With new construction on campus, a specific "bathroom committee" is looking to create a universal design plan to implement, as well as updating current designs.

Some buildings on Ohio University’s Athens campus don’t have handicapped-accessible, single-user or family bathrooms.

That means a student taking a test might not be physically able to take a bathroom break.

It could be an embarrassing experience for a student who identifies as transgender.

It could mean a father taking his young daughter for a swim at the Aquatic Center might not be able to change her into a bathing suit.

At OU, there are several buildings that lack bathrooms suitable for several demographics — including those who have disabilities, those who don’t identify with a certain gender, and parents.

Officials in several departments have expressed their concerns to Dianne Bouvier, interim executive director of the Office for Institutional Equity, she said.

“One of the things I noticed that fall (when I first started in my position) was that a number of different areas were coming to our office … to say, for their own reasons, why we needed to look at restrooms,” Bouvier said.

To address this, Bouvier convened a committee of officials from various departments, including Facilities, the Office for Institutional Equity, the LGBT Center and Student Accessibility Services.

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There are several requirements bathrooms need to meet to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act, said Bouvier and Carey Busch, assistant dean of Student Accessibility Services.

That includes specific measurements for where the paper towel holder and soap dispenser need to be placed, as well as how large the restroom and stall need to be.

For example, according to a checklist that follows 2010 ADA standards that is used to evaluate accessibility in spaces on campus:

  • Doors must be able to open with a maximum of 5 pounds of force
  • Coat hooks must fall between 15 and 48 inches off the floor
  • The space must accommodate a pathway of 36 inches to each fixture

Redesigned restrooms will comply with ADA standards, working toward functionality.

“(The group is) looking at the accessible design and how we are maybe able to expand that restroom that’s designed for physical access to meet other needs,” Busch said. 

Single-user restrooms cannot only help individuals with disabilities, but several other groups of people on campus, including trans individuals.

Delfin Bautista, director of the LGBT Center, is on the “bathroom committee” to bring an LGBT perspective to the conversation.

“There have been increased rates of people getting UTIs because of holding it. … They don’t feel safe going to the restroom,” Bautista said. “It’s important for all people on campus to feel safe, especially when it comes to something as basic as going to the bathroom.”

More than half of transgender individuals surveyed for a study with the Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law in Washington, D.C., said they had been dehydrated or experienced urinary tract and kidney infections caused by avoiding public restrooms. 

Single parents with opposite sex or multiple children also need better-designed spaces, Bouvier said.

Those kinds of bathrooms are lacking in areas such as the Aquatic Center. 

Jesper Beckholt, education coordinator at the LGBT Center and a senior studying English, said gendered bathrooms could lead to discomfort for trans or non-binary individuals. Because Beckholt’s gender expression is fluid, Beckholt is able to decide which bathroom to use based on Beckholt’s gender expression that day. For some trans individuals, this is not the case.

“It’s a worthwhile thing to work toward because it’s a lot of discomfort for people; for some people it’s just total inaccessibility,” Beckholt said. “I really like that there (has) been a lot of partnering here and historically about getting gender-neutral restrooms and getting accessible restrooms because that is something that for me I don’t have to deal with.”

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Beckholt said having more accessible and neutral bathrooms on campus would improve the campus image.

“We’re really gaining a reputation of becoming a very forward-thinking LGBTQ+ friendly school, and I don’t see a reason not to have spaces like that,” Beckholt said adding that OU’s considerable LGBTQ+ population would find those bathrooms meaningful, whereas they wouldn’t be hurting anyone who didn’t need to use them.

“If I came to see a school and they said, ‘Oh yeah, we have gender-neutral spaces everywhere, gender-neutral bathrooms in every building’ … I would (think), ‘This is beautiful,’” Beckholt said.

Bouvier said it might come down to a different way of designing university spaces.

Universal design, Bouvier said, could mean creating a basic blueprint that follows all of the ADA and university requirements the group would want to see, and then would be handed to facilities so the design could be incorporated into new building plans. Bouvier has looked at ideas for what a universally-designed bathroom could possibly look like. 

Blueprints for an official universal design, however, at this point “haven’t been vetted,” she said. 

She said all new construction projects will have at least one “single-user, ADA restroom that can be used by many populations.” 

“As we hear of needs, we try to address them,” Bouvier said.

The committee met earlier this semester but, Bouvier said, “sometimes we can’t do all of (the priorities) at the same time.” She wants to see an open forum created so the group could see more students’ and faculty members’ input in the project. They had a forum last year and talked about the social justice behind the issue.

For most universities, Bouvier said they would look at accessibility “as part of their regular work with ADA.”

Darrell Purdy, assistant director for employee accommodation and campus accessibility, through the Office for Institutional Equity, said he and his colleagues have now been offered to be a part of planning. Since 2011, Purdy has been going around to buildings on campus, working with the Facilities team and trying to see what needs to be done in terms of accommodating for accessibility. 

Purdy also is a proponent of universal design and said that, while it might not save money in the beginning, it will pay off in the end, considering bathrooms would not have to be re-done later to fix problems. 

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“If we use universal design in our practice around accessibility, it’s a win-win for everyone,” Purdy said. “Right now, what we do is, we’ll go to Facilities, and we’re going to have to make some adaptations. You do universal design, you won’t have to do that.”

Purdy said it can be a challenge for those on the committee, because each person wants something done for the group they are representing. But, in the end, he said, they all want accessible, mainstream bathrooms that can accommodate the most amount of people. 

The first stage of this, he added, is identifying the problems on campus.

Purdy emphasized that all students are paying for their experience on campus and what comes easy for some should not be a burden for others. 

“At the end of the day, it’s a civil rights issue,” he said.

@reb_barnes

rb605712@ohio.edu

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