Thursday, January 24, 2013

Shame on You, Kerry Dougherty

The Virginia legislature recently voted down Virginia House Bill No. 1375, the Restroom Access Act. This is one of many bills more frequently being proposed around the country (such as Ally’s Law, passed in 2005 in Illinois). These laws grant restroom access to individuals who suffer from eligible medical conditions which require the sudden and urgent need to use the facilities. Eligible medical conditions include Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis (or any other inflammatory bowel disease).

As one of 1.4 Million Americans who suffers from inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), this is a frustrating loss, even if it happened at the state level. We not only battle our own diseases on a daily basis, but must also fight judgment, misunderstanding, and advocate for awareness. But for Kerry Dougherty, columnist for TheVirginian-Pilot in Norfolk, Virginia, this killed bill is a reason for celebration.

In her article, “Bathroom bill ends up where it belongs – down the drain,” Ms. Dougherty starts out by stating, Nothing gets some folks excited quite like a spirited discussion of public restrooms,” and, “I should know,” referring to a past article she wrote on the use of handicapped stalls. I would like to respond to her article.

Ms. Dougherty, I’m afraid you still haven’t learned the lesson you should. Your past experience may mean that you “should know” that writing about restrooms causes some people to get excited about the topic, but it certainly does not mean you have learned anything from your experience, most certainly not about empathy.

While you may “know” the topic of restrooms stirs up debate, it is clear to me that you really don’t know why this is such an important topic to many people – the approximately 1.4 MILLION of us who suffer from inflammatory bowel disease. You don’t really know.

You note that the bill was killed in subcommittee, with out a single vote of support. This figure is sad, not because you apparently feel it’s notable, but because it speaks volumes about how misunderstood and invisible these horrible diseases are.

You call the bill “over-the-top” and say it would have attempted to “legislate common sense.” I agree! Why should we have to legislate something like this? Unfortunately, as the saying goes, “common sense isn’t common.” I WISH this weren’t something that needed to be legislated. Have you taken the time to read Ally Bain’s story? It seems common sense should have prevented her incident, don’t you agree?

You say this law was an effort to “as a first resort – to fix a rare but troublesome problem.” First, this isn’t a first resort (more on that in a minute). Second, yes, it’s troublesome - extremely troublesome. But rare? How do you know? How many teens and adults do you think would publicly admit to having had a public accident? Is this criterion for drafting a bill that – I’ll state it again – will assist approximately 1.4 million Americans in performing daily functions? That IBD sufferers must first sign a petition stating, “I crapped my pants” in order to prove that these accidents happen?

You also say you’re “sympathetic to folks with some of these bowel ailments,” and that “Sympathetic business folks ought to help when they can.” They ought to, and I understand they won’t always be able to. But the issue is, many don’t or won’t. May I again direct your attention to Ally’s story, or perhaps remind you of the Alexandria teenager you cited in your article?

You go on to introduce “the flip side.” The flip side to what, may I ask? It’s apparent to me you did little to no research on inflammatory bowel disorders. You never presented the viewpoint of any single sufferer of any of these diseases. You merely presented an, “aw, shucks, that must really suck” attitude with that pitying nod of understanding that you “know” what it’s like to need to use the restroom with any sense of urgency. You don’t know.

And then, we get to hear your pedicure story. You witnessed salon workers doing the right thing, only to be robbed. That was wrong, and I hate that it happened. Did you consider alternate scenarios? What if that woman had been an IBD sufferer, and she not only made it to the restroom in time, but no one’s wallets were stolen? What if that woman had been an IBD sufferer whose request was turned down, and you had to witness her losing the contents of her bowels into her pants? IBD may be “rare, but troublesome”, and this may be Pollyannaish of me to admit, but I still have faith in the human race and believe that the scenario you cite is also “rare, but troublesome.”

Further, if you read the bill, it specifically states that access is provided if the “employee toilet facility is not located in an area where providing access would create an obvious security risk to the retail establishment.” It is my hope that such clauses would make business owners consider that such requests might be made and be certain that they can safely accommodate them.

Finally, you state that, “the best thing Crohn's sufferers could do would be to launch a public relations campaign to raise awareness.” May I be the first to sarcastically THANK YOU for your suggestion? This idea is a breakthrough! I may take that and run with it!

But in all seriousness, please let me introduce you to the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America, an organization which spearheads many fundraising and awareness efforts. Also, you can google “Crohn’s disease” (or “ulcerative colitis” or “ibd”) and see that many people are doing what they can to spread the awareness (however embarrassing that can be). The reality is that in the meantime, we still have to use the restroom - urgently, at inconvenient times, and in inconvenient places.

So, shame on you. Not for having the opinion you do, but for failing to research and understand the driving force behind the Restroom Access Act.

Ms. Dougherty, I would not wish Crohn’s on anyone, even you. I especially hope that no one close to you ever suffers from this ugly disease, as my fear for them would be that they would lack the empathy and support they would need and deserve from you.


  1. Thanks Crohnie Mom for writing this on your blog. I suffer from Crohn's disease ...first diagnosed @ 26; but suffered 6 yrs before that.

    1. Thanks for reading, Nova. Crohn's disease is a challenge, but I'll never forget how awful it was to be sick and suffering before having a diagnosis and wondering what was going on. I hope you are doing well and enjoying more healthy days now!

  2. I did e-mail my thoughts to Ms. Dougherty, as well as shared with her a link to my blog post. I have not gotten a response from her, but I also don't expect to.