Sanitary Products Safety Accessibility Gender-neutral restrooms Inclusive restroom facilities Public restroom inclusivity Gender diversity in restrooms LGBTQ restroom safety Universal restroom design Restroom accessibility Genderless bathroom solutions Non-binary restroom rights Inclusive bathroom signage Safe restroom design Equality in public restrooms Restroom inclusivity initiatives Universal restroom accommodations Restroom facility equality
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Article by:
Dean M
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December 7, 2023
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Creating gender inclusive public bathrooms

Bathrooms are a unique type of space. Fundamental in a home, a washroom in an otherwise public space (bar, restaurant, office) becomes a private one when it comes to toilets. It’s this middle ground between the public and private sphere as each person who walks into a public bathroom, shared with strangers, expects a minimum amount of privacy. Straddling that line is where the conflict brews: how public is too public, too permissive, too invasive of one’s privacy for a public bathroom?

On a surface level, a segregated genderedspace seems useless; after all, everyone needs to use a toilet. But the privatenature of bathroom use doesn’t really mix well with the idea of publicrestrooms. A completely public bathroom is one you share with people you maypotentially fear.

This has translated into the heatedsocio-political debate of LGBT gender non-conforming and androgynous peoplebeing harassed for restroom use. The LGBTQ community has been vocal inadvocating for trans people for their safety in restroom facilities. It isimportant to note that not only transgender people and non-binary people sufferfrom this harassment, but cisgender folks as well, if they don’t fit theirexpected gender expression stereotypes. That said, other populations can findthe toilet facilities unfriendly, as the average public restroom is onlysomewhat accessible (I.e minimal wheelchair accessibility, no braille,inconsistent grab bar in all private restrooms) and not family-friendly either(I.e no changing table in men’s restrooms).

Rethinking Restrooms

How do we make bathrooms more inclusive regardless of gender identity? The traditional design of public restrooms couldbe built upon, to further encourage a safe, private and inclusive set up.

This is Stalled!’s mission, to present feasible plans for safe, sustainable and inclusive restrooms for everyone. A few considerations must be taken intoaccount when designing a public restroom: occupancy by single-user vs. multipleuser, safety for everybody, accommodations for all needs for maximum accessibility, space efficiency, waiting times and cost.

The New Public Restroom

The ideal setup is a public unisex bathroom that is multiple users. A series of single occupancy bathrooms is not efficient spatially, as it doesn’t group the sinks together for instance. It also simply isn’t feasible in terms of waiting times in a high traffic area. The key here is to have floor-to-ceiling doors. While this comes at a cost for lighting and ventilation, it ensures complete privacy.

What about a lack of safety in the handwashing area of the lavatory, by the mirrors and sinks? Several high schools testing out the all-inclusive restroom model have opted to leave the sinks and the hallway as an open area. People leave their individual stall, and wash their hands in a space that everyone can see from the outside.

Adapting Current Lavatories

But let’s say it’s an existing building.What can be done to render the space more inclusive? Well, the signage comesfirst. The bathroom sign is known internationally by the stick figure of a man and woman. Stalled! Doesn’t advocate to keep such restroom signs, rather it reinforces a gender binary. Using the word “inclusive” explicitly in bathroom signs would be a better way to indicate a genderless and accessible space.Additionally, in order to account for differences in language, using illustrations relative to the structures in place inside the bathroom (toilet, urinal, changing station) are universal and can aid comprehension of the space.

Another consideration is what to do with the urinals. The presence or absence of a urinal indicates automatically in people’s minds what gender is accepted in that bathroom. Gender neutral bathroom facilities can either simply change signage and keep open access to urinals (which might be a bit awkward), remove the urinals which would increase waiting times, or section the urinals behind a wall or screen for further private use.

Finally, another worthwhile initiative promoting equality and inclusive public toilets is setting up a sanitary product dispenser in all stalls of a restroom facility. Not only is this necessary for cisgender women, this access also ensures trans men and nonbinary people can obtain such products while using the restroom they identify to.

Activism from think tank initiatives such as Stalled! allow us to rethink necessary spaces and change them to meet theessential needs of a diverse population, whether conforming or non-conforming to a gender binary.

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