Dear Prudence

Handicapped Restroom Etiquette, Part 2

Please send your questions for publication to

Prudie has received a flood, you should pardon the expression, of correspondence in response to the handicapped stall letter. The volume of mail was astounding. Following is a fair sampling from the deluge, with Prudie’s thoughts at the end.

Dear Prudence,

I am dismayed at your answer to the query about using the handicapped stall in a public bathroom. I use a wheelchair. I cannot begin to tell you how many times I have entered a public facility to find the ONLY stall occupied is the handicapped one–and by a person who did not need it! The large size is not because we are “deserving of such amenities,” but because people in wheelchairs need the space to turn around, to clamber onto the toilet, to empty catheters, whatever. People such as myself cannot get up from the seat in a conventional stall without handrails.

I have seen people use them with their kids–waiting until two or three toddlers “make pee-pee.” People sometimes use them to change clothes! This means I sometimes soil myself. If there are NO other empty stalls and you gotta go, then, by all means, use them–but never if there are other stalls you can use.


How clueless!!! Here we have an able-bodied, selfish caffeine addict, who can’t seem to wait for a stall, callously making someone who is handicapped wait. What will it take–seeing a person standing in a puddle–or worse–before you realize that you’re a doofus?


Dear Prudence,

I felt the need to respond to this. I don’t know how many times I have gone to use the handicapped stall and there’s always someone in it. If there isn’t another stall open, I understand. However, the comment I object to is the one where you say there is never a handicapped person waiting to use it when you are done. There are many conditions that are not visible. I have MS and look just fine. What is not apparent is that I have a bladder problem and a catheter. For me to deal with this is almost impossible in a “standard” stall.



You dropped the ball big time in your response to “Doubting,” about the able-bodied using stalls for the disabled. Let me enlighten you: Almost every time I need to use the disabled stall (I am in a wheelchair), I have to wait for an AB to leave, and they all apologize meekly when they leave. Your insensitivity is truly astounding. What you consider luxurious is a necessity to us. I suggest that you try holding your bladder or bowels, race to the bathroom, and find the ONE stall you can possibly use occupied by someone who prefers the “luxury” of the handicapped stall. Please reconsider your opinion.

Thank you.


Dear Prudence,

Sorry to inform you that in California it is a finable offense to use a handicapped-designated restroom stall if you’re able-bodied. The fine for the first offense is $271. I was riding my bicycle on the state beach at Huntington Beach and was arrested and given a ticket, which the court has upheld–in the winter the beach maintenance closes all but the handicapped facilities, so I guess you are supposed to use the landscape.

–For Real

Dear Prudie,

The article on use of the handicapped stall was a farce. You basically said it’s OK to use it any time. As a former roommate of a disabled person, I became more aware of the functional aspects of being handicapped. Many of these individuals do not have the capacity to “hold it,” as you or I do.

–A Concerned Citizen


I’m sure you are not advocating disregarding the rights of the disabled, but I think you may have misled others to do so. There is a big difference between handicapped parking and handicapped restroom stalls. Courtesy would dictate yielding designated bathroom facilities to those who require them, though when available, their use is not restricted from the general public. I would be encouraged to see this clarification published.


Dear Prudence,

Public restrooms are for public use. The larger stalls are meant to accommodate the handicapped–not specifically for.

–Phyllis W.

Prudie, after much thought, realized several things about this matter. One is that the disabled have a strong, perhaps disproportionate, influence when it comes to public policy. Mostly this is to the good. There are some caveats, however. Prudie remembers the Atlantic Monthly story about the French kiosk company that developed wonderful individual bathrooms for use on streets. New York tried them but had to give them up because the lobby of disabled persons raised such a fuss about all of them having to be handicapped accessible. This, of course, was an impossibility, and unreasonable, so none were allowed on the streets.

An illogical example of the power of this lobby can be found in hospitals. The number of bathrooms for surgeons and surgical staff, proximate to the operating rooms, has been reduced so that there can be wheelchair-accessible bathrooms. Well, there are no surgeons and allied personnel in wheelchairs, given the nature of the work.

As some correspondents did point out, when no stall is available and there is a line, anyone can use the designated handicapped stall–if that is the next one to open up. It is a bit of an ethical conundrum that the handicapped want fairness, but fairness for them sometimes results in unfairness to others. Perhaps this is an acceptable trade-off, given the particulars.

Prudie’s reconsidered opinion is that when an able-bodied person enters a public restroom, and there is a choice of stalls, that person should not go into the handicapped accessible one. Prudie, herself, after undergoing some rather strong e-mail aversion therapy, plans never to step foot in the more spacious stall again.