Position Brief: Increasing Access to Washrooms

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What Crohn’s and Colitis Canada calls for:
People living with Crohn’s disease (CD) and ulcerative colitis (UC) call for greater access to public and private washroom facilities across the province. Many people living with CD and UC face challenges when dealing with fecal incontinence. Some problems include public spaces not having enough or no stalls, experiencing difficulty in finding a washroom or having to wait in line. In some public places, retailers restrict washroom access to ‘customers only’. Sometimes people with CD or UC have been in situations where they pleaded with a store owner to use washrooms that were for employee use only. For children, asking a teacher for permission to visit the washroom can be problematic and embarrassing.

There are approximately a quarter million Canadians living with Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. Crohn’s and colitis are episodic, debilitating, chronic conditions that affect children and adults of all ages. Symptoms are directly associated with inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract and the lining of the colon. Sudden urges to go to the washroom, incontinence, abdominal pain, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting and fatigue are common symptoms of these immune-mediated diseases. Moreover, there is a risk of developing colorectal cancer from enduring Crohn’s and colitis.

Frequent visits to the washroom are the most important aspect of these diseases people want to control and limit. Indeed, in a 2011 survey, 73% of respondents said they experienced between five to 20 bowel movements or false urges each day during active disease (flare-up). Thirteen percent of respondents had more than 20 movements or urges a day.

As one male adult living with Crohn’s and colitis explained the stigma associated with the disease, “living with colitis means being close to a washroom wherever you go and it dramatically alters your lifestyle. I need to plan my daily activities based on the availability of a washroom. It also makes it awkward when I have to explain to others why I need to excuse myself on a moment's notice. It is something I don't want to share with people I just met."

Basic Facts:
In 2011, Crohn’s and Colitis Canada collected over 1,300 responses for a national survey looking into the impact of access to washrooms. Some of the results below demonstrate the difficulty that people living with Crohn’s and colitis face daily:
  • 44% of English and 39% of French respondents have had an accident in public due to washroom inaccessibility;
  • 53% of all respondents had to negotiate or share private details of their condition to use washrooms;
  • 78% of English and 75% of French respondents have chosen to stay home during a flare-up for fear of not being able to access a washroom;
  • 33% of English and 23% of French respondents said the fear of having an accident has influenced their career choices

  • Canada has among the highest incidence rates of Crohn's and colitis in the world.
  • 1 in 140 Canadians lives with Crohn’s or colitis.
  • Families new to Canada are developing these diseases for the first time.
  • Incidence of Crohn’s in Canadian kids under 10 has doubled since 1995.
  • People are most commonly diagnosed before age 30.

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