Join the Open Restrooms Movement!
Published: December 4, 2022
We all need access to a restroom, multiple times a day, regardless of how much we dislike talking about it. Unfortunately, many of us who live with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) experience the need to use a restroom more urgently and more frequently than the general public. To help patients find restrooms more easily while they are away from home, this year the Foundation began to tackle the issue of restroom access from a new angle. We launched a restroom finder app, We Can’t Wait, early this year, and simultaneously kicked off the concept of the Open Restrooms Movement, to begin to encourage businesses to open their restrooms to the public.
Advocating for improved public restroom access is one of many ways we are striving to make #IBDvisible, particularly during Crohn’s & Colitis Awareness Week. When we began to work on building the We Can’t Wait app late last year, we did not know if business owners would be receptive to the idea of opening their restrooms to the public, or even whether the IBD community would actively use the We Can’t Wait app. Nearly one year later, we now know that people with IBD are strong supporters of the Open Restrooms Movement. We also have survey data to support our belief that when a business opens their restrooms to the public, it sends a great positive message about the business.
How the We Can’t Wait App and Open Restrooms Movement Got Started
The extreme anxiety of searching for a restroom when my gut was acting up is something I had experienced all too often when the Foundation kicked off this project. I was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis at 23-years-old, and have spent too many years of my life experiencing searing abdominal pain, sudden urgency, and all too often, a mad dash to the nearest restroom.
Almost ever since smart phones were invented, I have tried numerous restroom finder apps, but none worked well enough to keep active on my phone. One of the flaws of these apps was that there were not enough crowdsourced restrooms entered into the app, and no way to give feedback easily when a listed business restroom was closed or nonexistent. So, when the Foundation launched the We Can’t Wait app, not only did we ask the IBD community to enter restrooms in their local communities, but we also partnered with businesses to have their locations added to the app as verified restrooms. A map of the United States with color-coded stars indicating crowdsourced versus verified partner restrooms began to take shape, and we knew we were on our way to developing a helpful tool for IBD patients.
The We Can’t Wait app with its restroom finder map, digital restroom access card, and linked information about IBD became the centerpiece of the Foundation’s Open Restrooms Movement, which calls on business owners to open their restrooms to the public.
Gaining Momentum: The Spread of the #OpenRestroomsMovement
Though people with Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis are acutely impacted by the shortage of public restrooms in the U.S., restroom access issues are not unique to IBD patients, and there are quite a few other conditions that may lead someone to require urgent restroom access. As a result, 13 non-profit partners joined us to declare their support for the Open Restrooms Movement and helped us spread the word about the We Can’t Wait app to the public.
The We Can’t Wait app has been downloaded over 25,000 times on both the App Store and Google PlayStore, and there are now more than 49,000 restroom locations logged in the app.
As We Can’t Wait and the Open Restrooms Movement began to take root within the IBD community, the media took notice of the app as a helpful tool not only for people with Crohn’s or colitis, but for anyone with urgent restroom needs. We Can’t Wait was featured in the New York Times, Fast Company, and more.
This fall, the Foundation surveyed the general public to learn more about how widespread the public restroom shortage is, especially in cities. Leading up to World Toilet Day on Nov. 19, we shared findings from the survey: a startling 53% of the general population said that they or a family member had difficulty finding or accessing a public toilet within the last seven days, and 8% said they’ve had a toilet accident in the past 12 months. In addition, 28% of our respondents said they often planned their day around the availability of a public restroom; and 22% said they sometimes would not attend an event if they knew there would be no restroom available. We know from many conversations with our patients over the years that this can cause significant social isolation.
All of these data points provide the human side of the case for an Open Restrooms Movement. In addition, the survey results provided a business case for retailers and others with restrooms that might choose to make them more readily available to the public. We learned that a majority of respondents – 61% – said that when choosing between two similar competing businesses, the business with an open public restroom would positively influence their decision where to shop.
What’s Next for Restroom Access
During Crohn’s & Colitis Awareness Week, we are asking IBD patients and their loved ones to add public restrooms in their local communities to We Can’t Wait so that we can continue growing the app.
And now, with data to prove that joining the Open Restrooms Movement is beneficial to both businesses and their patrons, we are also appealing to business owners to list their restrooms directly on the We Can’t Wait app. If you are a business owner, learn more about the Open Restrooms Movement here.
By expanding the Open Restrooms Movement and making the We Can’t Wait restroom database as comprehensive and up to date as possible, our goal is to prevent IBD patients – or anyone – from the risk of a humiliating public accident.
Judy Hoffstein is the Foundation's Chief Marketing Officer.