editor-in-chief

Except when the line is long, or the need is pressing, most people don’t think twice about going to the bathroom. Walk in, do business, wash hands, walk out and get on with life.But with a wheelchair, bathrooms can be difficult to manage physically.It gets even more complicated when a person has a caregiver of the opposite gender.One NE student has just this complication. Elaine Wright’s son, Charles, has cerebral palsy, is blind and uses a wheelchair.

When she comes for classes, Charles stays with a caregiver. But when she comes to campus for study groups or to use the Internet, Charles has to come along.

“I bring him to cut down on expenses,” she said.

Charles needs to be taken to the bathroom about every two hours. Wright makes sure to take him before they come to campus, and she tries to get home before he has to go again, but, on occasion, she has to take him while on campus.

In the past, this presented problems.

For one thing, not all handicapped stalls are big enough for two people and a wheelchair to maneuver without someone hitting the wheelchair’s foot rests or stall walls. Also, the door is often hinged the wrong way, opening into the stall, making maneuvering even harder.

Then there are other people.

Once, Charles and Wright were in a regular bathroom on NE Campus, and a woman was talking on her cell phone in another stall.

“Charles was refusing to go because we could hear the other person,” Wright said.

But the situation got worse. When the woman came out and saw Charles and Wright at the sink, she asked incredulously, “What is this man doing in this bathroom?”

“I explained I didn’t feel comfortable going into a men’s bathroom to care for his needs. He was blind,” Wright said. “How would she handle the situation if she were me?”

After this incident, Wright started taking Charles to the health services bathroom. While not very large, there were no strange looks or rude remarks, she said.

But now, she can take Charles to one of the companion bathrooms on NE Campus. A companion bathroom is a one-toilet bathroom big enough for two people and a wheelchair to maneuver comfortably and equipped with handrails and handicapped-accessible sinks.

“They have a sink that lets wheelchairs up so you don’t hit your knees on the pipe,” Wright said.

Also called family bathrooms because a parent can take an opposite-gender child in with them, these bathrooms are marked with a sign showing a woman, a man and a wheelchair.

NE Campus has three such bathrooms, one in NTAB, one in the library and one in the NFAB that is difficult to get to, Wright said.

SE Campus facilities manager David Waldrop said there aren’t any on SE Campus, but he was open to the idea.

“That would be something we might look into when we have another

construction project,” he said.

TR Campus has a companion bathroom on Main Street near the parking garage, Joseph Gonzalez, TR facilities manager, said.

The Collegian was unable to verify if NW or South campuses had any companion restrooms.

NE Campus installed the more convenient companion bathrooms in NTAB and the library after health services coordinator Patricia Marling brought the issue to the attention of campus President Larry Darlage.

“There was a man who came in, and it was for his child who had come with him,” she said. “I contacted Dr. Darlage and said, ‘I’ve had two requests for [companion bathrooms] right on top of each other.’ They [campus officials] got to it really fast.”

Darlage said he responded to the call quickly because he saw a clear need for them.

“Any time we find something not in compliance, we try to fix it,” he said. “It’s a high priority. I don’t think we are legally required, but it makes a lot of sense.”

Many public buildings don’t have a companion bathroom.

“I usually shop at Target because they have companion bathrooms,” Wright said. “Walmart doesn’t.”

No law requires companion bathrooms as one does for handicapped stalls. But times are changing, and the need for companion bathrooms is increasing.

“Years ago, you locked these children away,” Wright said. “You’re seeing more and more of them in public.”

Doctors told Wright’s family to institutionalize Wright’s sister because she showed signs of catatonic epilepsy that later turned out to be food allergies, Wright said.

In less than one generation, practices have changed, Wright said.

Both Marling and Wright wonder if students realize what companion bathrooms are for.

“Do people understand, or do they just think it’s a unisex bathroom so you’re not late for class?” Wright asked. “It’s for everyone who’s in need or needs a little more space.”


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