Sam Cleasby, a Sheffield-based writer doesn’t need a wheelchair, has no visible physical disability but still requires the use of disabled toilets.
Since being diagnosed with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) in 2003 she has had a colectomy and illeostomy, meaning that she needs to use a colostomy bag. Sometimes that means a dash to use the facilities.
In this open letter, published on her blog last week which has since taken the internet by storm, Sam took the ‘tutters’ to task. It’s really, really brilliant.
Dear lady who loudly tutted at me using the disabled loos,
I know you saw me running in, with my able bodied legs and all. You saw me opening the door with my two working arms. You saw me without a wheelchair. Without any visible sign of disability.
You tutted loudly as I rattled the handle with my hands that work perfectly and my able voice call to my kids that I’d be out in just a minute.
My lack of wheelchair may have suggested to you that I was some lazy cow who didn’t care. Some inconsiderate bitch who was using something I wasn’t entitled too. (I actually carry a card to explain that I’m entitled to and have a disability key if you’d have cared to ask). You may have seen my face blushing as I caught your eye and assumed I was showing guilt at blagging the disabled loos.
The fact is that I have no bowel. I have a pouch formed from my small intestine which can’t handle volume and so I have to go to the toilet and poo several times a day. My lack of large intestine means that my stool is totally liquid as I have no means of absorbing the fluids in food and so its really hard to hold it when I need to go.
I sometimes have accidents which means a large toilet that has a sink right by me means I can clean myself up when things go awry.
I hate having to use the disabled loos as I have to deal with people like you staring, nudging, tutting. And whenever I can, I use the ladies toilets. Just so you know, disabled loos usually smell bad and don’t seem to be cleaned as often or as well as the ladies and so I wouldn’t choose this option unless totally necessary.
Whilst I’m at it, I’d like to address the cleaner in the supermarket ladies toilets I used this week. As I ran in, knees together, bursting through the door and running to the cubicle, I’m sorry that the noise of my (lack of) bowels made you burst out laughing.
I can actually take the sniggering as since I had a pouch made from my small intestine because my disease ridden colon was removed during surgery, the noise I make when I defecate is hilariously loud. Seriously, I get it. It’s comedic in it’s volume.
But before you ran outside the loos and called to your friend “OH MY GOD! You should hear the noise in there!!! I wouldn’t go in if I was you!!!!” Perhaps you could have noted my daughter who was waiting outside with our trolley because her mum had had to leave her stranded to run to the toilet. Perhaps you could have stopped and heard me sobbing with pain because the acid in my stools has no way to be neutralised because I don’t have a large intestine and so opening my bowels actually burns my skin.
Perhaps you both could have shown a little empathy, a little compassion, a little understanding.
Poo is funny. Disability is confusing.
I get that.
But humanity and care for fellow human beings is a choice.
To everyone else reading this, the next time you see someone who doesn’t “look disabled” using a toilet.
Or someone bursting through and crashing into the toilets noisily.
Take a moment. Remember that not all people who have the right to use disabled toilets are in a wheelchair. Some of us have a jpouch, a lot of us have an Ostomy bag that needs emptying and changing with the use of space, a sink and a bin. And even more of us just don’t want to shit our pants in public.
Think about the nearly 300,000 people in this country who have inflammatory bowel disease (not to mention the huge number of people with IBS!!!) who need to use the toilet urgently, noisily, smellily…
It’s an embarrassing enough thing to deal with before having to see disapproving looks or hear your laughs and jeering remarks.
Be kind yo…
To read more about her work to break the taboo of IBD and Colitis check out her blog So Bad Ass.
Photo via Sam Cleasby/So Bad Ass