Ostomy Awareness Day: Let’s Talk Public Restrooms

If you ever work with ostomy patients, you need to know about the Restroom Access Act, also known as Ally’s Law.


Ostomy Awareness Day: Let’s Talk Public Restrooms

Editor’s note: in her OstomyLife blog series, Ostomy Lifestyle Specialist Laura Cox, Shield HeatlhCare, shares lifestyle tips and information with fellow ostomates. After being diagnosed with Ulcerative Colitis at the age of eighteen, Cox underwent ileostomy surgery in 2011. Today, you can find her one-on-one advice, support and insights on her blog, as well as other Shield HealthCare social media sites.


Whenever you, as a wound care clinician, are face-to-face with ostomy patients, you have the opportunity to make a difference. You are in the unique position to help arm them with information – and even confidence – when they leave your care. So in honor of Ostomy Awareness Day on Oct. 1, let’s talk about the important topic of public restrooms.

The Problem

While the hunt for a public restroom can be challenging enough for average shoppers, it takes on a new importance for me and my fellow ostomates. Sure, most of us are already familiar with being denied restroom access during sudden flares, but for people with certain conditions that create regular, uncontrollable urges – like Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) – the lack of bathroom access is much more problematic. And sometimes it can be downright humiliating.

Meet Ally Bain

Over ten years ago, 14-year-old Ally Bain was shopping in a popular Illinois clothing store when she experienced a sudden pain as part of a Crohn’s disease flare. She begged to use the employee-only bathroom, but was denied by staff and a manager, resulting in a very public and embarrassing accident.

Ally decided she wanted to create a solution to this problem so that others wouldn’t have to endure the same fate. With the help of Illinois Representative Kathy Ryg, she drafted the Restroom Access Act, also known as Ally’s Law. The act requires businesses to allow people with certain qualifying conditions – including IBD and ostomies – to use “employee only” restrooms. There are some exceptions to the Law for businesses that cannot easily comply, and the penalty for businesses that can but don’t comply is a petty offense citation and a fine.

Thanks to Ally’s efforts, the Restroom Access Act passed in Illinois in 2005, followed by 15 more states. Here is a complete list of Ally’s Law states:

  • Colorado
  • Connecticut
  • Delaware
  • Illinois
  • Kentucky
  • Maine
  • Maryland
  • Massachusetts
  • Michigan
  • Minnesota
  • Ohio
  • Oregon
  • Tennessee
  • Texas
  • Wisconsin
  • Washington

What Can You Do?

If you live in one of the states that has passed the Restroom Access Act, you can help prepare your ostomy patients by printing out an Urgent, Please Help! card, available from Shield Healthcare, The Great Bowel Movement and The Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America. Ostomates can show this card to store employees when and wherever they have an urgent need for a restroom, saving them time and potential embarrassment from having to verbally explain their condition.

Find out more information about the specifics of this law in different states from Healthline. To find out more about Ostomy Awareness Day, visit the website for The United Ostomy Associations of America, Inc.

How Else Can You Help?

Were you already aware of the Restroom Access Act? If you are in a state in which it has been passed, have you had conversations with your patients about it? And what other lifestyle challenges have you helped your ostomy patients cope with or learn more about? We’d love to hear about any other tips or ideas you have shared with your ostomy patients in your facility. Please leave your comments below.


Wound Care Education Institute® provides online and onsite courses in the fields of Skin, Wound, Diabetic and Ostomy Management. Health care professionals who meet the eligibility requirements may sit for the prestigious WCC®, DWC® and OMS national board certification examinations through the National Alliance of Wound Care and Ostomy® (NAWCO®). For more information see wcei.net.

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